Lou Reed’s SXSW Keynote Interview

Entertaining repartee delivered with scintillating irony was the form of the day as rock icon Lou Reed was interviewed by good friend and music producer Hal Willner. Willner introduced Reed as the man who is to rock and roll what Miles Davis is to jazz, as Lou has literally changed the face of rock and roll two or three times. By way of demonstration, the two discussed the SXSW screening of Julian Schnabel’s film “Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin,’” which documents a recent performance of the landmark 1973 album. An excerpt from this film, the song “Men of Good Fortune,” aptly demonstrated at least some of why Lou Reed has had such an influence on the world of rock music.

Reed’s music carries such an emotional impact that you cannot help but go along for the ride as he lulls you into introspection with intensely quiet emotional vocals then drives you to awareness breaking into compelling rock rhythms and sound that bring you to a peak of empathy with his message. Reeds guitar solo yearns for your understanding of the bitterness and hopelessness reflected in the lyrics of the song, but also counters melodically with shreds of desperate hope and understanding gently woven into the music.

“It’s emotional music. One of the things I love about rock.” said Reed, “It’s so emotional.”Anny with wax Lou Reed, since SXSW won't let me take a photo

Throughout the interview, Reed gave somewhat caustic mention of the mainstream industry’s ongoing criticism of his music, reminding us that reviews of the album “Berlin” proclaimed it as “the worst album ever” and the “most depressing” music ever.

Reed said, “I understand people don’t like everything you do, but to not like it because of the subject matter, that’s pretty narrow minded.”

Reed went from sardonic to hilarious as he went off to ask if people in Texas didn’t know how to turn off their cell phones and then promptly segued into cow-tipping. Now, that pretty much disconcerted Willner, but he rolled with the punches!

Reed also fielded some questions pre-submitted by the audience. When asked which other album he’s like to re-create today, he mentioned “Magic and Loss,” saying that he valued that contribution as modern rock rarely has dealt with the issue of the loss of a friend. Willner added the insight, “Depressing music can be very healing.” That might sound trite, but I think it’s a wonderful point, and emphasizes again why Reed’s music has been so influential and world changing. In a later panel this same day, the amazing songwriter Shawn Phillips commented that when you write a song about a relationship with another person, you can change a few people, but when you write a song about a relationship with your inner-self, you can change the world. I think Reed’s music is a stunning example of the truth of this statement. (Check back later today for more on Shawn Phillips, both in the panel and his music showcase last night.)

When asked if the way he writes songs has changed over the years, Reed articulately responded, “No.” Fortunately, he went on to elaborate. Reed actually studied acting and film in college, but felt that he wasn’t that good. He started reading to music in his early days, and that became a song. (That explains some things to me…) Reed spoke about the early days of punk, and how he saw it form from people who couldn’t play R&B because they hadn’t heard R&B growing up. So when he played in an early punk band, the group focused on that style, and actually fined each other for playing a blues riff!

Reed talked about how he loves the aggressiveness and steel of punk. He said, All that young guy stuff — That’s punk. And it’ll exist forever. Where else are they gonna put it? It’s there, or jail.”

Returning the issue of songwriting, Reed said, “I try not to think. Thinking won’t take me where I want to go. I rely on instinct.” And an awesome instinct it is! Despite his dry, sardonic demeanor, Lou Reed is incredibly articulate and well spoken. And like most songwriters, he is incredibly intelligent. So, if the only thing you got from the mainstream media’s coverage of his SXSW interview, then you should know that there’s a more to Lou Reed than his very quotable pith “I have a BA in dope and a PhD. in soul,” the latter seeming to be the main message in many of the headlines.

Another issue that Reed was very passionate about was that of sound, and the lack thereof in the mp3 format. Reed says that if you like good sound, you have to have a good recording unit, good speakers, a good mic, a good amp and so on. If the guy making the record cares about good sound the cost goes up. If you don’t care about sound, then you have mp3. Reed summed it all up with this pithy comment, “It’s like making it easier to make things worse.”Reed did later return to the issue of technology in some more positive aspects, however, saying, “The level of intelligence and integrity mixed in with the computer is opening up whole new avenues of music.”

I walked out of this interview with a newly enhanced appreciation for the intelligence, integrity, emotion and passion of Lou Reed. He is the kind of artist that we at Savvant Music are looking to find about to make the next earth shattering changes in the world of music, and this interview was an inspiring reminder of the significance and righteousness of this cause. Thanks Lou!

4 Responses to “ Lou Reed’s SXSW Keynote Interview ”

  1. If you’re wondering why this entry features the goofy (and really old) picture of me with a wax statue of Lou Reed… It’s because the press department of SXSW doesn’t feel this blog carries adequate coverage of SXSW 2008 to justify giving me a pass to take a photograph.

    Now, given that they have to limit the number of people jamming up to the front to take a photo (and I wouldn’t have shoved my way to the front of a big session like this anyway), I’m still pretty annoyed because I’d really like to be able to feature photos of the really great bands we’re finding here. And we’re only focusing on the smaller acts anyway.

    Anyhow, this is by way of explaining that I can only take photos at shows that are not official panels or showcases. That, by the way, is how I was able to obtain a photo of “The Answer” playing live.

    Oh well! Cheers! Anny

  2. One other thing… if you read my blog about the Zuckerberg interview during SXSW interactive, I’d like to tell you that Hal Willner’s wonderful interview was the antithesis of the horrible Zuckerberg interview.

    Even though Willner is not a professional interviewer, he did a wonderful job of giving Reed full rein and encouraging him to speak candidly and passionately. He also integrated pre-sumbitted questions for the attendees into the interview, which was very inclusive feeling.

    Finally, Willner made the interview about REED, not about himself. In fact, Willner was not introduced by the SXSW introduction, and Reed himself rectified that with an exceptionally well delivered and complementary introduction of Willner.

    Now, given, the articulate Lou Reed is possibly a much easier interview than and somewhat geeky Mark Zuckerberg, but still, this interview was about the interviewee, not the interviewer, and I just want to say THANK YOU to Willner and SXSW so doing such a good job here.

  3. [...] Read the rest of this great post here [...]

  4. That second one is ainmzag Olivia, you have a crazy good eye, Ib4m so lucky I got to see all your work on FW9, you rule!

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