Lou Reed: The Rolling Stone Interview

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What about John Lennon? Like you, he wrote frankly in his songs about his life and lifestyle.
He wrote a song called "Mother" that I thought was a really good song. "Jealous Guy." I liked his stuff away from the Beatles. Just my own taste. But the kind of phrasing that knocks me out is Dylan's. For language, Dylan kills me to this day.

Bruce Springsteen.
I like him in concert. He's a great live performer. What I really like is the little skits with Clarence and everything, these great spoken introductions.

How did he come to recite those lines on "Street Hassle"?
Because if I'd done them, they'd have come out funny. And when he did it, it sounded real. He was at the same studio, the Record Plant. It wasn't making it with me doing it So the engineer said, "Why don't you ask Bruce to do it? He could really do that" So we asked Bruce to do it, and he rewrote it a little.

The ending of his passage is a clever take-off on "Born to Run" – "There are tramps like us/Who were born to pay." Was that his contribution?
No, that was mine. It had been written with him in mind, but he wasn't there. I was just playing off the title.

As someone who was part of the Warhol celebrity circus at its height, what do you think of the "celebutante" party scene in New York now?
I'm not familiar with it. I don't go to clubs, I don't go to concerts. See, after being with Andy, if I never went to another one of those things, it would be too soon. And I still feel that way. I don't go to the China Club, I don't go to M.K., I don't go to the Tunnel. I get cards from all these places, but I don't go. Not interested. I'm kind of dull, huh?

Is there any pop music out there now that interests you at all?
I haven't heard enough. I don't listen to the radio. I don't know what's out there. I know my wife, Sylvia, is really mad about the Waterboys. So we listen a lot to the Waterboys. But of course, I'm really interested in the lyrics. There are few and far between, someone who can really do that.

After you got out of college, did you ever seriously pursue writing – that is, poetry or prose, as opposed to songwriting?
I won a poetry award. While I was at the Factory, Gerard Malanga [a Warhol associate and Velvets biographer] submitted one of my poems to a little magazine. I was getting published in these little magazines. Eugene McCarthy gave me the award, something like "one of the five best new poets in a small literary magazine." I was actually mad at Gerard for submitting it, because I hated the poem. I didn't care if someone else thought it was good. I knew it was terrible. I thought my song lyric was way better than that particular poem.

You've always contended that your records are your version of the Great American Novel.
Yeah, when you play it all in a row. If you have the patience to follow it.

Do you think your "novel" would have made it as poetry or prose, rather than rock & roll?
It wouldn't have had a drum. It wouldn't have had guitars. So you wouldn't have gotten that physicality from it That's kind of what I like about it.

Ironically, given the country's increasingly conservative disposition, your work seems more drastic, more potent, than it did ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago.
I think the cover-up of Kennedy's assassination, then the pardoning of Nixon finished it for a lot of people. They said, "Well, we didn't know it was bullshit before. We certainly know it's bullshit now. So fuck it. Every man for himself." No one gives a shit. They know they're getting fucked. No time to take care of anything else.

But 'New York' is very much your way of saying you do give a shit.
It is. It's also about the use of language. That's why I say maybe we shouldn't think of me making rock & roll records. I'm in this for the long haul. I feel I've just started to get a grip on it, what I can do with it, what I want to do with it. And who I'd like to take with me when I do it.

It's really easy, in a sense, because the people who like it will go with me. And the people who don't will say I'm full of shit. And more power to them. They don't want me, and I'm not interested in them, either. That's okay. [Smiles] I have no problem with that.

This story is from the May 4th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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