If Lou Reed didn’t become one of the most celebrated musicians in recent history, a career was waiting for him in an alternative radio universe. As the perfect example of his skills for the airwaves, we revisit Reed’s 1979 show on New York’s WPIX FM where he was joined by the excellent John Cale.
This recording is a lesser-known reunion of The Velvet Underground, and although the duo were not on the stage together, the chemistry between the pair remained palpable. That said, for the majority of the show, Reed was tasked with hosting solo as he patiently waited on the arrival of his Welsh accomplice.
At the beginning of the broadcast, Reed is in a spirited mood, and he started by singing the praises of the station. The Velvet Underground man revealed that he finds it difficult to find stations in New York, but WPIX is a reliable ally. By relistening to the show, the first thing that comes across is how obsessive Reed is with the music at hand. While the singer was a notoriously prickly character, once you allow him the floor to speak about what he loves, Reed is in his element.
Throughout the show, Reed takes calls from listeners, and his genuine interest in listening to them radiates out of the recording. He also occasionally shows flickerings of humour. “Drugs do destroy some of the brain cells, there’s no question about it,” Reed jokes at one point after forgetting what they covered in the previous segment.
He cuts a relaxed demeanour throughout the show, but he’s still Lou Reed, and snarky remarks are never too far away. When a fan gets in touch to ask about his opinion on Rolling Stone, Reed doesn’t hold back, and tells listeners: “If you want to know what I really think of Rolling Stone, people say be nice to those people, but, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me”.
Adding: “Rolling Stone what a joke. I don’t have to put up with anything, these people are a joke, that magazine is a joke. They sell it in supermarkets with a TV guide. I make records for me. I would love to have the cover, but look at the album I’d have to make to get it,” he giggled. “A bad review from Rolling Stone is proof to me that I’m still alive.”
Cale only arrives at the WPIX Studios towards the end of the broadcast, entering as Reed praises Black music and how the liberal attitude towards sex in lyrics is a cause for celebration. Immediately, the pair of them begin speaking in tongues in a language that only they understand, and it’s clear that Reed is the more vocal one in the friendship.
Cale is more at home performing than speaking, and at the end of the programme, he brings the show to a close with three throbbing live tracks, which is a perfect way to draw the curtain on a historic broadcast.
Stream the full broadcast, below.