When Lou Reed met Paul Auster


Dazed and Confused reprint a 1995 conversation between Lou Reed and Paul Auster.

Paul Auster: When did it occur to you that music might actually be something you would spend your life doing? Were you in high school?

Lou Reed: I must say, no! I mean, I had wanted to do what you do. I wanted to be a writer. A formal writer. I was writing through college. However, in high school I made a record, and I was playing all these very funny bars on Long Island. Then I went off to college: one of the arguments for that was to stay out of the draft of the Vietnam War. And in college we just had bar bands. I was in bar bands every year I was in school, which augmented my income a lot. But we were terrible. We were unspeakable; we actually had to change our name quite often. Were you writing when you were young?

Paul Auster: I think I started writing when I was about nine or ten. So right around the time you found the guitar, I found the pen.

Lou Reed: That’s kind of interesting!

Paul Auster: I loved it. When I got to be about 15 I read Crime And Punishment, the great novel, and it absolutely turned me inside out. And I think it gave me a feeling about what novels can be, and I think it was that experience that made me determined to do it myself. I said, ‘This is absolutely how I am going to spend my life’. And all through high school I wrote. In fact from that point on, I wrote seriously. I mean as seriously as I write now. Much of it, for many years, was real garbage.

Lou Reed: You should hear my first record! No, I mean the 45! (“Lever For Me”/ “So Blue” by The Lades, at age 14)

We’d also recommend Luc Sante‘s tribute to Reed.

There was a period in the early seventies when I was persuaded that “Lou Reed” was a pseudonym playing on the word “lurid,” perhaps as pronounced with a French accent. It could have been a Factory handle, alongside Billy Name and Ingrid Superstar, and it would have fit at least one major aspect of his preoccupations. But Lewis Allan Reed (1942-2013) needed to stretch his nomenclature no more than he did his voice. From the beginning he employed a dry, canny sprechstimme that functioned as both horse and rider—at once putting across a song and supplying its running commentary—until he gave himself over to the melody with a vulnerable tenor that not infrequently achieved transcendence.

The least you could say about Reed is that he was complicated. He was lyrical and crass, empathetic and narcissistic, feminine and masculine, a gawky adolescent and an old soak, a regular guy and a willful deviant, an artisan and a vandal. As a teen-ager he was administered electroshock, intended to cure him of either homosexuality or generalized waywardness, depending on which interviews you read. He studied poetry with Delmore Schwartz and songcraft in the teen-pop-counterfeiting ateliers of Pickwick Records, then absorbed the avant-garde trance state from La Monte Young via John Cale and Angus MacLise—but since he was already tuning his guitar strings all to one note when he met them maybe he’d absorbed it on his own.