Lou Reed: NSA Spy Revelations 'Shocking'

Singer makes first public appearance since his liver transplant

Lou Reed attends the Grey Group Seminar during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity at Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France.
Christian Alminana/Getty Images
June 21, 2013 2:10 PM ET

Lou Reed made his first public appearance since undergoing a liver transplant earlier this month, and the singer had plenty of pointed words for the National Security Agency, the sound quality of MP3s and journalists at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity yesterday.

The 71-year-old rocker expressed surprise over recent revelations that the NSA has been monitoring the phone and e-mail communications of Americans."It's so shocking. Obama of all people having that thing going on," Reed said, according to The Guardian. "That's our guy who did that. It's very disturbing. A lot of the things [George W.] Bush would have done, Obama has continued. How did that happen?"

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The former Velvet Underground frontman was "beyond belief" that 29-year-old Edward Snowden was able to access and expose the information. "Does that speak well for our security or what?" Reed said. But he also found something special in Snowden's story. "There are so many things in this world that are changing so quickly, everything is an inspiration," Reed said. You could have an album about [Snowden]. Missing snow."

Reed also aired his grievances about the sound quality of MP3s and digital music, along with the compensation artists receive for downloads. "MP3s for God's sake. A really miserable sounding thing, people don't understand what they are missing. It has been reduced to the lowest common denominator," Reed said, also comparing the "horrifying" sound of CDs to the "beautiful warm sound you get on vinyl."

Compensation for downloads is a pittance, Reed observed, noting that he used to make $2.60 when he was 14 and playing in a bar. "It's pretty much what I get from downloads now. I'm back where I started," Reed said. "I understand young people were brought up on downloading and Steve Jobs tried to make it into some kind of business which benefits Apple but you get about a sixteenth of a penny."

He continued, "You used to make a record but they reduced the size of it and put it in this plastic that breaks immediately, it's like, what? You realize they are really fucking with you, so people didn't want to pay for anything. . . . But meanwhile the musician doesn't get paid anything. Now making a record is kind of a promotional thing."

The notoriously tough interviewee also took shots at the "parasitical side" of journalists. "What they really want is something controversial," Reed said, calling it "very problematic." Still, Reed sparred with scribes for 15 minutes, during which he displayed his acerbic wit in response to one question. "How do I stay creative?" Reed said. "I masturbate every day. OK?"

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