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"...We all ran into the bathroom and jumped in to the bathtub and started fingering the Dippity-Do jar."
Photo By: Getty Images
You walk into the dining room of the Holiday Inn filled with expectation at finally getting to meet one of the musical and psychological frontiersmen of our time. Lou Reed, who with his group the Velvet Underground was singing about drag queens and heroin at least five years before such obsessions reached the mass level. Who began a comeback as a solo artist last summer in England, and under the wing of David Bowie, who produced Transformer, a classic of mondo bendo rock. Who then, having come out of the closet at last, returned to his New York home and ushered in 1973 by getting married to an actress-cum-cocktail waitress named Betty (stage name Krista) Kronstadt.
On top of all that, both Transformer and the single from it are enormous hits. Lou Reed is not only a legend, he’s a star. In one of the interviews he did last summer, Lou said: “I can create a vibe without saying anything, just by being in the room.”
He was right. You sit yourself down, and sure enough you become aware pretty fast that there’s this vaguely unpleasant fat man sitting over there with a table full of people, including his blonde bride. Pretty soon he comes over to join you, and the tic becomes focused too sharply for comfort. It’s not just that Lou Reed doesn’t look like a rock ’n’ roll star any more. His face has a nursing-home pallor, and the fat girdles his sides. He drinks double Johnny Walker Blacks all afternoon, his hands shake constantly and when he lifts his glass to drink he has to bend his head as though he couldn’t possibly get it to his mouth otherwise. As he gets drunker, his left eyeball begins to slide out of sync.
In spite of all this, however, he manages to live up to his reputation for making interviewers uncomfortable. He fixes you with that rusty bugeye, he creaks and croaks and lies in your face and you’re helpless. He lies about his music and his album covers (“That was me in drag on the back of Transformer”). Most of all, he lies about himself. But he qualifies it by saying, “I don’t especially tell the truth most of the time anyway.”
He’s pretty cool about most of it, though, so you can’t really get too mad at him about that. Like Nick Kent, who is there for New Musical Express, is right in the middle of asking him a question, when Lou interrupts: “Aren’t you hot with that scarf on?”
“No,” wheezes Nick nonplussedly, “I’ve got a cold.”
“Try Vicks Vapo Rub,” Mad Ave libs Lou. “I came down with a very bad cold in Boston, and it works. You’ve gotta lie in there for two or three days with that goop on your chest and a towel or something, and every once in a while somebody has to have the nerve to reach into the bowl of that shit and rub it in. Like I remember,” he free-associates, “when everybody was taking acid
"Modern music begins with the Velvet Underground." - Lester Bangs
and we discovered Dippity Do, and everybody said, ‘It’s just like a cunt, it’s fantastic!’ And we all ran into the bathroom and jumped into the bathtub and started fingering the Dippity Do jar.”
Normal Lou Reed reached for a Marlboro. As he fumbled to tear a match out of the book and strike it, his hands trembled so fiercely that you wondered if he was going to be able to get that butt lit.
“The notion that everybody’s bisexual is a very popular line right now, but I think its validity is limited. I could say something like if in any way my album helps people decide who or what they are, then I will feel I have accomplished something in my life. But I don’t feel that way at all. I don’t think an album’s gonna do anything. You can’t listen to a record and say, “Oh that really turned me onto gay life, I’m gonna be gay.’ A lot of people will have one or two experiences, and that’ll be it. Things may not change one iota. It’s beyond the control of a straight person to turn gay at the age he’ll probably be listening to any of this stuff or reading about it; he’ll already be determined psychologically. It’s like Franco said: ‘Give me a child until he’s seven and he’s mine.’
By the time a kid reaches puberty they’ve been determined. Guys walking around in makeup is just fun. Why shouldn’t men be able to put on makeup and have fun like women have?”
Lou Reed just may have a better perspective on this supposed upheaval in sexual roles than any of these Gore Vidals and Jill Johnstons. Dudes comin’ outa the closet in droves and finding out they’re heterosexual! Ha! Only trouble is that Lou’s thinking also makes him a product of the rigidly dualistic era when he grew up, a hell of a Fifties cat for somebody who helped usher in the Seventies. He thinks you’re either some blissfully “normal” heterosuburbanite weekender on your own, or otherwise you gotta be some mungstreaked depravo wretch skulking through the gutter on all fours. Listening to him talk, you can’t help wondering how much of Lou Reed’s songs is about people he makes up, as he claims, and how much of them is about himself. In which case – if, say, “Perfect Day” is autobiographical – he must be the most guilt-ridden person on the face of the earth. Which would make it hard for anybody to live up to their own legend.
But let’s just suppose that Lou Reed is gay. If he is, can you imagine what kind of homosexual would say something like that? Maybe that’s what makes him such a master of pop song – he’s got such a great sense of shame. Either that or the ultimate proof of his own absolute normality is the total offensive triteness of his bannered Abnormalitiy. Like there’s no trip cornier’n S&M, every move is plotted in advance from a rigid rulebook centuries old, so every libertine ends up yawning his balls off. Just like Lou said earlier that day: “There’s really no interesting information to hold back. Everybody insists that there’s a story here, and there really isn’t. It’s like a clamshell that’s been eaten.”
For somebody who has based so much of his career on sex, Lou Reed has certainly surrounded himself with an asexual band. It would be easy to conclude that this is simply because he didn’t want anybody else stealing the show (in which case it backfired – his bassist is the ugliest person I have ever seen) or that he’s so dunced out he didn’t make such considerations (unlikely). So you end up with the possibility that Lou may have an intentionally asexual band as a reaction to glam-rock and his own image. Which, if you follow that logic to the terminal, reeks of self-destructive guilt. Just imagine if Lou Reed did to his lead guitarist what Bowie does to Mick Ronson – pretending to blow him – he’d look like the archetypal homosexual criminal. It would be the most repulsive (in a sense never dreamed of by people like Alice Cooper) spectacle in the history of rock.
Originally published: November 1973