A new album captures a rare collaborative performance by Lou Reed and Kris Kristofferson. The artists met up at the New York club the Bottom Line in February 1994 and discussed songwriting and their histories with radio host Vin Scelsa. The album, a double-disc set titled In Their Own Words With Vin Scelsa – part of the Bottom Line Archive Series – is due out September 15th.
Between songs, as heard in audio from the release that's premiering here, Reed discussed his process and his friendship with Andy Warhol. With regard to songwriting, he said he felt the need to jump on his inspirations and write as quickly as he could and, if an idea wasn't good, he was content moving on to something else and leaving it unfinished.
He said he didn't feel like the other musicians in the Velvet Underground were essential to the songs he wrote for the group – "They were played by that particular combination of people, but ... they could have
been played by others" – and commented on the non-role Warhol had as a producer in
the recording studio. "At one point the engineer would say, apropos of
something we'd done, 'Mr. Warhol, is that OK?' And he'd say, 'Oh, that's great.'
And as a consequence of that, we experienced total freedom, because no one
would change anything because Andy said it was great."
He also talked about writing songs before forming the Velvet Underground, when he was an in-house writer at Pickwick Records. "We would write whatever was popular at the time, like death albums or surfing albums. We'd just write 10, 12 surfing songs and just go record them in about an hour or two and say we were the Surf Nuts or the Beach Bums or something and they'd sell it in Woolworth's in the 99-cent bin." He said it taught him how to "move fast" in the studio.
Kristofferson then piped up. "He learned how to write one of the most unforgettable lines in songwriting," he said, alluding to a line in "Strawman," a song off Reed's 1989 comeback LP New York. "It's one that I'll go my grave with this image in my mind: 'Does anyone need yet another politician caught with his pants down and money sticking in his hole?' That's something he didn't learn in Tin Pan Alley." Reed then later performed a stripped-down version of "Strawman." Victoria Williams sings backup on the track.
At the concert, Reed also sang "Sweet Jane," "Romeo Had Juliet," "Legendary Hearts" and a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears," while Kristofferson sang "Me and Bobby McGee," "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," among others.
The album is one of several recorded at the Bottom Line that will be released in the years to come. Others include performances by Jack Bruce, Ralph Stanley, Harry Chapin and Pete Seeger with Roger McGuinn.
In Their Own Words Track List:
2. "Vin Scelsa Introduces Lou Reed"
4. "Scelsa Introduces Kris Kristofferson"
6. "Lou Reed on Songwriting"
7. "Legendary Hearts"
8. "Kris Kristofferson on His Childhood & Songwriting"
9. "Sunday Morning Coming Down/The Pilgrim"
10. "Reed on New York"
12. "Kristofferson talks about 'Strawman'"
13. "Sam's Song"
14. "Reed on Writing for Wim Wenders"
15. "Why Can't I Be Good"
16. "Reed on Autobiographical Songs"
1. "Kristofferson on Nashville"
2. "Help Me Make It Through the Night"
3. "Reed on Velvet Underground & Warhol"
4. "Sweet Jane"
5. "Kristofferson on Writing"
6. "To Beat the Devil"
7. "Reed on Writing Prose"
8. "Romeo Had Juliet"
9. "Burden of Freedom"
10. "Kristofferson on 'Me and Bobby McGee'"
11. "Me and Bobby McGee"
12. "Kristofferson on 'Bird on a Wire'"
13. "Bird on a Wire"
14. "Tracks of My Tears"