Lou Reed recalled his vision for the Velvet Underground and his derision for that band’s contemporaries in a recently rediscovered interview that PBS has animated as part of its Blank on Blank series. The singer told music executive Joe Smith in 1987 that he felt the purpose of the band was “to elevate the rock & roll song and take it where it hadn’t been taken before.”
He also had strong words for his more successful peers in the Sixties. “When [bands] did try to get, in quotes, ‘arty,’ it was worse than stupid rock & roll,” he said. “What I mean by ‘stupid,’ I mean, like, the Doors.” And what did he think of John Lennon and the Beatles? “I never liked the Beatles,” Reed said. “I thought they were garbage. If you say, ‘Who did you like?’ I liked nobody.”
Elsewhere in the chat, Reed talked about living in a remote part of New Jersey where he threatened curious college kids with a shotgun and the clashes he had with recording engineers at studios.
He also brought up how no one realized the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” was based on a novel, and said that he felt the reaction to “Heroin” was like “I murdered the Pope or something.” He said his intention with bringing these subject matters to rock – things that had been in novels, he points out – was to open people’s eyes to what pop music was capable of. “What I wanted to do [was] write rock & roll that you could listen to as you got older, and it wouldn’t lose anything,” he said. “It would be timeless, and the subject matter and the literacy of the lyrics.”
Reed’s pop subversion will be honored April 18th when he is inducted as a solo artist into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The late rocker was already part of the Rock Hall after the induction of Velvet Underground in 1996.
The video interview is part of PBS’ Blank on Blank series, which animates long-forgotten interviews by notable musicians and entertainers. Other celebrities whose interviews have been animated include Reed’s least favorite musicians John Lennon and Jim Morrison, as well as Robin Williams, David Bowie, Tupac Shakur, Wayne Coyne and Michael Jackson.