That made me nervous, because the godfather of punk isn’t known for his sunny disposition. He was described by Legs McNeil in his and Gillian McCain’s book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996) as being “old, and snotty, and like someone’s cranky old drunken father” after McNeil interviewed him in the mid-’70s for the first issue of Punk magazine. And director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho), who wrote for Punk and tagged along for the interview, noted Reed’s “famous nastiness,” saying the interview didn’t end well “because of Lou lashing out or getting bored or whatever…. Lou started getting so hostile. I can’t remember why. He got very mad at Legs, he just hated him.”
With that in mind, I gave Lou a call a few Saturdays ago and hoped for the best. Here’s what he had to say …
Me: Hi, is this Lou?
Lou: Indeed it is!
Me: Hi, this is Robert Cass, from Bootleg City.
Lou: Well, hello, “Mr. Mayor”! Hahaha! Awesome, awesome. It’s great to hear from you.
Me: Oh. Well … good. Thanks for, uh, letting me call you.
Lou: No sweat, buddy. Hey, can you hold on a second? I need to take some cookies out of the oven.
(Twenty seconds later …)
Lou: Okay, I’m back. Wow, those things are hot! Yow! Hahaha!
Me: What kind of cookies are you making?
Lou: Oatmeal raisin. Yum.
Me: I love oatmeal raisin.
Lou: Aren’t they the best? My wife, Laurie— do you know Laurie?
Me: Yes. I mean, I know who she is. I’ve never met her.
Lou: Laurie has this recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies that’s to die for. Just the right amount of butter. And not too hard, not too soft, you know what I mean?
Me: Yes, I think so.
Lou: Hey, let me send you some. A care package! Hahaha!
Me: Wow, thanks. That’s very generous of you.
Lou: No problem, no problem. But we’ll exchange addresses later. Geez Louise, I feel like I’m taking up all your time here talking about cookies. Let’s talk about that concert in Sweden. Thirty-five years ago, right?
Me: Yes. It’s the one that took place at Konserthuset. Just to be clear, I can promise you that no one’s profiting off this bootleg at your expense, especially not me—
Lou: (imitating a stereotypical Swedish accent) Kon-sert-hyoo-zit! Hahaha!
Me: Yes. That’s the one.
Lou: Kon-sert-hyoooooo-zit! Hahaha! Laurie, did you hear that?
(Laurie Anderson, the acclaimed experimental musician and peformance artist — and Lou’s second wife — repeated the name of the venue in the background, then laughed, making Lou laugh even more.)
Lou: Hahahahahaha!!!!! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. No disrespect to the people of Sweden. Honest. Laurie and I are big Muppets fans from way back, that’s all.
Me: Oh, you mean the Swedish Chef.
Lou: Exactly. And here we are in the kitchen, and you and I are talking about Sweden, and yadda yadda yadda. But I am sorry for that little diversion. I’ve got a touch of the sillies today, I’m afraid.
Me: Please, don’t apologize. I’m just … surprised, that’s all.
Lou: That I’m a Muppets fan? No joke — I was crazy jealous when David [Bowie] got cast in Labyrinth. You have no idea! I mean, I would’ve been totally wrong for that part, but I wanted to work with Jim Henson so bad — whatever it took. I even tried to get on The Muppet Show as a guest back in ’78, but I think they considered me to be a little too “raw” back in those days. Rawer than Paul Williams, anyway. Hahahaha!
(Laurie started imitating the Swedish Chef’s voice in the background.)
Lou: Shmergen flergen bergen vergen! Hahahaha! You know what else? I wrote a children’s book back in the early ’80s, but I never showed it to anybody except Jim.
Me: What was it called?
Lou: “The Velveteen Underground.” I know, I know — dumb name. I needed a hook, you know? But it was so much fun to write. And Jim kinda dug it, I think, but he had plenty of irons in the fire already.
Me: Wow, that’s … look, I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting any of this when I called you. In fact I was expecting to be on the defensive the entire time.
Lou: I feel bad about that, but then again, it’s not all my fault. I got this reputation when I was young and foolish, but then I kept acting young and foolish, and all of a sudden everybody expected me to be a sourpuss all the time, so I played along. Give ’em what they paid for, you know?
Me: I see.
Lou: I once ran into the Black Eyed Peas backstage at some awards show — huge fan, love their stuff — but I could tell they were scared of me. That was a bummer. Made me sad.
(Laurie could be heard saying “Aww, pumpkin” in the background.)
Lou: And then there were all those people who yelled “boo” at my shows. Even after my friends explained that they were saying “Lou,” I didn’t believe them. So I became a grumpy Gus about that, let me tell you. And once you get that ball of negative energy rolling downhill, nothing’s going to stop it, you know what I mean?
Me: I do, I do.
Lou: But guess who loves the sun now? Me, that’s who! Hahahaha!
(Laurie mumbled something in the background.)
Lou: Oh, that’s right! Man, I am so sorry, but I forgot — Laurie and I have to take some of these cookies over to the nursing home a few blocks away before visiting hours are over. I knew I shouldn’t have spent so much time talking about the Muppets.
Me: No, don’t worry about it. This was an eye-opening phone call, no question about it.
Lou: That’s so good to hear! Hey, thanks, Robert. I mean it. Look, shoot me an e-mail with your address and I’ll send some of these cookies your way A-S-A-P, okay?
Me: I’ll do that.
Me: Okay then.
Lou: Until next time, right?
Me: Wait. You want me to call you back?
Lou: No, I’m just— sorry, I’m really bad at goodbyes.
Me: Oh, okay.
Me: So … I guess—