But I was doing that around the Factory. I went back and wrote a song, "Vicious/You hit me with a flower/You do it every hour/Oh baby you're so vicious." Then people would come up and say, "What do you mean by that?" I didn't want to say, "Well, ask Andy."
Or he said, "Oh, you should write a song, so-and-so is such a femme fatale. Write a song for her. Go write a song called 'Femme Fatale.'" No other reason than that. Or "Sister Ray" – when we were making the second record, he said, "Now you gotta make sure that you do the 'sucking on my ding-dong' song." "Okay, Andy." He was a lot of fun, he really was.
He was perceived more as an instigator, a kind of puppeteer.
He was this catalyst, always putting jarring elements together. Which was something I wasn't always so happy about. So when he put Nico in, we said, "Hmmm." Because Andy said, "Oh, you've gotta have a chanteuse." I said, "Oh, Andy, give us a break." There we are, doing six sets a night at this terrible tourist trap in the Village, the audience was attacking people over the music.
Warhol and the Velvets parted ways in 1967. Did he lose interest in the band?
No. Andy passes through things, but so do we. He sat down and had a talk with me. "You gotta decide what you want to do. Do you want to keep just playing museums from now on and the art festivals? Or do you want to start moving into other areas? Lou, don't you think you should think about it?" So I thought about it, and I fired him. Because I thought that was one of the things to do if we were going to move away from that.
What was Andy's reaction to that?
He was furious. I'd never seen Andy angry, but I did that day. He was really mad. Called me a rat. That was the worst thing he could think of.
How do you look back on the Velvets now? Do you think, after only five years and four albums, that the band left behind a lot of unfinished business?
John [Cale] says that it broke up before we'd accomplished what we should have accomplished. I think he's right in a way. My records are my version of it. John's records are his version of it. The drumming of Maureen Tucker is something that can't be replaced by anyone. And then, of course, Loaded didn't have Maureen on it, and that's a lot of people's favorite Velvet Underground record. So we can't get too lost in the mystique of the Velvet Underground.
Yet that mystique is more pervasive now than it ever was before. Where do you hear the influence of the Velvet Underground today?
I hear things that sometimes make me think, "Oh, that sounds like Velvets." Or, "That sounds like me," or Maureen. It's rare to hear it all together. Then on the other hand, the Velvet Underground could do a lot of things a lot of ways. They could be very dissonant, very pretty. And they were all two-, three-chord songs. My albums are all two-, three-chord songs. I know for a young band, if they need some material, my stuff is kind of good for them, because it doesn't have a lot of chords. It's all right there. Maybe that's why people like it, because it's so simple.
After leaving the Velvet Underground in 1970, you worked for your father for a while.
As a typist. He had this company, he was like president of it. He really wanted me to be in the family business. But that was a real impossibility. But when I left the Velvet Underground, I just packed up. I'd had it. So I was a typist for two years. My mother always told me in high school, "You should take typing. It gives you something to fall back on." She was right.
There is an old Lou Reed press bio issued by RCA that has handwritten comments by you. And for that period immediately following the Velvets, you put down "exile and great pondering." Pondering what?
What the next move I was going to make was. Did I want to do it myself? Did I want to have a band? Did I just want to do songwriting, not even get onstage? I'm the last person in the world I'd have thought should be on a stage. Some people really like having a spotlight on them. I don't. What I like is the song and performing it. Doing it for people – who like it.
I want out of the rock & roll thing. I really do. It's a little late now. But I don't enjoy that end of it. Yet there I am, up onstage, performing my stuff. Certainly part of the reason originally was because no one else would. And I still think that to some extent. I do me really well.
With the success of "Walk on the Wild Side" and the subsequent renewed interest in the Velvets, you became best known as the man who dared to put great social taboos in song – drug addiction, sexual deviance. . . .
It was only taboo on records. Let's keep that in mind. Movies, plays, books, it's all in there. You read Ginsberg, you read Buroughs, you read Hubert Selby Jr. If you want to have this stuff taken on a level that's worth considering, you can't compare yourself to the other stuff that's on record. You start looking at Brecht and Weill.
Did you feel pressured, though, to keep writing so-called Lou Reed songs?
For a while, I felt a little self-impelled to write Lou Reed Kind of songs. I should have understood that a Lou Reed song was anything I wanted to write about.
But during the Seventies you didn't just write about extremes in art and lifestyle. You also lived them.
Real-life zigzagging. Yeah, why not? It's taken me a while. Maybe I'm a late bloomer. Put it this way. I'm not harsh on myself for any of that. If anything, I have an understanding and sympathy for the situation. What I'm devoted to now is never letting those situations happen ever again. I would just walk away.
In 1989, how do you relate to that Lou Reed?
I don't look back on it. I wrote a record about it, though. I wrote a song, "Growing up in public/With your pants down." That's what I thought of the whole thing. And that said all that I had to say about that. Most of the major mistakes were in public, and I put them on record to boot. Lots of novelists have put it in their books. Norman Mailer's got his Advertisements for Myself.
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