Lou Reed Turns Rock Critic, Sizing Up Everyone from the “Amazingly Talented” Beatles to the “Two Bit, Pretentious” Frank Zappa

A sig­nal char­ac­ter­is­tic of pow­er­ful crit­i­cism is that it keeps peo­ple talk­ing years after the death of the crit­ic him­self. Think, for exam­ple, of Lester Bangs, who despite hav­ing been gone for near­ly 40 years left behind judg­ments that still res­onate through the halls of rock and roll. The vital­i­ty of his work was­n’t hurt by a ten­den­cy to get unusu­al­ly close to some of his sub­jects, espe­cial­ly Lou Reed. “The things he wrote and sang and played in the Vel­vet Under­ground were for me part of the begin­ning of a real rev­o­lu­tion in the whole scheme between men and women, men and men, women and women, humans and humans,” Bangs wrote in 1980.

Five years ear­li­er, Bangs had called Reed “a com­plete­ly depraved per­vert and pathet­ic death dwarf,” as well as “a liar, a wast­ed tal­ent, an artist con­tin­u­al­ly in flux, and a huck­ster sell­ing pounds of his own flesh. A pan­der­er liv­ing off the dumb­bell nihilism of a sev­en­ties gen­er­a­tion that doesn’t have the ener­gy to com­mit sui­cide.”

All this he meant, of course, in praise. Reed, for his part, dis­played such elab­o­rate dis­dain for Bangs that it could only have been moti­vat­ed by respect. “What oth­er rock artist would put up with an inter­view by the author of this arti­cle,” Bangs rhetor­i­cal­ly asked, “read the resul­tant vicious vit­ri­ol-spew with approval, and then invite me back for a sec­ond round because of course he’s such a masochist he loved the hatch­et in his back?”

A mag­a­zine page now cir­cu­lat­ing on Twit­ter col­lects Reed’s own opin­ions on a vari­ety of oth­er rock acts and coun­ter­cul­tur­al fig­ures of the 1960s and 70s. The Bea­t­les, who’d just bro­ken up? “The most incred­i­ble song­writ­ers ever” (though Reed’s judg­ment of the Fab Four would change with time). The Rolling Stones? “If I had to pick my top ten, they’ve got at least five songs.” Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Revival? “I like them a lot.” David Bowie? “The kid’s got every­thing… every­thing.” Fel­low Vel­vets Doug Yule (“so cute”), Nico (“the kind of per­son that you meet, and you’re not quite the same after­wards”), and John Cale (“the next Beethoven or some­thing”) get com­pli­ments; as for Andy Warhol, out of whose “fac­to­ry” the band emerged, “I real­ly love him.” (“Lou learned a lot from Andy,” wrote Bangs, “main­ly about becom­ing a suc­cess­ful pub­lic per­son­al­i­ty by sell­ing your own pri­vate quirks to an audi­ence greedy for more and more geeks.”)

But as a con­nois­seur of the hatch­et, Reed also plants a few him­self. Of “Cal­i­for­nia bands” like Jef­fer­son Air­plane and the Grate­ful Dead, he said “they can’t play and they cer­tain­ly can’t write.” Nor, evi­dent­ly, could the Who’s Pete Town­shend: “as a lyri­cist he’s so pro­found­ly untal­ent­ed and, you know, philo­soph­i­cal­ly bor­ing to say the least.” Reed does “get off” on the Kinks, “then I just get bored after a while.” Alice Coop­er rep­re­sents “the worst, most dis­gust­ing aspect of rock music”; Roxy Music “don’t know what they’re talk­ing about.” Frank Zap­pa is “the sin­gle most untal­ent­ed per­son I’ve heard in my life. He’s two-bit, pre­ten­tious, aca­d­e­m­ic, and he can’t play his way out of any­thing.” Yet at Zap­pa’s posthu­mous induc­tion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, the lauda­to­ry speech was deliv­ered by none oth­er than… Lou Reed. In rock, as in the oth­er arts, resent­ment can become the seed of admi­ra­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lou Reed Cre­ates a List of the 10 Best Records of All Time

An Ani­mat­ed Lou Reed Explains The Vel­vet Underground’s Artis­tic Goals, and Why The Bea­t­les Were “Garbage”

Hear Ornette Cole­man Col­lab­o­rate with Lou Reed, Which Lou Called “One of My Great­est Moments”

The Out­siders: Lou Reed, Hunter S. Thomp­son, and Frank Zap­pa Reveal Them­selves in Cap­ti­vat­ing­ly Ani­mat­ed Inter­views

Lou Reed Curates an Eclec­tic Playlist of His Favorite Songs Dur­ing His Final Days: Stream 27 Tracks Lou Was Lis­ten­ing To

Ing­mar Bergman Eval­u­ates His Fel­low Film­mak­ers — The “Affect­ed” Godard, “Infan­tile” Hitch­cock & Sub­lime Tarkovsky

Andy Warhol Hosts Frank Zap­pa on His Cable TV Show, and Lat­er Recalls, “I Hat­ed Him More Than Ever” After the Show

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (10)
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  • Michael McBrearty says:

    In 1960s 1970s New York there was the Dylan gang and the Warhol gang. Lou Reed was part of Andy’s gang.

  • Brearty McMichael says:

    Why could­n’t they just get togeth­er and be one big, hap­py Dyl­hol gang?

  • PW says:

    So, if you knew Lou per­son­al­ly you were an inspired genius. If you did­n’t, you were a tal­ent­less char­la­tan — except CCR who, for the record, were also a “Cal­i­for­nia band,” I love the Vel­vet Under­ground and some of Lou’s solo work, but in inter­views he was so far up his own arse it’s embar­rass­ing.

  • Nigel Trevena says:

    I com­piled this mate­r­i­al and pub­lished it in the first book(let) on Lou and the VU, 1973. The quotes are all seri­ous — they have been dis­missed else­where as tongue in cheek — and cut from var­i­ous U.K. and U.S. music papers. Lou was just break­ing as an artist with ‘Wild Side, after years of being ignored while pro­duc­ing work of sheer genius in the VU, and was get­ting his own back.

  • Michael says:

    Frank Zap­pa com­pet­ed with the vel­vet under­ground for a sign­ing on a record label and even after giv­ing the speech for his rock and roll hall of fame induc­tion he still choos­es to be a petu­lant child. I love the vel­vet under­ground and also some of lou solo stuff, but his head is so far up his own ass here it’s embar­rass­ing.

  • Gregg says:

    Warhol was not an artist, but a per­sona. Lou Reed was not much bet­ter. His crit­i­cisms lack insight.

  • Nick Sodano says:

    I could nev­er find my way into his music — just like jazz, it’s cool rep­u­ta­tion just left me unmoved. Now I don’t like his opin­ions much either.

  • Dental Floss Tycoon says:

    WTH Lou Reed… Did you have a f*ing stroke?!?

    The two bit, pre­ten­tious — Frank Zap­pa. Nah, FZ and the team are leg­endary. This guy needs an Ensure and a nap.

  • FZ says:

    Lou’s been phys­i­cal­ly dead for a decade already…what’s the point of pulling out his inane quotes?

  • Eric says:

    Too fun­ny, got­ta love Lou rip­ping on every­body includ­ing the Alice Coop­er band. Then he picked up their drum­mer and two gui­tarists to tour with him that result­ed in the album “Rock n Roll Ani­mal.”

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