Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part three
In compiling my extended interview with the drummer of the legendary Velvet Underground in the March edition of Tangents, there were several questions that we just couldn't squeeze in due to limited time and space. The following is a sampling of those "leftovers," including Tucker recalling her head-on collision with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Tangents : One of the stories that I found in ["Uptight"] was that with the first band you played with in Syosset [NY], a bandmate of yours got shot on stage.
Maureen Tucker : Yeah, that was wrong. I played with this band for two weeks, and the only show that we ever did, as far as I remember, was at this little dive in Long Island. And the night after we played there, someone pulled out a gun during a fight or something. Bullets flew and the guitar player or drummer got shot.
Tangents : So it wasn't what it was made out to be.
Tucker : Oh, no.
Tangents : How did the idea of you playing drums standing up come about?
Tucker : That came about because what I would do with the Velvets when we first got together. We'd be in the Factory just fooling around, I had the drums on the floor 'cause there weren't enough [drums] to play the usual way. I'd just hit the bass drum with my hands. So then we invented a stand that would fit under the drum and just hold it up off the ground. Then I was in luxury. [laughs]
Tangents : At one point, you even played on garbage cans.
Tucker : Yeah. My drums got stolen. These horrible drums that I told you about got stolen from the Dom, and we showed up for showtime, and there's no drums there. So me and our road manager went out in the streets of New York City with his station wagon, looking for the cleanest garbage pails we could find, and we actually stole two garbage pails off the street.
Believe it or not, they sounded great. It really was something. We just had these garbage pails upside down on the stage, and we put a microphone under them. And the first night after we picked them up, there was quite a bit of garbage that got beat off their walls, and of course we'd sweep it away. And over the next couple weeks, the garbage pile became less and less.
I used those for at least a week, maybe around two, because I didn't have any money to go buy new drums, of course.
Tangents : How did John's departure affect the way Sterling got along with Lou? Even in "Uptight," Sterling was still very put out by what happened.
Tucker : Yeah. To the day he died, he was put out with himself, really, for not standing up to that. He always felt that he had done John wrong. Yeah, that bothered him very, very much, and I'm sure that it did affect his relationship with Lou. It had to. I'm not sure if it affected my relationship with Lou, but I'm certain that it did [affect] Sterling's.
[Sterling] always admired John and his music, but also liked him personally, but he always felt that hadn't done what he should have. Or what he thought should have done, anyway.
Tangents : How did your first solo album Playin' Possum (1982) come about?
Tucker : I was living in Phoenix, and this guy in Boston called me back in '81 sometime and told me that he had found a tape of me and Jonathan [Richman] doing "I'm Sticking With You" and that he wanted to put it on a single. So he asked if it would be alright with me. I said, "Sure, it sounds like fun." Then he called a few days later and asked if I wanted to record something to put on the other side of the single.
We had just gotten a four-track tape recorder. I could play rhythm guitar a little bit at the time, so I said, "Let me fool around and see. If I think I can do something decent, OK." So we got out the recorder, and I think we got fooling around with "Around and Around." When I got that finished, I thought, "Hmm, this is pretty good. Maybe I'll just put this out myself." So I called him and said, "Nah, I'm gonna keep this. Just put something else on the other side." And I just kept fooling around, recording covers, songs that I thought I could sing halfway decently.
I was going to put out a single, but then kept doing it. This thing also took six months to do 'cause I was changing diapers at the time. When I was halfway through, someone from Rough Trade [Records] in California came down to our house to ask if they could put out an album. They had heard that I was working on an album, which was weird because [at the time] I was not in the music scene at all and hadn't been for 10 years. We thought it would be fun, so we kept recording until I had enough for the album.
We had a little label that we just made for the single, and Rough Trade put out that album. That was me in my family room. I like it. I just listened to it the other day 'cause I was making a copy of it for someone.
I think it's a very fun album. I play everything on it. Of course this was one track at a time, and boy, what an effort this was. I do my saxophone debut on it.
Tangents : I didn't know that you played saxophone.
Tucker : I can't. [laughs] In fact, one song, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," the Dylan song, one reviewer from Musician magazine had a great line. He really liked the album, and his line about that song was that "Maureen performs surgery without benefit of anesthetic." [laughs] I met him years later, and I said, "Oh, you're the guy that wrote that. I always remembered that. I thought that was great."
I played a harmonica for the first time on that record. I haven't picked up the saxophone since. The guitar solos on some of those songs, I don't know how I did them. It's like a little miracle album. And the harmonica, I bought one that was in the key of the song. Somebody had told me to do that, 'cause I didn't know anything about them, and just fooled around with it, and it worked.
Tangents : What are your feelings about bootlegs of the Velvets?
Tucker : Well, there's one thing that pisses me of. When we did the Velvet tour [in '93], and this is incredible, there were places that were advertising in papers before the show that they would have the tape the day after the show. People also sent bootlegs that they had found in different places before we were even home, and these damn things were packaged better than the damn record company's.
I don't know if you've ever had anything to do with trying to release a record with a small record company, but there's always an excuse why it's late. Not these bootleggers, boy. They get them out. And they're beautiful. From the packaging, you'd never guess it was a bootleg. So that's kind of aggravating.
I also am very pissed off at that VU Appreciation Society. I resent their making any money off of us 'cause they're one of those record companies that doesn't pay anybody. The guy that runs it sells bootlegs. He sells anything. Anything any of us ever did, ever thought of doing, he sells them. Meanwhile, I have two records on his label, and I've never gotten a cent.
He's told me, "Oh, I have no money, and blah blah blah." And my contention is if you bought a bottle of Coke this week, that one dollar is mine. That's a luxury. You don't need Coke. If I owed you a dollar, I would not buy the Coke, I would send you the dollar. So that's how I deal with debt, and that's how I expect to be treated.
And he does that to everybody. He's never paid Jad [Fair] anything, not one dollar. And I just detest this guy, and I hate having him have any credence in the outside world. Otherwise, eehhh, I don't mind that much about bootlegs.
In fact, when I first went to Europe, I noticed, "Holy shit! There's thousands of bootlegs!" And Lou told me that for quite a while, he had tried to keep up with all of them, just to have them. And finally, he gave up. He said you couldn't keep up with them, and he's right.
Tangents : What did you think of the albums VU (1984), and Another View (1986)? There were some really good songs on there that the band had never released.
Tucker : They're alright. The first one, they didn't mess with so much, but the second one they cleaned up a lot, and that takes away a lot. They remixed it, and everything that has a vocal is so damn high you can't hear anything else. So there's a lot of disappointments on that, but I was also glad to have some of those songs. But the mixing is questionable.
The vocals are so up front, it's just ridiculous. Is this a poetry reading, or a ballad? And they cleaned everything up too much.
Tangents : I was really saddened that after all those years they kept the Velvets out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they finally inducted you [in 1995], but it came right after Sterling had died.
Tucker : Well, I was real close to not going to that. I was really disgusted with them for lots and lots of reasons. Just the way that they handled everything. I'd call Sterling's wife every day and say, "You know, they're doing something every day to piss me off. [laughs] Maybe they don't want me to come."
For instance, when they announced this, they sent us all little letters. It was six weeks after Sterling had died, and Martha (Sterling's wife's) letter was exactly the same as mine, except where mine said "you," hers said "Sterling." There was not one word of, "Gee, we're sorry about Sterling's death." Nothing! As if it had never happened. And this wasn't the first thing. This was like the tenth thing. But [Martha] called and said, "Did you get your letter?!" She was mad, and I was furious. Those sons of bitches.
And then that was followed quickly by Cale calling me, and he said, "You know, they're gonna want us to play at this thing." And I said, "How are we gonna play? No way." And then he said, "I said to them, "How are we supposed to play? Sterling just died," and they said, "Well, you can just get a replacement." This was their knowledge of music.
I said to John, "Well, you do what you to. If you want to play, you go. I'm not playing, and I don't give a s--t what they think. I'm not a monkey, first of all. If they want me to play, they can go to hell. If you and Lou want to play, I am not playing, and I'm probably not even going." And John says, "Now, Moe ..." [laughs]
Later, Lou called, and he said, "Moe, don't you want to play?" [laughs] He said, "How about if we make up a new song? Something that Sterling never played on." And I said, "Oh, that's an idea," then it could be a little tribute besides. It had just so happened that two weeks before I had started to write lyrics to a song about Sterl. So I faxed that to them, and they liked it. Then we got together, and they made up the music, and that's the song we did ["Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend"].
I honestly was an inch away from not going to this thing. The first year we were nominated. I was thrilled to death. I got on the phone, I called Lou, called John, called Sterling. And every one of them said, "We're not going to get in." I said, "What do you mean? How can we not get in," 'cause I didn't know how it worked at that point. I thought it was a real Hall of Fame. And sure enough, we didn't get in. And that's when I found how it worked, so then I was no longer interested. I said, "Screw them."
I thought, when we do get nominated, let's decline. That'd be cool. Just say, "No, thanks." But John and I realized if I didn't go, John probably wouldn't have gone. And if he didn't go, it would've just been Lou, and we weren't ready for that. You know what I mean? So I decided I should go.
So the Hall of Fame later called to tell me where to go and when to go. So I said, "How many tickets do I get?" They said, "You get two." I said, "Two? Two tickets? And does that include me?" "Uh, yeah." "So I get one ticket." "Well, yeah." I said, "I've got five kids, and I want them there. Half the reason I'm going is for my family. I want to share this with them," not some cigar-smoking assholes who've never heard of us and couldn't care less. They said, "Oh, no. We can't do that. No, no."
Then she said, "You can buy tickets." And I said, "How much?" I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, man. It'll be a hundred bucks. Five hundred bucks. Oh, shit." Then she says, "The balcony's $1250, and the floor's $1500." I said, "Each?! What, are you crazy?"
Then, I said, "Well, I'm probably not going. I want my family there. It doesn't mean anything to me if my family can't go."
So this went on for about two weeks, and finally, they called. This is how she led into this. She said, "If you're talking with the Shirelles ..." Like I'm always chatting with the Shirelles. They were getting in too. "If you're talking with the Shirelles, don't tell them this 'cause we never let anybody do this, but we're going to let the Velvet children get into the ceremony. But don't tell anyone. We've never done this." And I said, "All right," and I thanked them, of course. But the Velvet progeny got in for free.
Tangents : I love that. "The Velvet children."
Tucker : Yeah. "We're going to allow the Velvet children in, but we've never done this before. We can't do this." So I immediately called Sterling's wife. "Hey Mersh! Guess what!" [laughs]
As it turned out, we had a very good time. I was very, very pissed off that they didn't put us in there when they should have. I know that Sterling would've been thrilled. This was right up his alley. That was very sad, but I had a good time toying with them.
What I realized was that this was a big fund-raiser. Boy, is it ever a fund-raiser. And at the end of it, they have their jam [session between all the nominees]. I mean, give me a break. Cale's daughter at the time was about eight or nine, and all these assholes are up there playing, and she says, "Oh, Moe! Moe! Aren't you gonna go play?" And we're all sitting there and looking at her like, "What, are you nuts?" And I said, "Honey, we don't do that."
And I swear to God, I don't think anyone in that place sat in their seats for more than seven minutes. The schmoozing was astounding, and you've never seen more cigars. That's all it was, a big schmooz thing for record company turds, who I hate, and who hate us and always did. But is was fun. My mother was there, too. She was my one guest.
Another reason why I went was that my mother was just so excited. For one thing, she was very helpful when I was first playing with the band. She didn't bitch that I wasn't working, and she very often let us use her car when mine broke. Things that made it possible for me to do that. And I wanted her to reap the rewards, so she was in heaven.
Tangents : I was recently reading the interview with Cale [in Alternative Press], and when asked, he didn't completely rule out another reunion, which was kind of surprising to me.
Tucker : That surprises me, too. [laughs]
It would be all right recording or something with the three of us, but it would not be possible with the three of us and someone else. In my opinion, half the reason we sounded the way we did was because of the four of us. Our different personalities, our different training. Anyone else, it's just not the Velvets. Maybe doing something with the three of us, but not with Joe Blow playing guitar. That would be an insult to Sterling.
Tangents : Do you mind being remembered as the drummer for the Velvet Underground?
Tucker : No, I'm glad to have made my mark. However, I do see how there was, or maybe still is, a point with Lou, that if you were going to interview him, they'd give you a sheet telling you what you're not allowed to ask. And at the head of the list is "any Velvet Underground questions." I don't know if he still does that, but he was doing it as recently as two years ago. When I first heard that, I thought, "Well, that's s--tty." But when I started touring and I started giving lots of interviews, I didn't mind at all. But I realized that he's been doing this for 20 years, and you just get damn sick of it. Especially after 20 years of doing your own stuff, your own good stuff that people like.
But when we did the interviews for the tour, we made a deal that me and Lou would be together, and John and Sterl [in the other group], and I would be with Lou because he would be nice if I was there. [laughs] So that worked out.
Tangents : Do you keep in touch with John and Lou?
Tucker : Oh, yeah. Sure.
[John's] been touring. He does a lot of work. He's always gone somewhere. He comes up with ... these things that he gets asked to do. One of the projects that he was doing was ... they (I don't know who they are) invited six, 10 artists, one of them being Laurie Anderson, and Cale to make music for music boxes. These are big, fancy hot-s--t things. Who knows what they cost? Projects like that. I say to him, "Where do you get these jobs?"
Tangents : You played here in Charlotte in 1989, opening for Lou. How was that tour?
Tucker : That was fun. From the first, he's been very helpful to me with my little efforts. Very helpful and very enthusiastic. John likes my stuff, too, but Lou has been really, really encouraging. And he invited us to do that to help us get some exposure over here [in the U.S.].
It was very different than anything we'd done. It was nice to have that experience to play at real places, for lack of a better word. I don't like that opening slot 'cause no one really gives a shit about you. They're there to hear the other guy, and I don't think it really does anybody any good.
Lots of groups think, "Oh, we're gonna open for so-and-so," and I'm sure now and then, something happens. Maybe if you're quite astounding, but I think that in the end, it really doesn't do you much good. The people who are there are not there to see you. They don't listen, they don't remember you when the other guy's done. So to me, that's not much fun.
My thanks go out to Maureen Tucker for putting up with me, and to the Velvet Underground Web site for featuring us on their home page. I also wish to thank "Moe," Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, Doug Yule and the late, great Sterling Morrison for all the music that I love so much.