Velvet Memories

10.29.13

Moe Tucker’s Tribute to Velvet Underground Bandmate Lou Reed

The Velvet Underground drummer is now a grandmother in Georgia. She talks to Harry Siegel about her ‘special friendship’ with Reed, what she thought of his lyrics, and more.

Moe Tucker, the drummer and percussionist of the Velvet Underground, has been largely out of the spotlight for years, living in Georgia. Harry Siegel called her to get her thoughts on the passing of her one-time bandmate Lou Reed. Here’s what she told him.

Lou was, I don’t know—Lou and I had a special friendship. I loved him very much. He was always encouraging and helpful to me and a good friend. When you’re involved in something with someone, whether it’s winning the Super Bowl or whatever, I think those people who were with you at the time are special to you always. Yeah, actually I did know at the time that it was special, playing with them.

I’m super glad Lou and I remained friends all this time. Not close like we’d tell each other secrets like girlfriends or guy friends might, but a respect, I guess. The Velvet guys, they were like brothers. I felt more from them than just “we were in a band together.” Lou and I and Sterling [Morrison], too—I’ve known Sterling since I was 10—you know, it was a good bunch. I had a great time and loved them all very much, and I’m really kind of off-kilter over this.

It was so different at the time than anything else that was going on. We were not into flowers in your hair. It was very different, and consequently record companies didn’t know what to do with us, and blah blah blah. Thankfully, the fans soldiered on, and 20 years later we really started to get a lot more recognition. When you’re doing something like that, you don’t think, “In 20 years, people will love this,” so that’s been a really nice surprise. And I’ve always been real glad of Lou and John [Cale]’s solo success as well.

Many people, I think, have the impression that Lou was kind of a grouchy son of a bitch, but that’s not true. He’d be grouchy. He didn’t tolerate someone who has a job and does it badly. That just drove him nuts, and those were the kind of instances where he could be what some people would consider “holy shit.” But you can’t blame him, because how many years did he put up with people who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about when they came to interview him and stuff like that? I loved him very much, and I’m going to miss him.

On leaving New York and eventually starting to play again: I left because my husband, my ex-husband, got a job with Hughes Aircraft, actually, in California. I missed playing music, which is why I slowly started to think, “Well, maybe I could have a little fun again.” So I made some records [Ed note: Life in Exile After Abdication is incredible] and toured and stuff. I’m glad I did that. I did miss playing. Not initially—it was, “Well we’re done. Time to get a job.”

Many people, I think, have the impression that Lou was kind of a grouchy son of a bitch, but that’s not true.

On Lou’s lyrics: I was never one to analyze anybody’s music. If I liked it, I liked it. There’s lot of, like, the old days of the one-hit wonders—you know, great song and “Yeah, I like these guys,” and then you listen to the rest and you don’t like it very much. I think Lou’s lyrics were pretty personal. I think most of what he wrote about was pretty personal, and obviously a lot of people connected with what he had to say. Did you connect with what he wrote about? Not too much, no. With the music, yes. With the lyrics, no. That wasn’t my lifestyle. Obviously I knew what he was talking about, but that wasn’t what I was into. No, that didn’t make [playing with him] weird. Some of the songs literally I didn’t even know what the lyrics were until we recorded, and then I could hear them. In those days there were no monitors, for example, so when we played live, I didn’t hear anything. I would watch his mouth, for instance, when we were playing “Heroin,” so I could hear when we got to “Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know”—OK, here it comes. It sounds absurd, but a lot of the songs I didn’t hear the lyrics fully until we got to the recorded things.

On the backlash when the Internet got wind, months later, of a brief interview she’d done for a local newscast at a Tea Party rally, and her life now. I just thought—it pissed me off. Mostly because I didn’t know there was anything going on the Internet until it was too late to reply to some of these bastards who sent comments into The Guardian, that English paper, and I was really pissed because I couldn’t retaliate. No, not retaliate, I couldn’t reply. After a day or two, I thought, “What the fuck is the matter with you people? You’re a progressive, but no one is allowed to have a different opinion? You’re going to hate me because I don’t agree with you? What the hell is that? It’s a shame. It’s a damn shame that people are that close-minded.” I can say, “Fine, you don’t agree with me? That’s fine. I don’t agree with you.” But to be so outraged that a Velvet would not be a—oh my God.

The majority of my time now, I take care of my grandson. He lives with me. He’s 12. He has autism, high-functioning. And so it takes a bit of doing to make sure he does his homework and all that. He takes up my time.

Returning to Lou: I’m so pissed off. I’m so pissed off. Damn, why did that happen? I’ll miss him being out there, doing his thing. My deep condolences to Laurie, who I’m very happy he found.