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Book review: Lou Reed: The Last Interview and Other Conversations - something to talk about

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 March, 2015, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 March, 2015, 8:30pm
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Lou Reed: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
by various authors
Melville House

When I saw the latest entrant in Melville House's "Last Interview" series, I almost did a spit take.

In a series that offers the thoughtful, provocative and impish responses of such great writers as Jorge Luis Borges, James Baldwin, Roberto Bolano and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Melville House now presents Lou Reed.

That Melville House, a nimble Brooklyn publisher, would publish a book about the quintessential New York rocker is no shock. But a book of interviews with Lou Reed, a notorious interview hater and journalist basher?

But don't take my word on that. Let the man speak for himself, as he did in a 1989 interview with David Fricke in Rolling Stone: "I don't like being interviewed. Why would anyone want to be interviewed? Anybody in their right mind? Why would you, if the position was reversed, want to sit here and have me ask questions about you?"

Unsurprisingly, Fricke's discussion with Reed is the only truly successful journalistic interview in this collection of six; it was published a few months after the release of New York, his finest album. The other five pieces here can be described as interview-based encounters with Reed displaying varying levels of intransigence. Reed devotees will want to read and own this book; music publicists may want to use parts of it in professional development training.

Lou Reed: The Last Interview features a prominent degree of celebrity on the interviewers' side. It opens with Lester Bangs' notorious 1975 Creem article, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves: Or, How I Slugged It Out With Lou Reed and Stayed Awake", a piece of gonzo journalism that depicts their conversation as the equivalent of two exhausted street fighters trading low blows without really hurting each other.

In contrast to Bangs' battering, Neil Gaiman's "Waiting for the Man" ( Reflex magazine, 1992) is a fanboy embrace. A Reed fan since his youth, the award-winning author casually mentions at a lunch that he wished he'd interviewed Reed while he was still a music journalist. The starmaker machinery lurches into action. Reed calls him for a talk minutes before he goes onstage for a European concert. It's a friendly conversation with Reed riffing on topics generated by Gaiman's questions about Reed's book of lyrics, Between Thought and Expression.

Lou Reed and Paul Auster: A Conversation, which appeared in Dazed & Confused in 1996, came out of Reed's participation in Blue in the Face, a largely ad-libbed comic movie that Wayne Wang and novelist Auster directed. It's minor stuff, from a music fan's point of view, but Reed offers a wonderful quote from Patti Smith on the need to keep living after a loved one has died: "Because the other person can't be there, you owe it to them to enjoy yourself twice as much."

Tribune News Service