Lou Reed, who would’ve been 77 today, was a controversial and confrontational artist. His illustrious work was always compounded by a lack of willingness to compromise from Lou, it was a mark of his brilliance and vision. One person who would never stand in the way of that was Andy Warhol. During a 1994 gig Lou Reed opened up about the Pop artist who worked as a sort of pseudo-producer on The Velvet Underground’s records.
Released in 2017 an album captures a rare 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 conversation covering a whole host of topics.
Reed opens up about his other bandmates in Velvet Underground as well as his friend Andy Warhol and his writing process. Lou was famous for never standing still on a project, he would often leave songs and choruses unfinished while furiously boarding the next train of thought. It was a writing process which set him apart from the rest of his counterparts. It was something he developed while working as in-house writer for Pickwick Record before joining Velvet Underground. He says “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.”
Talking about his infamous band, Velvet Underground, he offered a small derisory comment. “They were played by that particular combination of people, but … they could have been played by others”. He did, however, lend more gravitas to the mercurial Andy Warhol who would often sit in on the band’s recording session.
“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.”
Kris Kristofferson offered on Reed’s developed songwriting skills “He learned how to write one of the most unforgettable lines in songwriting,” he said, highlighting a line in ‘Strawman,’ a song off Reed’s 1989 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.”
At the 1994 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 simply brilliant cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on a Wire,’ among others.