Lou Reed at SXSW

The bleary-eyed SXSW masses (or least the badge holders) dragged themselves from their hotel rooms bright and early Thursday morning to receive words of wisdom from none other than LOU REED, this year’s keynote speaker. Before he took the stage, we heard some interesting music, including a piece by Steve Reich, who would be speaking later in the day, performed by the SOLI CHAMBER ENSEMBLE. It was good morning music, though I wonder how many of the SXSW regulars would like this kind of stuff?

Anyway… Reed came out and spent about ninety minutes taking questions from producer Hal Willner. Like most SXSW keynote speakers, Reed had an ulterior commercial motive for appearing – in his case, the need to promote his new film of the album Berlin being performed in concert. True to his reputation, Reed was somewhat surly. A cell phone in the audience rings. Reed: “What is that? Jesus.”

Asked about the influence that Andy Warhol and other visual artists had on his songwriting, Reed says Warhol’s style inspired its musical equivalent in the Velvet Underground – “repeating a line over and over.”

Can music change the world? “It could change an individual and make them feel not alone in their belief.”

On the subject matter that the Velvet Underground covered with its lyrics: “It was an empty continent.”

On how to write songs: “I never understood how they get written … I don’t even know why it works.”

On his strengths: “I have a B.A. in dope but a Ph.D. in soul … The thing I’ve got is instinct. Thinking won’t get me where I want to go. It’ll get me to the store where it’s sold.”

On deteriorating audio standards, due to the popularity of mp3s: “People have got to demand a high standard … Or the other thing is to say, ‘You’re being elitist. Only people with money can afford the good sound, so fuck you.’”

Reed’s favorite movie of late: The Bourne Ultimatum.

Reed’s favorite new bands: Melt Banana, Holy Fuck (“Or is it Holy Shit?” he says), Dr. Dog, Joan As Policewoman. “One of the things you look for in a young group is that energy, and I just love it.”

On record labels asking musicians to sign over their publishing rights: “They are always going to say they want the publishing, and you are always going to say no.”


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