When someone asks if you want to talk to Lou Reed, the answer is always "Yes." Even if it's for no reason at all. And about tai chi.
Like the body he famously abused with drugs and booze for decades, it's hard to think of another successful artist so hell-bent on undermining his own legacy through left-field career reversals and public manias. But it's still doubly surprising that Reed's releasing a meditation music CD on the new-agey Sounds True label, and recently collaborated with Master Ren GuangYi on a Chen Taijiquan martial-arts DVD. (To be fair, Reed's also done some good music lately, and says he'll have a photography show at The Warhol in May.)
But we're supposed to talk about the DVD, which a starry-eyed Reed introduces and narrates in his flat monotone. He also contributed the film's "Centering & Energy Music," two long, unvarying pieces of plastic machine music which, to put it kindly, shouldn't take Lou Reed to make. So I figured, OK, let's really discuss that. His reputation as a tough interview comes partly from legendary critic Lester Bangs' accounts of verbal battles with Reed, claiming he tried to bore him to death with technical jargon, whining, humbug and George Benson records. I got a little taste before Reed's publicist cut things off early.
(Click to hear a snippet of our painfully awkward interview with Lou Reed.)
CP: I got the DVD that you just put out in the mail, and I looked at some of that ...
REED: Did you look at the "FlipperVision"?
CP: Uh huh ... Yeah, I looked at it and went through some of the music that you did for the video.
REED: Well, there's only two.
CP: Right, there's two. Are those looped in some way, or are they just long pieces that you did?
REED: I can't tell you the intricacies of that. Well, we certainly had to adjust things, and try them out in our class to see how it worked with people.
CP: One thing I was wondering about is if, especially that slower piece, if that overlaps with the Hudson River Wind Meditations CD that you're working on?
REED: It certainly does. It's a different version of it.
CP: I thought I heard some of those same arpeggiated chords or something in one of the tracks that was online.
REED: Somebody with a pair of ears!
CP: Well, yeah, I'm a musician.
REED: Oh, that's why. Somewhat similar applications, different mixes.
CP: Some sort of ambient sounds in there as well?
REED: Yeah. Well, sure. I mean, but that's a pretty loose term. You know, it took me a very long time to put that slow one together, and I've never been able to get it back [laughs]. Whatever it was that did that, I think I just got lucky, that one time with it.
CP: That kind of synth sweep, or whatever it is that's happening there?
REED: Well, you know ... I don't know which part of the sweep you're talking about, but the part that I'm interested in -- and this caused a lot of grief doing it -- is in the bottom end. Because that's, to me, where the action is. And I was concerned about how people listened to these things, because on a decent system, the bottom end is awesome. And on a not-so-decent system, probably just gets lopped off and you don't hear it. And ... that was part of the thing. In the day of M-P-3.
CP: Or even, I suppose, just watching it on a television set.
REED: Yeah, exactly. But, having said that, we've tried these in class, and I've used it for a lot of different applications. By that I mean the Chen Taiji, which is what we're concerned about here. ... The faster music is for the more experienced student, and the idea there was matching it to the form. My idea was not particularly new, but it was that you get energy from rock music, and you leap into a mosh pit or you jump up and do whatever -- dance -- and that if I could do the right kind of music for the form, it would increase the energy for the form.
By the way, I'm sitting here with Master Ren GuangYi, whose system I'm learning. And I feel fortunate enough to study with him, and just so you know, Master Ren is here. I think of myself as more of a translator than the interviewee.
CP: Well, do you mind if we talk about some of the music that you did for the film?
REED: No, we can talk about the music, sure. Is that OK, Ren?
CP: Is it was something that you do in a studio, or that you're working on at home?
REED: No, this is on a home studio setup. Takes forever [laughs]. You know, if you went to a regular studio, you would never be able to stay there that long.
CP: You're just trying little variations ...
REED: Yeah. Endless. You know, well you're a musician, so you know -- the possibilities are endless. You could do this, you could do that. You could try this, and you could try that.
CP: Do you use stuff like ProTools?
REED: Oh yes, certainly. In this case, also a thing called Ableton.
CP: OK, I'm familiar with that. Well, uh ...
REED: The people at Ableton were actually very, very helpful.
CP: In what way?
REED: Oh, they just did a real tech-head kind of favor. Let's put it that way.
CP: I know you've been a student of martial arts since the 1980s -- that's what I read, anyway. Is this something you practice daily, or ...
REED: Yeah. Every day. As often as possible ... when I'm in New York with Master Ren.
CP: So it's not something that you can do by yourself?
REED: Well, sure I can do it by myself! I do it by myself all the time -- that's called practice.
CP: Well, it seems ... very odd to be talking with you about health and wellness.
CP: I mean, I've listened to your records, I'm familiar with your history and so forth, and it just seems like ... it's the last thing I would expect to be talking with you about.
REED: Whatever you say.
CP: Well, is the Lou Reed of 2007 just a very centered, meditative guy? Who wants to make electronic background music ... and an exercise video?
REED: I don't think ... what?
CP: How am I supposed to understand that, or how are people supposed to understand that?
REED: I dunno. I guess it's a matter of intelligence.
- Centered: Lou Reed