Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part two
Tangents: It seems like by the time you got to the third record [The Velvet Underground, 1969], there was a definite change in the music. It was definitely more ...
Tucker: Mainstream. Maybe that's not quite the word.
Tangents: It was more in that direction.
Tucker: Yeah. I couldn't really say that was because Lou was trying to write more poppy songs or because of not having John. I think it was a combination. Of course, replacing John with anyone would make an incredible difference. I mean musically he was really something, and you couldn't replace him and expect it to be the same. No way. But I don't know if there's more to it than that. I don't know if Lou also thought, "Well, let's see. I'll try to make things more appealing" or sell some records or get some radio airplay. I don't know. I hope not, but I don't know.
Tangents: Although it's very different than the first two records, I like that record a lot.
Tucker: A lot of people like that very, very much, and I don't dislike it. Personally, one thing I loved about the Velvets was the off-the-wall, screaming lunacy. But lunacy that had a rhythm, and had a beginning and an end. I don't like lunacy that's just people making noise. Lou's lunacy on guitar was an art. When he was playing feedback, he knew what he was doing. He wasn't just making noise. And it fit the song. I loved that, and I miss that kind of stuff on that album.
Tangents: There are a bunch of good songs on that album: "What Goes On," "Beginning to See the Light," "Pale Blue Eyes."
Tucker: Yeah. Boy, that's a beautiful song. In my opinion, that's one of Lou's great achievements. I think that's really a beautiful song.
Tangents: And of course, it has "Afterhours." Did Lou write that song for you?
Tucker: Yeah. We were playing somewhere because I remember we were in a hotel, and he called me into his room to show me this song. And I thought to myself, "Oh, my God. How am I gonna do this? Holy shit." I don't remember how long after that we recorded [the song], but after we recorded it, I said, "Well, I'm never, ever singing that in public unless somebody asks for it. Just don't put it in the set." And, son of a bitch, somebody asked for it. Oh God, was that a scary moment.
Tangents: Because you were really severely scared of singing, right?
Tucker: Oh, yeah. S--t. [laughs]
Tangents: The story goes that even when you recorded it, everybody had to leave the room.
Tucker: It's true. I couldn't do it. I was a nervous wreck because I can't sing, and I had to really, really try to even vaguely stay in key. We were wasting time, and I was standing there with Lou Reed, going, "Well, let me try it again." Nobody was mad about it. In fact, everybody was laughing. Finally, I said, "Look, I'm really not gonna be able to do this unless everybody just leaves so I can't see anybody." I had never sang in front of anybody before; so that was quite a session. [laughs]
Tangents: So, it was Lou and maybe the engineer ...
Tucker: I think we let the engineer stay to run the board, and he was laughing too. Bastard. [laughs] But Sterling had to leave. I tried it about eight times, and I was just a wreck. But everybody likes it, so what the hell.
Tangents: You must've gotten better, because within a few months you sang lead on "I'm Sticking With You."
Tucker: Yeah, I guess I was an old pro by then. [laughs]
Tangents: Do you still sing that live?
Tucker: Yeah. I do both of them because people really like to see me do "After Hours." They love that song. In fact, one of my schemes, or projects -- whatever you want to call it -- is to somehow record that properly with a real band and stuff and release it somehow -- like a single or whatever.
It's quite amazing, actually, that song. I always do it because I know people want to hear it, and the audience is just mesmerized. I mean, this is the truth. It's very funny because it's not because I'm singing good. I'm not a good singer, obviously. It's the song. I'll look out in the audience, and there's these 20, 19, 23-year-old guys looking at me like I was -- I don't know -- Mother Cabrini or something. It's amazing how they love that song. I would really love to record it and release it. I think I should suggest to Polygram that they release it as a single.
I was stunned when I first started touring on my own in Europe. I was truly stunned to see the reaction. And it was very funny when we did the Velvet tour [in '93] and Lou announced, "Now Moe's gonna sing you a song." The crowd went crazy. They went crazy, and Lou gave me a look like, "Wow!" [laughs] And I said, "Watch out!" They gave us this big, big ovation for me singing this goofy throwaway song.
Lou and John, of course, had never witnessed that. I'd seen it playing on my own, so it was really funny when we played it. Especially in France -- in Paris -- oh my God, the place went wild. That song is quite something. I don't know what it is. If it's the lyrics or what.
Tangents: I think it's just a great little sentimental song.
Tucker: Yeah. Well, it's a winner. It really is.
Tangents: After the third album, you recorded here and there, but you mostly played live. You were never happy with MGM, were you?
Tucker: Yeah. We were never happy with them. They never distributed our stuff, and we still have no idea why they ever signed us. 'Cause we'd play and people would come up and say, "Oh, I love your stuff. We love you guys, but we can't find your records," which is what I hear now. And it just became really too much, you know?
In a lot of the stories I'll see about the Velvets, the person will say, "Oh yes, they played to empty places," and that's not true at all. We always built up a very good following and never played to empty places. We always had a good audience. They couldn't find the records, so that got frustrating, and I'm sure that was a big part of Lou's frustration. Especially being the songwriter and knowing how great these songs were. It was just the usual record company bullshit.
One suspicion is that they signed us because their main plan was bands like the Fugs and the Mothers, so they figured they'd keep us off the street -- out of the way. Although I don't know if they'd be smart enough to think of that.
Tangents: Maybe they thought they should also have an "art rock" band.
Tucker: Yeah, maybe. Get their roster looking good. Shit. [laughs]
I guess it was the same story as today. Maybe I'm a little smarter, or maybe I notice it more today. Back then I was young and goofy, but it was the same thing you've heard a million bands say. "The record company isn't doing anything." [You] can never figure out why they signed you. Except maybe as a tax write-off. God.
Tangents: After you got signed to Atlantic, you became pregnant and left the band for a while. Was it tough to be away from the band for that time?
Tucker: Well, it was tough to let them be recording [Loaded, 1970]. There are a few [songs] on there that needed me. Not to be a snot [laughs], but "Ocean," in particular, and a number of others needed my type of drumming. There are good songs. I don't mean to say that my drumming [would have] made those songs, that's for sure, but they needed it.
Tangents: What do you think of Loaded? Again, it was a more commercial step.
Tucker: Honestly, I'd have to say I don't know if I just don't pay much attention to it because I'm not on it. That may be the reason. There are a number of songs I like. I just don't like the versions on the record. Maybe that has something to do with it. "Rock and Roll," for instance. That's a great song, but I don't like it on the record. And that has something -- not totally, but something -- to do with my part, which is missing, and which I think was better. There are some really good songs on there. I just don't like those versions.
And also, I don't think Doug should have sang so many of them. He was too young. There was no feeling in it. He's a very good singer. Technically, a much better singer than Lou, but it didn't work. The drummer [on Loaded, Billy Yule, Doug's brother] is a helluva lot better technical drummer than I am, but it didn't work in my opinion. I've also heard those songs with Lou singing them, and they're much better.
Tangents: Well, Doug only sang those songs, according to box set, on the record because Lou would lose his voice from touring ...
Tucker: I've heard that, and I think that's a crock of shit. I can't say that with any authority, but I think that's bullshit because if Lou felt he would've sung them better, we would've postponed the tour, let his voice take a rest and then record. You don't just say, "Oh, my voice hurts today. You sing it." if you think the other person isn't gonna sing it good.
Tangents: Do you think that Doug sang those songs because of Sesnick's influence?
Tucker: Yeah, I was just gonna say that. I think Sesnick probably convinced Lou that Doug is a real good singer, and he's cute, and the girls like him, and maybe Lou, out of frustration, thought, "Oh, what the hell, we'll try this." But I think that all those songs really lost a lot by Lou not singing them.
Tangents: How did you feel about being listed as the drummer on the album?
Tucker: I said, "Why the hell are you doing that? I'm not on this." They just did. I can't remember why. It's never bothered me. It must be weird for the people that did play on the album, but that may have been part of the deal they made. I really don't know.
Doug had gotten out of hand, and I think that was Sesnick's doing, too. Doug had really gotten out of hand. It's very funny; the first time we rehearsed with Doug, he came down to New York and we rehearsed at Lou's apartment. When I came in, they were going through "Jesus," and Lou said, "Oh, Moe! Listen to this great part he made up for 'Jesus!'" And I am certainly no soothsayer, and I didn't even know this guy, but I said to myself, "Oh, God. Take it easy."
Doug had never given us any reason to believe that he would he turn into a problem or become egotistical, but Lou was just too enthusiastic. And a couple years later, I was right.
Tangents: So Doug came to think too much of himself?
Tucker: With the help of Sesnick, yeah, I think so. Very much so. In fact, I know so. [laughs] The last tour I did with the "Velvets" was in Europe, and we had already booked the tour, and Sterling left the group. It was not the Velvets anymore. It had not been, of course, for quite awhile, and me and Sterling were hanging around 'cause it was more fun than working at Wal-Mart.
And I thought, "Oh, s--t. I know what's gonna happen." We had never played in Europe, and I knew that if I didn't go they would go anyway. All the tickets would say, "Velvet Underground!" and all these people would show up. England was a big Velvet Underground place in those days. I thought that sucked. So I thought, "Well, I'll go. At least there'll be at least one original member."
And that was the worst one or two months I have ever spent in my life. The two people that went with us, Willie [Alexander] and Walter [Powers] had played with Doug and had been friends for years. They really liked him a lot and were great fiends. By the end of that tour -- and this is the honest truth -- they both said, "I am never gonna play with him again." He became absolutely unbelievable. This was pure torture. It was pure hell. I can't even give you an example of the things he was pulling. So that was the end of that.
Tangents: Was it the accumulative effect of everything, including Doug, that made Lou leave the band in 1970?
Tucker: I'm sure it was. I'm sure he was discouraged that the record company wasn't doing anything, that the records weren't getting around. At that point, he had been doing music for years, and another difference between me and him is that, in my mind, this was never a career. I never thought, "Oh, now I'm a musician, and I'll always be a musician." That never, never entered my mind. And to him, this was his life's work. So it was a different effect on him than on me. To me, it was fun.
So to not have your record company push your records or even press you records, and you're the songwriter, and your dream is to be a musician, I imagine that's quite discouraging.
b: For how long did you rejoin the Velvets after Lou left?
Tucker: I stayed until that tour of Europe, and that was in '71 or '72. I think I played for a little more than a year.
Tangents: Did you regret rejoining the band?
Tucker: No. Like I said, it was just fun for me. It wasn't the Velvets anymore, and I knew that, but we were a good band. We'd go play, and I'd have money to buy beer, and I'd go home. That's really all it meant to me at that point. I didn't regret it. I did regret going to Europe. But it kept me out of the workforce for a while.
Tangents: It's become semi-legendary that [during the '80s] you worked at a Wal-Mart ...
b [groans] Oh, those sons of bitches. [laughs] Don't get me started on them. Yeah, I worked at a distribution center here in town. A warehouse.
Tangents: How long did you work there?
Tucker: Three years. Three years of hell. The most hellish part is that down here ... if you get a job, oh my God, you'd do anything to keep it because the jobs are so scarce. So the people down here have no concept of being pissed off at the boss or opening your mouth if you think something's wrong, and I think that was the most irritating thing to me.
Even more irritating than the treatment. The fact that your fellow workers would smile and go, "Oh, well." I'd come home every day like a lunatic. I wasn't used to that shit. I was not used to being treated like a schmuck and not saying something. And also getting no support from the others who were also being treated like this. And having people never, ever even consider saying something to someone. It's amazing. What an awful way to live. I haven't worked in seven years, and I still think, God, what a way to live. How can these people stand it?
I'll tell you the famous "Wal-Mart bonus" story, and you have to promise to print this. The first Christmas I worked there, I certainly never expected a bonus, not out of these bums. So one day the supervisor comes out of his office and says, "Oh, girls. The bonus is gonna be in tomorrow." And of course, everyone turns around to say, "Oh, great!" And someone finally says, "Well, how much is it?" And I swear to God, this is the truth, he says, "Five dollars."
I tell you, I was struck dumb. I could not even speak. I just turned and said, "Five dollars?!" And nobody else had said a word. This was fine with everybody. I said, "Are you kidding?" He said, "No. It's gonna be $5 this year." I couldn't speak, and the girls were like, "Well, Maureen, $5 blah blah blah." Finally, the supervisor says, "Well, Maureen, that's better than nothing." I said, "That's exactly why you're getting $5."
We went back to work, and I tell you, I was just steaming. I was furious. We went to lunch and everyone was like, "What are you so mad about?" So I'm saying, "Are you out of your minds? This guy is the richest man in America! He's giving you $5! Why doesn't he just forget about the bonus? Can't you see, this is an insult." And they said, "Well, that's five dollars more for Christmas." There was no talking to them.
So the next day, the boss comes around with these fabulous checks, and he's passing them out like Santa Claus. He gets to me and I said, "I don't want it." I guess he figured I was kidding, so he put it in his pocket, finishes up and comes back. I said, "I don't want it. I won't take it." He says, "Well, you have to sign for it." "No, I'm not signing for it. I don't want it." He said, "What's the matter?" I said, "It's an insult. I don't want it." Finally, he chuckled, and off he went.
And no one was ever pissed off about this. They could not see want an insult this was, and this was literally three months after Sam Walton had been computed to be the richest man in America. That's like you're sitting at his dinner table, and he pushes the crumbs off his plate and says, "Here, that's for you."
So that's what you put up with every day -- these kinds of insults. And no one getting pissed. I guess that's really what irritated me.
Tangents: How much were you making an hour?
Tucker: When I started, I think it was $4.65. And this was skilled work. Working with data entry and computers. This wasn't pushing boxes around. Unbelievable. This was a new experience, one that I did not enjoy. And they didn't enjoy me much either. [laughs]
Tangents: Did you stay in touch with the other Velvets during those years when you were working?
Tucker: Yeah. Mostly Sterling, 'cause he was my friend forever. And his wife is my best friend, so I was always in close touch with him. But we always sent Christmas cards, me and John and Lou.
Tangents: Were else did you work?
Tucker: I worked in Long Island, God, in Hickville. I worked in Tucson, [AZ], but Wal-Mart was my last job. When I decided to try a tour on my own, they wouldn't give me time off to do it, so I quit. I'm thrilled that they were able to get rid of me.
Tangents: Had anyone at Wal-Mart ever heard of the Velvet Underground?
Tangents: Had did that first tour come about?
Tucker: Jad [Fair, of Half Japanese] had toured Europe a few times. I guess he had told his agent that we were friends, and his agent asked if I would be interested in doing a tour. I told the agent, "I can't go do the tour. I'm supporting five kids on my own. I can't come home with $500, so what do you think I could make?" So he called back a few weeks later and said, "Well, for six weeks, you could make blah blah blah," and it was literally about $200 more than I would make all year long at Wal-Mart. Which was not a lot. Nevertheless, I decided to take the plunge. I thought it was a good gamble.
Tangents: And you've gotten a great response in Europe?
Tucker: Yeah, we do really well there.
Tangents: Were you aware of the number of fans out there that were listening to the Velvets?
Tucker: By then I was. I was not aware of it for awhile, but then I was. But I was still not confident. Exactly what I told my band was, "If this turns out to be a bunch of 50-year-old assholes who are there to see an aging Velvet, this'll be the last tour." That's not what I'm after. I knew that 90% of the people came because I was in the Velvet Underground, which is fine, because I have an audience, but they left liking my music. So it worked out.
Tangents: My understanding is that when the Velvets first reunited for that Andy Warhol Tribute in Paris in 1990 to perform "Heroin," that it was really unplanned.
Tucker: It was completely unplanned. [laughs] Yeah, it was a total surprise. Lou and John were gonna go on to perform things from Songs for Drella , and we were all having such a good time that they said, "Well, let's do something." And of course, they didn't tell me. So I was standing behind the stage waiting for them to go on, and John goes rushing by, and he says, "We're looking for mallets." I said, "Why are you looking for mallets?" "We're gonna do 'Heroin.'" So I said, "Oh, cool."
That really was fun. My daughter was backstage crying, because she, of course, had never seen us live. She was very affected. That was the most fun four days I've ever had in my life. That really was a great, great weekend.
Tangents: How did it sound to you?
Tucker: Well, from where I stood, I didn't hear that much. As I reported before ... [laughs]. I don't know, to be honest. It was a properly run function, so I imagine that the sound system was decent.
Tangents: Was it during the planning of the Velvets' box set [Peel Slowly and See, 1995] that you started discussing the reunion tour?
Tucker: Polygram had said they wanted to put out a box set, so we decided, "Well, let's have something to say about this for once. Let's get in on this." So we had a meeting, and we had never done that before. We were just laughing at each other. It was everyone except Lou. Of course Lou couldn't go, but he met us later for lunch.
So we were having lunch and just bullshitting, and Lou said as a joke, "We should play Madison Square Garden and make a million dollars." So we all said, "Ha ha. Sure." sure that we'd never play together. And then we kind of went, "Hmmm." [laughs] "We like each other now. Maybe we could do this." We didn't start talking about it right then and there. I guess no one really wanted to say, "Hey, let's do this." But after a week or two, I don't remember who called, but we decided that it would really be fun, we really wanted to do it.
That was in December, and in February we got together in New York to play together and see if it was gonna sound right, or it was gonna suck or what. Within three bars, we knew this was gonna be fine. So then we talking about actually planning do something.
Tangents: You said in another interview that you were the only one who proposed set list for the tour.
Tucker: Uh-huh. I had made a list of stuff I really wanted to do, of things I thought we should do, whether we wanted to or not, and things I really did not want to do. I hadn't spent days on it, but at least I tried. [laughs] And of course, nobody else did, so we took my list and started from there. And added some stuff and took some off.
Tangents: How long was the reunion tour?
Tucker: It became about two months. We started on June l and we got home on July 7, so it was about six weeks.
Tangents: Did you enjoy the reunion tour of Europe?
Tucker: We had a great time. I've privately wished that we didn't have a good time because then it wouldn't have been so disappointing that we didn't do more. But we had such a good time. It was so nice being together. We all really like each other, and hadn't been together fooling around and bullshitting in 30 years.
Tangents: Were you surprised by the reaction of the crowds to your shows?
Tucker: No, not really. We had bets, the four of us, and of course, I won all the bets. We had two main bets. Lou and John and Sterling said, "What's the audience gonna be? Half of them are gonna be there hoping that we bomb, and half of them are gonna be 50-year-old farts who are here to see these old Velvets." And I said, "No. Bullshit. Are you out of your mind?"
And I realized later that the reason John and Lou thought that was that when they play, they play and skitter off the back of the stage, and they really don't see the audience. They don't know who makes up their audience. When I play, we sell t-shirts off the stage and go out in the bar and have a beer. I see that these are 19, 18, 16-year-old kids. I know what the audience is, but they don't. They never see them. So I really had the upper hand in this bet.
Tangents: About how far into the tour was it before tensions between John and Lou started up again?
Tucker: Oh, at rehearsals. [laughs] There are a number of reasons for that. For one thing, neither Lou nor John had been in a band situation since the Velvets. They've been in a "I'm the boss" situation, and everybody else was a sideman. John was totally understanding of the band. Lou didn't quite get that. Me and Sterling and John really wanted to have a good time, and for Lou to have a good time, and for it to be a good thing. And when we first agreed to do it, we also agreed that none were promising to do anything else. This is all we were counting on, in case this turned into a real horror show.
We really wanted to enjoy it. It's really hard to explain why. Maybe because he hadn't enjoyed, in my opinion, playing music for an awful long time. A real long time. So we put up with an incredible amount of shit just to not have fights. "OK, alright, we'll do it." But even with all that, we had a very good time.
Tangents: How would you describe Lou, from a personal standpoint?
Tucker: Lou can be an incredible son of a bitch, but he can also be sweet as pie. I love Lou very much. Very much. He's never a bastard to me, but I've seen him be pretty damn rotten to lots of people. That doesn't make that OK. That's not OK to me, just because he doesn't do it to me. To me it's still horseshit, but I love him very much, and I fully understand that he's just been spoiled by being "yessed" to death. "Yes, you're right. No, you're right. Sounds great. Yes, that's perfect." No one ever says "F--k you" to Lou. No one except us. And he's not used to that. He's not used to having the band be your friends, and he had forgotten -- and I believe he's changed his opinion now -- what it was to be in a band instead of playing with sidemen. That's a very different story.
Sidemen don't care. As long as they do their part, they don't give two shits what happens. As long as the sideman does his job, that's all that matters, to you or them, but a band is different. And Lou didn't have time to get to used to that idea. Maybe that's a nice way to put it. We put up with an incredible amount of shit, but I still love him, and he loves us.
We had all these plans because we had such a good time, including Lou. We were gonna play Japan, do an American tour, maybe record. No one wanted to quite say that yet, but it was just such a stupid ending. So that was a very big disappointment, and very sad.
Tangents: Was it Lou who said, "No, I don't want to do this anymore?"
Tucker: Yeah. We were supposed to do "MTV Unplugged," and we had gone up to New York to talk about what we wanted to do, and we were very excited about it. I was thinking that this would really be stunning. Songs like "Sister Ray," for instance, with Cale playing something crazy, and I thought it would've been wonderful.
So Lou declared at this meeting that he would produce. "I'll be the producer," and we just kinda looked at each other, "Wait a minute!" Of course we didn't like that, not for any shit reasons. My reason, and I told Lou, was "Now we just went through this tour. We not only survived, but we're friends still, which is a miracle. If anyone one of us produces, it's gonna turn into a fight, and we won't be friends anymore. So let's not do it. And if it's gonna ruin anything of what we've gotten back. Forget it."
So John and Lou and I had this fax fight for two weeks. Finally me and John discussed it, and he said, "Well, if it means that much to him." So we said OK, but then John said to me, "Who's gonna get the producer's fee?" Which was not said in a cheap fashion, but it was said as "Well, you're gonna get to produce because you're sucking your thumb in a corner, and you're gonna get paid besides?" And when Lou heard that, he hit the roof. He said, "If I can't do that, then I'm not doing anything else." And that was the end of everything, which was really, really childish.
And a big shame because John and Lou both really respect each other very, very much, and basically, really like each other. But working together does not work, and that's a shame.
Tangents: Along with touring, you've now gotten into producing?
Tucker: Oh, yeah. When I say produce, I mean something different than most people. I don't run the board. My ideas are in the music, drum parts or whatever, and that's what I do. I'm interested in producing small bands.