Leggere Lester Bangs vuole anche dire (se non sopratutto) 'leggere di critica sociale, politica, letteraria e culturale' relativa ad un'epoca in cui, mentre si realizzavano le basi per l'odierno impero della globalizzazione e delle multinazionali, si aveva la speranza/illusione di potere cambiare il corso delle cose.
Questo è un esempio di intervista di Lester Bangs con un suo 'idolo', Lou Reed. Lester viveva le interviste come una sorta di dovere di provocazione. Era uno scrittore. Era un musicista. Non si era mai drogato. Era invece stato alcoolizzato ma era uscito dall'alcoolismo, partecipando alle iniziative dell'Anonima Alcoolisti. E' morto a 33 anni nel 1982 per un consumo combinato di antidolorifici e sedativi.
|Birdland with Lester Bangs in 1978|
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 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."
In spite of all this, however, he managed to live up to his reputation for making interviewers uncomfortable. He fixes you with that rusty bug eye, 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."
"No," wheezes Nick nonplussedly, "I've got a cold."
"Try Vicks Vapo Rub," says Lou. "I came down with a very bad cold in Boston, and it works. You've gotta lie there for two or three days with that glop 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 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."
Everything is jokes to this bibulous bozo; he really makes a point of havin' some fun! Although it does disturb his friends and fans to see him in such failing health. But he can find a joke even there.
"I would like to live to a ripe old age and raise watermelons in Wyoming." Then he takes another glug and machos: "I'm outdrinking you two to one, you know."
"Are you proud of yourself?"
"Yeah. No, not actually; it's just that a single shot of Scotch is so small that you've gotta nurse it like it's a child or something. I drink constantly."
"How does it treat your nervous system?" I probed.
"It destroys it," he beamed.
"Then how do you intend to raise your watermelons?"
"Well, my time will come. By now I'm getting tired of liquor because there's just nothing strong enough. Now if we were drinking 150-proof sake, or something like that, then I could get drunk..."
He is equally devastating in his frankness on drugs: "I take drugs just because in the 20th century in a technological age living in the city there are certain drugs you have to take just to keep yourself normal like a caveman. Just to bring yourself up or down, but to attain equilibrium you need to take certain drugs. They don't getcha high even, they just getcha normal."
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.
This interview was turning out so fabulous I knew it was now time to get our hooks right down in the nitty gritty, and talk about sex.
"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 his 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?"
If Lou Reed seems like rock's ultimate closet queen by virtue of the fact that he came out of the closet and then went back in, it must also be observed that lots of people, especially lots of gay people, think Lou Reed's just a heterosexual onlooker exploiting gay culture for his own ends. And who knows but that they may be right. When I asked him about his plans for his next album, he said: "I may come out with a hardhat album. Come out with an anti-gay song, saying 'Get back in your closets, you fuckin' queers!' That'll really do it!"
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 absolute normality is the total offensive triteness of his bannered Abnormality. 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."
But there's probably more going on here than meets the eye. Katz must have had plenty of musicians to choose from – he could conceivably have assembled a high-charged ensemble a la Elephant's Memory, he could certainly have gotten a crew of faceless high-tech sessionmen if they didn't want anybody to detract from Lou. But what he got was a bunch of competent high school kids off anybody's block, who also happen to be some of the ugliest cretins ever assembled on one stage!
These guys are the absolute apotheosis of the Flushing, N.Y. or Hoboken, N.J. schlub. They're so nada that they become not faceless, you can't ignore 'em because they contrast so sharply with Lou Reed's leather trip.
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.
My personal payoff with Lou came when we got back to the hotel after the gig. About a dozen people sat around a shadowy suite while the Original Phantom Purveyor of the New Rock got drunk on his ass and rambled on to the point of babble. I got totally blasted myself, my disappointment came through and I started baiting him: "Hey Lou, doncha think Judy Garland was a piece of shit and better off dead?"
"No! She was a great lady! A wonderfully wise and witty lady ..."
"Hey Lou, then doncha think David Bowie's a no-talent asshole?"
"No! He's a genius! He's brilliant!"
(It makes sense that Lou would say that, since he allegedly made an ass of himself by falling in love with Bowie when he went to England last summer.)
"It is not! It's a brilliant masterpiece! Oh, you are so full of shit!"
"It was dogshit. Why don't you get off all this crap and just try being banal for a change? Why doncha write a song like Sugar, Sugar? That'd be something worthwhile!"
"I don't know how. I would if I could... l wish I'd written it..." Jeez, the poor bastard was getting so pathetic even his overwhelming maudlin streak was beginning to get to me! Like all the last year every time his name comes up all you hear is "Poor Lou!" Poor Lou, poor Lou, poor poor poor Lou Reed! You wouldn't wanna be in his shoes! The tortured artist! The poor hamstrung sensibility! But I was too drunk for brakes, so I got even more personal and abusive: "Hey Lou, why doncha start shooting speed again? Then you could come up with something good!"
"I still do shoot it... My doctor gives it to me... Well, no actually they're just shots of meth mixed with vitamins... well, no actually, they're just vitamin C... injections."
It went on like that for a while; finally, the whole thing sort of flaked into silence, and a girl from his organisation had to come and carry him off to his room.
But I'll always carry that last picture of him, plopped in his chair like a sack of spuds, sucking on his eternal Scotch with his head hanging off into shadow, looking like a deaf mute in a telephone booth. (He's still pretty cool, though; I stole that last phrase from him.)
If all this makes you feel sorry for him, then you can compliment yourself on being a real Lou Reed fan.
Because that's exactly what he wants.
"Cute kid," thinks I. "Maybe I'll give him a copy of the Electric Company soundtrack."
"Hey!" he poots. "Yagotenny Vaaaan Morrison or Leeon Russell?"
Awright you little popsickle pecker, I'm getting pissed at all this blatant trashing of respect for elders. So I drag out a copy of Transformer: "Wanna hear this?"
"Naaah," he snorts. "I awready got a copy."
"Oh yeah. What's your favourite song on it?"
"New York Telephone Conversation. But my brother likes the one that goes 'shaved 'er legs an' then he was a she'." His brother is eight.
"Well, then, whattaya think of it?" I was a broken man.
"I think it's great! We play it all the time." So there you are. A bit later I tried to put on an America album and the brat called me a "health food eater". He's obviously a prodigal snot, but you can't ignore the evidence: Lou Reed may be leagues from the peak of his creative powers, he may be a deteriorating silhouette of a star...
But give him a child from the time he's nine.
Soundtrack: Lester Bangs - let it blurt