Gettin’ lucky with Lou
For rock legend Lou Reed, music is a natural force
Lou Reed, master songwriter, legendary explorer of the sonic potentialities of the electric guitar and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, may be one of the most influential musicians on the planet.
His groundbreaking work with the Andy Warhol-produced Velvet Underground (between 1965 and 1973) directly inspired the gender-bending rock of such early admirers as David Bowie and Brian Eno, and his raw guitar style and unflinchingly honest but poetic approach to lyric writing planted the seed for what became known as punk.
But Reed doesn’t rest on his laurels. He continues to create new, ever-maturing music, such as his brilliant musical and lyrical exploration of the themes of Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven (2003). He has also produced music to enhance the teachings of his tai chi teacher, Master Ren GuangYi.
Currently, in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the release of his deservedly acclaimed pop album, Coney Island Baby, Reed is doing a five-concert set of shows in California, one of which we are privileged to receive in Chico.
I was interested to find out you’ll be playing the Chico show with two bassists, Fernando Saunders and Rob Wasserman. Will there be other musicians playing also?
It’ll be a trio with two bassists.
How did you pick this lineup for this series of shows?
[Wryly] I threw a dart at a board with musicians’ names on it.
You’re playing in college halls on this set of shows. When you set up in different halls do you try to achieve a consistent sound each night, or work to find the best tonalities of that particular auditorium?
We have to suit ourselves to the hall, because it’s all about sound, and some of these places you have to respond to the room. Like in a really live room you can’t play really loud, or you’ll hurt people; and I’m not there to hurt people, I’m there to play music. So part of what we do is try to deal with the sound of any given hall. Most of [these old] halls are not meant for electric instruments—put it that way. Or drums, but since we don’t have drums this time that eliminates that particular thing to concern yourself with. But that’s why we sometimes surround [the drums] with Plexiglas to keep the bounce-back reverb under control.
There’s a scene backstage right at the end of your A Night with Lou Reed video where you’re talking with the other musicians about how the feedback on your guitar on one song was just perfect and you say, “I could have just ridden that forever.” Does each night offer a chance to explore a new aspect of your guitar sound? And do you deliberately quest for those moments?
Everything is always different. It’s never the same. Even if you play the same place, it’s never the same twice. The sound is very much like a cloud, or rain, or sun or something. You can’t control it. You can kinda ride along with it. If you get lucky, you can do certain things determined by the distance you and the body of the guitar are from the amp in relationship to the speaker cone. But it depends on the heat, how many people are in the building, and where the stars are.
There’s an interview on your Web site that you did with a tai chi publication, and it made me think about how tai chi is so much about focusing and releasing personal energy in a very controlled and disciplined manner. Do you find that its principles have a direct correlation to the way you play music?
Well, focus is focus. If I’m gonna do a song or take a solo, I have to be focused. [Pause.] Or it’s chaos. It’s like if you were typing and you were a little unfocused, whatever you were typing wouldn’t be great. [Pause.] Or if you were trying to do an interview and also play chess at the same time.
The university Web site lists your show as “Lou Reed: Songs and Noise,” which seems like a pretty accurate summation of what rock ‘n’ roll is. Given the academic nature of the setting for the show, will you be speaking much about rock ‘n’ roll, or just going, “Here’s the song, and the noise"?
I think what you said is very apt. Songs and noise is a very apt description of people’s views of rock. [Pause.] So I’m gonna give examples of it. If we’re lucky.