That Shock Of Recognition Tells You Where He's Been
Geoffrey Cannon, Chicago Sun-Times, The, 7 February 1971
Author's note, 2018. I met and interviewed Lou Reed twice, in early 1971 and mid-1972, in New York. He gained a reputation for being horrible to journalists. This was not my experience. I found him to be friendly, interesting, vivid, nice to other people, and generous with his time.
This may have been partly a matter of timing. This was early days. In early 1971 Loaded had just been released, and Lou had not yet made his first solo album. Also I had sent what I had written on the Velvets to Danny Fields, Lou's buddy, who wrote the liner notes for The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City, in particular my New Society piece on the Warhol shooting, the Robert Kennedy assassination, and the Velvets and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (archived here on RBP). I had asked Danny to show my credentials and commitment to Lou, which he did.
Also Lou and the Velvets were still little known in the UK, despite my enthusiasm and that of Richard Williams (read Richard's 2013 appreciation in The Guardian after Lou's death, in the RBP library). Lou was keen to gain European support and recognition.
In 1971 he and I met in Danny's office at Atlantic records at Broadway and 60th. Karin Berg of WBAI radio was there. So was Constantine Radoulovich, a 17 year-old high school student who earned money working in a record store, had already written a thesis on the Velvets, and who had travelled up that day from Arlington, Virginia, found his way to Danny's office. Awestruck, tired and hungry, he was sitting on the floor in the corner of the office, taking pictures and notes.
Lou and also John Cale had been encouraged by some UK writers and singers such as Ray Davies and Pete Townshend because of the range of their observation and imagination. Hence 'I'm waiting for the man' and 'Heroin'. In New York, this stuff happened. Plus Lou was an intellectual who had studied under Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse University, dedicated 'European son' on the first Velvet's album to Schwartz, and who like him and many US writers and artists was prepared to take big risks with himself and to push his art through known limits – as Jim Morrison put it, to 'break on through to the other side'. Hence 'The black angel's death song' and 'Sister Ray'.
After talking about rock, Lou told me he was reading Oscar Wilde's De Profundis with an introduction by WH Auden, and had been annoyed by Auden rejecting Wilde's reaching for Jesus – 'the book bit me. That's the best part', he said. He was now reading Dante's Inferno in the translation used by Wilde. Then we all left the office. Danny took Constantine to the Village for a feed.
Total word count of piece: 1233