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Q&A / with LOU REED : 'Happy to Be Here . . . Making Records'

February 20, 1996|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lou Reed's last album, 1992's "Magic and Loss," was a powerful meditation on the deaths of some close friends. But his spirits are higher these days, thanks in part to his new romantic attachment with performance artist Laurie Anderson, and in part to the long-delayed induction of his '60s band the Velvet Underground into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month (though that occasion was darkened by the recent death of original member Sterling Morrison.)

Reed, whose new album, "Set the Twilight Reeling," comes out today (see review on F3), has long been one of rock's most influential artists and colorful figures.

In an interview last week from his New York home, the pugnacious musician (who will play the Wiltern Theatre on March 18) talked about the Hall of Fame honors and rock 'n' roll's inspiring and rejuvenating properties.

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Question: How meaningful was it to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Velvet Underground?

Answer: It was very meaningful to me because I had inducted two people, Dion and Frank Zappa, and I really admired a lot of people who are in the Hall of Fame. And to me it was a vindication, a validation of what the Velvet Underground had done and [patron] Andy Warhol's faith in us. And the songs and myself had gotten such a negative rap for so long. . . . It's nice to see your peers say, "Hey, this is worthwhile." I mean I always knew it was worthwhile. It was very sad to me that Sterling Morrison couldn't be there for it.

Q: You've said you spent time perfecting your studio to achieve a certain sound on your new album. What is it you were after?

A: I wanted you to hear exactly what I heard when we were playing. It's live. . . . I mean I'm singing and playing at the same time, and I was determined this time to capture the spirit of the moment.

I was just listening to a record today that reminded me of what records used to be about--Lorraine Ellison's [1966 record] "Stay With Me Baby." It's really strange to hear something with that much passion and emotion. Unbelievable. That's why they called it soul music. This is very moving stuff to listen to.

I don't think a CD should be this passive thing that just sits there. . . . It should have the power to really move you. 'Cause it's different than a book. It's got the music going at you. It's physical. Sound touches you. It's not like looking at a painting. It actually physically will get into you. I love that.

Q: What were your other aims on the new album, coming after the introspective "Magic and Loss"?

A: Well, I think people, sad to say, missed the "magic" part of "Magic and Loss." But that closed the door on a trio of records for me, and this was a fresh start from my point of view. Just looking at the world anew. Happy to be here, and happy to be making records and wanting to really have fun with rock 'n' roll.

Q: There are a lot of humorous moments on this album.

A: My records are not unfunny. I think there's a certain deadpan humor that goes unnoticed sometimes. I have moments of real jocular celebration. . . . You know, I get a kick out of writing, putting words together. Yeah, there's jokes all over the place on this record. Puns. I like doing that.

Q: Does your music always reflect directly what's going on in your life?

A: Me and things around me. I mean yeah. It's pretty accurate. I can listen to a record and pretty well tell where I was at the time.

Q: One prominent theme on the new album involves the idea of transformation--shedding an old identity and becoming a new person.

A: Well, growth, change, I feel those are really good things and I feel lucky when that happens to me. As you practice things, you get better. I mean I've worked very hard on changing my life and taking what is good about it and trying to jettison the things I think were not good about it. . . . I think the key word is "discipline," focus. . . . I'm always working at it, but I'm not always successful.

Q: On "Trade In" you have the lines, "I've met a woman with a thousand faces / And I want to make her my wife." People are bound to read that as referring to Laurie Anderson.

A: Well, they wouldn't be off. . . . I do think she's the single most beautiful, talented, exquisite, incredible person I've ever met in my life. Other than that it's nothing.

Q: Have you collaborated on any projects?

A: We're working on some instrumental pieces for electric guitar and violin. . . . We've got nine of them, and a couple are good. We just sit around playing, and thought it'd be fun to edit them down, and if they were worthy and wanted to see the light of day maybe let it out, maybe play them in public. Who knows? Or maybe do nothing, keep it to ourselves.

Q: Do you have to make an effort to keep out of each other's work?

A: I'm always interested in what she has to say, and I take her opinion very, very seriously. I mean it's nice to have somebody you trust have an opinion.

Q: You'll be 54 next month. How do you keep energized and enthused about this work?

A: I love rock and I love electric guitars, I love writing. I would do it anyway. I just love the electric guitar. I went and saw B.B. King at the Blue Note, and he's 70. And man, he was a master. It was astonishing to watch him do it.

Q: In the past several years you've experienced the deaths that inspired "Magic and Loss," and more recently Sterling Morrison's. Has all this put you in a reflective or philosophical state of mind?

A: My reflective state of mind regarding these things, that's the "Magic and Loss" album. But a friend of mine had said to me, "The thing about all this is that you owe it now to enjoy things even more when some of these people aren't here." So that's what I try to do.

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