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RAWK TAWK: Q&A With Rock Critic Jim Derogatis

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meAVATAR2_1.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA Jim Derogatis is the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, co-host of public radio’s rock talk show Sound Opinions, the definitive Lester Bangs biographer and author of five books, including the just-published and altogether beautiful The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side. Derogatis got his start in the rock crit biz back in 1982 when Lester Bangs agreed to sit for an interview to satisfy Derogatis’ high school journalism class assignment requiring him to interview one of his heroes. Two weeks later, Bangs was dead at the ripe old age of 34. Derogatis would go on to write for Spin, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Modern Drummer, Request, Penthouse and GQ, where, in the Bangsian tradition, he would champion all that was honest and authentic and call bullshit on all that was phony and insincere. Recently, we got him on the horn to talk about the Velvet Underground, the state of rock criticism and his infamous run-ins with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Ryan Adams and R. Kelly.


PHAWKER: Explain the evolution of the book. What the premise was when you started and what it turned out to be. It’s beautiful by the way. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, it is a neat thing to have on your shelf, ain’t it? I have a dozen books on Reed and Cale and the Velvet and really this one still has parts that I’ve never seen or even knew existed. It did  originate as an art book. Voyageur Press has been doing a series of really cool coffee table and really art books on Led Zeppelin and they have one on the works Neil Young and something on Queen that just came out. They called and said we’re thinking of doing one of these on the Velvet, would you like to help put it together? Well, there’s a no-brainer like someone calling and saying ‘Hey, how would you like a fuck load of Christmas presents?’ So, I can’t stress enough it’s hardly my book. I wrote the historical essay that ties it together and I edited the other contributors and chose many of them, but really the art director and the overall editor at Voyageur. I mean their names out to be on the cover. It blows my mind some of the things they came up with to illustrate this book. It’s just beautiful.


PHAWKER: Was there ever any attempt or intention to get the Velvets’ cooperation in the book?


JIM DEROGATIS: No, I don’t think that was the goal. There have been a couple of biographies written on Lou Reed and John Cale wrote his autobiography. jimdero_credit_1.jpgUp-Tight is a really good book in terms of the first person were there. Gerard Malanga and Victor Bockris having been there and talking to the people who were there. This book is a fan book that exists as art and then has the goal of giving some insight into those albums and telling a story, obviously a truncated one. A number of books have been written about the whole Velvet but it kind of freshening it up for the fans. One of the things I think telling, retelling, and telling again of the legend kind of glosses over sometimes obvious facts that get lost. To me it can’t be underscored enough that 3/4 of the band all grew up within a couple of miles of each other in a Mad Men suburban ideal 50-60s Long Island. I mean of all the places to turn out the people who would epitomize the black heart of rock and roll. of You know, just little facts like that. So no, I don’t think that was the goal. I’ve interviewed Reed a number of times. 


PHAWKER: Was there anything you came away from this project, anything new, a different opinion about the band or understanding of the biography or the timeline?


JIM DEROGATIS: I think when you immerse yourself in it and reread all those books and the accounts from the contemporary coverage just how quickly they were moving blows your mind. Lester Bangs pegged and he will forever remain key biographer and critic for this band. Lester pointed out about the third album and how quickly they had evolved and how many different guises they adopted. It’s almost like 4 different bands in the four studio albums, and live they tried different things every time they played as well. Constant evolution that covered  arguably I think as much ground as The Beatles in a shorter amount of time, and obviously proved to be just as influential. 


PHAWKER: Well, what is it about the Velvet that makes them The Velvet Underground? How do you get to be the most influential underground art punk band of all time? Is it the sound? Is it the look? Is it the time they lived in? Is it their associations? All the above?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, I think all those things are factors there’s no doubt about it. At a point when everything was peace and love, flowers in your hair, San Francisco, All You Need Is Love, and Sgt. Peppers — meanwhile the Velvets had that very dark image, you know those famous photos with them all wearing the black wraparound Ray Bans. A superficial thing, but an important thing. Then there was the sound they were making. Lester pegged it that they were really the first band to suggest that capital-A art could be made by “simple” rock n’ roll musicians. Obviously John Cale was a virtuoso who could have been one of the leading avant garde players of his generation, so it wasn’t all that simple. Playing three cords and an attitude and making a as much noise as they could make and turning that into something that would endure as art. And what was it that made it art? Again,  as Lester pointed out you could deal with the most adult subjects, that’s what Hubert Selby did in making great novels about hard life on the streets of New York or really what any of the Beat poets did about everyday existence and turning that into poetry, or art, or great novels. People say Peppers did that. But at the end of the day, Peppers is a really silly album and I think the Velvet’s were making a much more mature art and it scares the crap out of people still to this day and I think that’s a wonderful thing. They were writing about people had never been written about before in rock and to this day aren’t written about all that often. People who would have been considered pretty much the dregs of society: heroin addicts, or Candy Darling in “Candy Says”, people who were sexually confused, people who are living the most alternative of alternative lifestyles, people who liked to get whipped. People who are just at the bottom of a very deep, dark well and the ability then humanize them in a non-sensational way. I mean, is “Heroin” a song that glorifies that experience or not? Lou Reed’s talking about somebody who one minute feels like Jesus’ son and the next minute wants to sleep for a thousand years, basically wishing he was dead. 


PHAWKER: I think the key line on that song is “I guess but I just don’t know.” 


vu_pr_shot.jpgJIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, exactly. It’s incredibly sophisticated stuff and we could analyze it like we could any great novel or any great poem but because it’s rock and roll has that added dimension. You could also just lose your fucking shit with it, turn it up as loud as possible and rattle the windows and scare the neighbors. That’s just great. You can’t do that with Last Exit To Brooklyn, you know?


PHAWKER: The dark side is most noted about the band, but really that only covers two records. After that they really sort of moved into the light and were writing…


JIM DEROGATIS: It really boggles my mind you have this Jewish kid from Long Island singing about Jesus. Two years after singing about heroin. 


PHAWKER: That’s never really been fully explained to me, that evolution. Do you have any insight into that? Was it really just a matter of them tiring of that world or that subject matter? I know they moved away from the Factory and Warhol by the second record, or by the end of it anyway and obviously Cale left and that was a big change and Doug Yule come on board and he was a whole different sensibility. 


JIM DEROGATIS: You know I wrote about a lot that in my first book, which was The History of Psychedelic Rock (which eventually got re-published under a different title, Turn On Your Mind). The idea was to draw the line between four decades of this stuff. Draw the line between the Velvets, My Bloody Valentine, The Flaming Lips, or whoever. I know that cheery, good times, gearing-towards-the-white-light psychedelics were not the bands drugs of choice, this was a band about speed and about heroin. However, there is that thought in psychedelic circles that after the intense psychedelic experience there is that moment of crystallizing clarity that comes after a 12 or14-hour trip — you’re coming down and you’re no longer hallucinating, you’re no longer experiencing the psychedelic experience but there is this sort of moment when greens are greener, the birds are more melodic, the sun is brighter, everything has changed. You’ve come out, even after a bad experience, you’ve come out of this thing on the other side. I think that’s what was happening in part with the Velvets, they  had gone to the bottom a dark well, and then they came up, and I think that was natural. And that’s what the third the album, I think, was about: beginning see the light. They are four very different albums and then what the band was live at different points was also very different things. It’s a tremendous amount of ground covered in a really short period of four years, so there are different Velvets. I mean, entire careers have been made off of just one of those four versions. Still, to this day.


PHAWKER: Right, off of each album. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah you know there’s the Velvets of the third album, and you have Galaxie 500 and millions of imitators, or you have the intense art rock experience of the first record, or you have the pop band of Loaded. It’s like when you say a band’s influenced by the Velvet it’s just like being influenced by the Beatles. Well, which Beatles? “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “You Never Give Me Your Money”? I think what’s different with the Velvets than the Beatles is there is that goal to make adult art. Long before Chuck D that’s what the Velvets were doing, taking everyday street life and turning it into art. 


PHAWKER: The one thing that was a real shock and surprise to me personally when I was paging through the book was the photo of them shirtless covered in white paint. I had never seen that photo before. I guess it was CBS News documentary of the making of an underground film. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah. 


PHAWKER: Does that footage actually exist?vu_cale_reed_small.jpg


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, the thing aired and Cronkite introduced it. I’ve never seen the actual film. I talk a little bit about when that was made in there. Apparently later that night Lou Reed took everyone up to the Apollo to see James Brown. It’s always startling to me when you go back and look at history, rock history, how quickly things were moving. It was a matter of weeks between meeting Warhol and then being presented by him and not a hell of a lot longer before he’s playing with Warhol. It was all in hyper time. 


PHAWKER: It’s always struck me — I mean if you read any of those Factory crowd biographies or POPism: The Warhol Sixties — it seems everyone back in the 60s was on speed and nobody slept and they just led these hyper-kinetic lives that exceed even the velocity of modern day living with all our technology and 24/7 Internet.


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, part of I think that gets mythologized after the fact. I know if you’re in the thick of any point in time, I think if we talked to Cobain about period right when Nevermind came out, when he was hoping it would sell as much as a Velvets record to being the biggest band in the world. I think there are always different points when everything seems to be insane and then long stretches where nothing happens.


PHAWKER: Right, boring. Lets move off topic of the book a little bit. I have a few general questions I want to ask you about rock criticism, etc etc. I wonder if you could speak a little to the role of how the rock critic as evolved culturally with the rise of the Internet and the decline of print. How has this impacted your job, or your role in your estimation?


JIM DEROGATIS:  Criticism hasn’t changed at all and I’ll tell you why. Where I get paid to do it is up for question. I mean, the Chicago Sun-Times very well may not survive this bump which is a shame. It’s in bankruptcy, as is every paper in Chicago. 


PHAWKER: As is our papers here in Philadelphia, the Inquirer and the Daily News…


chicago-sun-times-jeremiah-wright.jpgJIM DEROGATIS: We’re in this period of incredible flux in the industry. I truly want to believe we’re going to find a way to monetize good journalism because the thought of the alternative is just terrifying. I mean when the New York Times can no longer report from on the ground in Afghanistan what kind of democracy are we going to be having? When then MSNBC and Fox and its ilk are all we have. I mean, where’s the reporter? Who going to dig for Abu Ghraib? So, against that backdrop what we do for a living is very trivial. However, the fact that everybody is a critic now, that’s all well and good that’s has it always should have been, I want everybody to be as engaged  as I am with music or with whatever art form they love. That said not every critic is worth reading. Everybody is a critic but not every critic is worth reading. Who are the people who have real insight and a real talent to convey this music as eloquently and as enduringly? I run into people all the time who love the Lester Bangs book who tell me “I keep this Lester Bangs quote in my wallet” “I keep this Lester Bangs quote on my desk, it’s been there for 25 years.” You know, Joe Blogger at Rotten Tomatoes probably ain’t gonna give you that. On the other hand if he or she comes up through Rotten Tomatoes and is that good that’s wonderful. I do think that person deserves to get paid for that work. Keeping in mind what we’ve been paid as always been absurdly out of scale to what everybody else is paid. Writers deserve to get paid for what they are doing and musicians do, too. It just so happens that the notion of getting paid for a recording is going to out to be an historical blip that was in place for about a century and a half. The whole rest of the time the musician made his or her money by traveling from town to town, putting out a hat, playing a song on the lute and if they were good they got paid, if they weren’t they better become a blacksmith and give up the band to live. Wilco can give away its records but it can still sell out a house of 14,000 fans at $30 a pop and that’s how they’re going to make their money. I’m not going to come to your house and review theWilco show and get paid. That’s the problem I think that cultural critics are facing today. It is possible that it’s going to be like indie rock you do this because you love doing it, but you better have a day job. You work at Kinko’s, you work at Starbucks, then you do your blog at night. Just like the indie rocker. It’s possible. I like to hope its otherwise. There are other elements for what we do. I am the only critic in history who had to plead the Fifth Amendment to prevent going to jail over and investigative piece on R. Kelley that got him indicted. I mean, I like Pitchfork, but I don’t see Pitchfork doing that. 


PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about the R. Kelley thing. Are you the person who actually alerted the police? I know you had a copy of the tape and you turned it over to the police. 


JIM DEROGATIS: The police investigation had been going on for like two years. The tape arrived a year after the first story Sun-Times ran which was by me and one of the court reporters and we started digging into because we heard that there were lawsuits our there and there was this police investigation. No, they were after him for sometime. They knew about him for sure. When we got the tape it was blatant that someone had left a smoking gun at the lobby of the Sun Times. It was seemed to be evidence of a a crime. And us even possessing it was criminal. 


PHAWKER: And then there was some controversy about whether or not you would testify in the case. Can you explain that?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, they were after me to name the sources that I had been reporting on this guy for two years. I was not about to do that. With the rkellyfinal_copy.jpgcourts turning away from protections for the press at a point where Judith Miller was in jail and any number of other reporters, like those two guys in San Francisco who were writing about the steroids. Yeah, the judge [in the R. Kelly case] refused to honor the Illinois Supreme Court reporters privilege ruling and said no that doesn’t apply here, so we took the Fifth Amendment because me even admitting that I’d touched or seen the tape was me saying I’d touched or seen child pornography. I was not going to incriminate myself. Now there’s an appeal ongoing by one of the best First Amendment lawyers in the entire country who was my attorney and the Sun-Times attorney and we’re going to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to say that reporters privilege should have held.  I talked to a lot of people who were seriously afraid that talking to me or talking to the police would have exposed them serious damage from R. Kelley and his people. That’s the very best reason to give someone off-the-record protection. I’m telling you about a guy who’s hurting people, allegedly, and I’m going to get hurt just talking to you. That’s why you give someone that off-the-record protection. I was not about to name any of those people. I would have gone to jail for them.


PHAWKER: Were you getting a lot of heat from R. Kelley people for writing these stories or your involvement in this?


JIM DEROGATIS: A bullet through my window. I don’t know who fired it. 


PHAWKER: A bullet through the window of your apartment or your house?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, that was just a hell of a coincidence. It was 24 hours after the story of the tape ran. Just a hell of a coincidence. That was not an easy story to write. 


PHAWKER: Interesting. Back up to the Lester Bangs thing. I was actually just reading through somewhere on the web where the interview is posted. First of all, it’s just so extraordinary to me that you got to interview him when you were a senior in high school. But you had the foresight to interview him first of all, but second of all that the whole thing happened and he opened up, basically he opened up to you and through the keys down to you, which is hilarious. 


lesterbangs2_1.jpgJIM DEROGATIS: He was that kind of guy. He was that way with Cameron Crowe when Cameron was 17 and Cameron met him in 1972 and he was that way with me when I was 17 and I met him in ’82. I mean, he was happy to talk to people about what he loved to do. I was supposed to interview a hero in my chosen field for journalism class in high school. I mean, the guy who explained to me really the Velvet Underground it was as much of a thrill talking to him as if it would have been to talking the Velvet Underground. I can definitively say Lester Banks was a nicer person, at least to me, than Lou Reed’s ever been. Lou Reed is a nasty interview, depending on his mood. He’s been nice too but he can also be, “That’s the stupidest question I’ve been asked.” It’s like, oh yeah, thank you Lou. 


PHAWKER: Yeah, he has raised arrogance to an art form, hasn’t he?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, it’s always hard form me to tell whether that’s part of the Jewish Borscht Belt comedian kind of a thing. He easily could have grown up in stand up in the Catskills. So, you know is it an act? Or is it Lou or after 50 years does it not even matter? But whatever… 


PHAWKER: It was occurring to me when I was reading through this is this would make a great little Indie film of this whole little adventure of yours. 


JIM DEROGATIS: There are a couple of filmmakers in Canada who have wanted to do a film based on Let It Blurt for some time. The obstacle that has always been financing.


PHAWKER: But not even the whole story just the thing with you interviewing him and that would be the whole dialogue just the interview, etc. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Seymour Hoffman was walking around the set of Almost Famous listening to that tape to get the speech right. I have to say that is the Lester I met, the Lester that Cameron portrayed. 


PHAWKER: He was dead 2 weeks later? Correct?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah.


PHAWKER: Did he seem unwell? 


JIM DEROGATIS: He seemed really tired. He seemed really washed out and wasted you can see it in those pictures. He did not look healthy. I think one of let_it_blurt.jpgthe difficulties that some of his friends had with the book were based on the fact that they had the party line of people who loved Lester dearly. He was cleaning up, he was straight, he was sober. He doesn’t look healthy in those pictures, he looked exhausted when I talked to him and spent the day with him. The toxicology reports say not only was there Darvon in his system, which was the drug that killed him, but there was a lot of Valium that he had taken according to Robert Quine the night before. Whether this was one slip or whether it was actually the 33 years of abuse finally caught up with him. You know, it’s sad. 


PHAWKER: Do you think in modern times he would have been diagnosed bipolar? 


JIM DEROGATIS: No, I don’t think he was bipolar. I think he had serious damage from a really… you know a lot of artists have really fucked up upbringings, Tori Amos’ parents are fucking born again preachers or whatever. I mean, that’s old news, right? But I mean even in the universe of fucked up upbringings, Lester’s father having burned alive to death and his mother being a Jehovah’s Witness, the world was going to end at any moment. And being old enough to be his grandmother and having no other family input. That’s kind of remarkably, singularly fucked up. It was a weird upbringing. 


PHAWKER: Moving on, I’m wondering if you could recount the incident that happened when you were on staff at Rolling Stone with the Hootie and the Blowfish record? Are you a lot to talk about it? 


JIM DEROGATIS: Oh yeah. I talk about it all the time. Whether it’s interesting or not…


PHAWKER: Oh I think it will work in the context of this interview. I just like to get a…


JIM DEROGATIS: Well, you know I went to Rolling Stone with Keith Moerer who I worked with at Request Magazine, he used to be the editor and I was the assistant editor and it was kind of like graduate school. Rolling Stone, having gotten to the Alternative party a little bit late — you know corporate magazines still suck — came to Keith and I and said ‘Rolling Stone needs to change or die‘, we need what you do. You know it didn’t turn out to be that at all. Here I am at the best rock publication in America, allegedly, with the power to send some of the best writers of my generation to Iceland for two weeks along with a stylist and a photographer you know to get the ultimate Bjork cover story and instead we’re doing a fucking hatchet job on Don Henley because Jann Wenner didn’t get invited to his fourth wedding. It was not the kind of journalism or criticism I wanted to do. I’m looking at the cover of Jenny McCarthy squirting mustard on a hot dog that’s held between her tits and I’m like ‘I gotta get out of here’, but I kind of sped that up inadvertently. Keith was likeWhat are we gonna do with this Hootie album?’ and I said ‘I have this theory about them, it’s the Spin Doctors meet Dave Matthews and it goes over big with people who think Bud Light is a psychedelic drug’ and so I wrote pretty much that in the review. Jann pulled it out of the magazine at the last minute and asked somebody else to write a review in about 40 minutes, so a positive review wound up running. This is not what got me fired. What got me fired was the New York Observer heard about this a day or two later and called me about itI said look I can’t talk to you even though this goes against the core of my being as a journalist who is used to asking the most difficult questions to people and running down the street after them when they refuse to answer. I am not a ‘no comment’ kind of guy, they said ‘well we have the whole story’, I said look I really can’t talk to you. They said look, answer us one question: IsJann a Hootie fan? And I said, this is a memorable quote, ‘That son of a bitch I think is a fan of anything that sells 8.5 million records.’ So then put that in bold and in a pull quote over his picture. So that what got me fired.


 

PHAWKER: So did Wenner actually directly fire you? When you walked in…


JIM DEROGATIS: No, he hides in his office he doesn’t do any of the nasty stuff. No, they have security guards there, you get marched to personnel, then you’re out on Sixth Avenue before you can blink. No, he’s a fucking pussy. He doesn’t have the balls to actually argue with anybody to their face. 


PHAWKER: And I have to ask you while we’re naming names, so who wrote the positive review in 40 minutes? 


corporate_magazines_still_suck_1.jpgJIM DEROGATIS: I actually forget. It was someone I didn’t have much respect for. Worse than over censorship is self-censorship. Whoever it was I don’t think, I know wasn’t given the marching orders, “you have to write a positive review ofHootie” but it’s like between the lines. You have 40 minutes, they need a Hootie review, can you do it? This is true, this is the honest to God truth, in the copy department of Rolling Stone, where all the copy editors sat there was a sign on the wall that literally said “3 Stars Is Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.” So it wouldn’t come down from on high, this had to be a good review, but everybody knew. Carlos Santana has a solo album Jann really wants us to do this; it should be the lead review he says. It didn’t have to be told to you, you just knew. I mean like, you get invited on Fox to go on BillO’Reilly to talk about healthcare, you know what you’re supposed to say, right? Otherwise your head is on the chopping block . You don’t have to spell it out. 


PHAWKER: The other big controversy, the Ryan Adams voicemail message. You said some very disparaging things about Ryan Adams’ solo record. I’m wondering…


JIM DEROGATIS: I reviewed him in concert and he was pretty much drunk and he was fucking around and he played the same song 4 times in a row and the first time it was strings, the second time it was death metal, the third it was polka. He was just fucking around and showing now respect to the audience essentially and sometimes in a classic Ryan Adams fashion this had become part of his shtick . It was the only time I’d ever reviewed him and he left this long rambling message about “every time I come to town you do this to me. You don’t even recognize my genius.” I was like, “hey Jack, I reviewed you once and you sucked.” I thought he deserved his say, so I played it once on the radio and then somebody made it an MP3 and now I think it’s made more units than any other recording he’s made. Well, hey, we should have collaborated we both would have done better. 


PHAWKER: Has your opinion of him changed at all or evolved since then?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, I’m not a Ryan Adams fan. I think at his best he is a fine imitator of The Replacements or Van Morrison or of Westerberg or Wilco, and at his worst he is a self-parody. I mean, is he the worst person in the world? No, but he’s never really impressed me with much of anything. 


PHAWKER: Are you still playing drums with Vortis? 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, which is more or less irrelevant. I mean, if the guy who covers the Cubs plays softball on Sunday. We’re really serious about the band and it’s a lot of fun but that canard about critics being frustrated musicianswell I’m not frustrated. I play as much as I want to and record and get to play cool shows and it’s a lot of fun. I don’t want to be a rock star. Too much aggravation. I’ve got the best job in the world, it’s nice to go play drums and get the catharsis out.


PHAWKER: Fair enough, and just to end here. How about mentioning a couple of records that you’re currently really digging. 


JIM DEROGATIS: This morning I didn’t listen to but shit on my desk. I had to deal with Pearl Jam, I had to deal with Monsters of Folk, I had to deal with easy_tiger_ryan_adams.jpgKidCudi and as soon as we get off the phone I have to deal with goddamn Mariah Carey. As far as what’s been good…


PHAWKER: You’re not into Monsters of Folk?


JIM DEROGATIS: I’ve given it 3 listens so far and it ain’t grabbing me. I don’t know. I know a lot of people praised it. 


PHAWKER: Do you like those guys as individual artists?


JIM DEROGATIS: I’m not a big Jim James fan. I can take Conor Oberst or leave him. I have a lot of respect for what Mike Mogis does and I like M. Ward. I guess I’m half and half. 


PHAWKER: And the Pearl Jam record?


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, boy they sure have made the same album 11 times. This is supposed to be their happy, upbeat record. Half of it, actually the half I like most, there are 4 tracks that are much better in the mode of the Into The Wild soundtrack which I thought was great. I think it’s time for Pearl Jam to do something new. This band has been doing the same thing for a very long time. It’s not bad, but it sure ain’t great. Three stars you’re never going to have to say you’re sorry. 


PHAWKER: I review music for the Inquirer I had to cover the Vedder solo tour that came through town 3 or 4 months ago and I actually quite enjoyed that show for the most part. 


JIM DEROGATIS: It was a great show. It was nice to see him in a different context. 


PHAWKER: You know what I was thinking at the time what these guys out to do, I think that, REM and Pearl Jam should switch singers for an album and make a record and see what happens. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, that would be, they both need a shot of adrenaline for sure, and like a serious, hardcore Pulp Fiction shot of adrenaline to the heart. 


PHAWKER: Mariah Carey is coming up next. 


JIM DEROGATIS:  I haven’t listened to it enough yet to, yeah, but see if the daily newspaper goes down, that’s the sort of thing I really won’t miss. 


PHAWKER: Right. I was going to ask you, how do you get it up for reviewing a Mariah Carey record?

 

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JIM DEROGATIS: Well, you know, it’s always possible, not probable, but it’s possible that this woman could make great art. Here’s this woman who’s always been a tool of some Svengali or other in her career who is finally at this late stage in her career finding some semblance of independence and had this very public meltdown, not as ugly or as public as Britney’s, but nearly so. You know, pretty much lost her shit in full view of the world, had this sort of breakdown, and this is sort of the personal drama that Billie Holiday made great art out of, being strung out on heroin and beaten out by society. It just could be that Mariah Carey on this new album has made some dark soul coming out on the other end, a brilliant masterpiece of catharsis. It’s probably extremely unlikely. I don’t want to waste the next 3 or 4 hours of my life in misery, swimming in shit. I would like whatever comes out of my speakers as soon as we hang up to be great, so that’s how you get it up. People think you know critics, they just love to diss shit, no, I go to see Britney Spears in concert, it’s a 5 or 6-hour ordeal. I mean, you fight traffic to get out there, you sit there, you sit there through shitty opening bands, you’re surrounded by people who are annoying, Britney comes on, you’re writing on deadline. I would like that to have been a transcended, uplifting, amazing, mind blowing experience as great as the night I saw Lou Reed at the Bottom Line on the Blue Mask tour. I would like every night to be that much, that wonderful, not to be glutinous or anything but if you’re a food critic I think you’d like every night to be eating a Millennium or the French Laundry. It’s pretty great. But it’s a lot of shit, a lot of us eating McDonald’s or worse, a lot of us getting food poisoning and throwing up all night. You could argue that without the food poisoning that the great places wouldn’t taste as good. I don’t know if I’d buy that.


PHAWKER: The bad sex makes the good sex better. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, I don’t know if I’d buy that. I don’t know if that’s necessary. I would like it all to be a world of just great art, but that ain’t the way things work, right?


PHAWKER: Right. Well, I think you did a perfect job of bringing us back full circle there with Lou Reed at the bottom line remark.


lou-reed-stop-smiling.jpgJIM DEROGATIS: I was in my first year at NYU and Lou played 3 or 4 nights with that Quine band and Blue Mask might not have even come out yet or it might have just been out. This was obviously the Blue Mask was just coming out when I talked to Lester Bangs so this is right around the same time. So it was like April or that period in 1982 and for whatever reason it was really cold that night, it was like 10 degrees outside and my buddy and I came from Jersey City and we were standing in line for standing room tickets in the bottom line and we were out there for like 5 hours and we finally get and we’re frozen solid and we’re standing in the path and we can’t see anything. I swear to God, three songs in, some record company scumbag who had a half naked babe on his arms gets up and leaves. They had a table right in front of the stage, right in front of Quine and the bouncer who knew we had been out there for 5 hours and was talking to us in line sees me and my buddy and says come here and we got that table. So that’s how I saw Lou Reed for the first time. 


PHAWKER: Nice. I think I’ve seen YouTube versions of “Kill Your Sons” from that show. 


JIM DEROGATIS: Yeah, well there’s a great video of it. Reed live in New York City. They had an amazing band Fred Maher on drums, Fernando Saunders is playing with them for the first time and played with them ever since and Quine. Reed obviously was amazed by Quine because whenever you heard the first solo in either the new material or classic Velvet songs, he would turn and face Quine and he would say, “Quine” and Quine would let it rip. He would introduce him before every solo, they’d do “What Goes On” he would turn and go [in nasal growl[ “Quine.” It was just wonderful. 


PHAWKER: Was that just a one-night stand or was there a series of concerts? 


JIM DEROGATIS: I think they did 2 or 3 nights. 


PHAWKER: Was the one you were at the one that was recorded?


JIM DEROGARTIS: It was during that stint. I don’t know which night they recorded. I’ve looked at the old video a bunch of time and I’ve never seen myself. I got whoever’s seat, it could have been Clive Davis, whoever the fuck it was I got their table. It was great. 


PHAWKER: Excellent. I think we’ll leave it there, Sir. Thank you very much for your time.

The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side has just been published by Voyageur Press

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2 Responses to “RAWK TAWK: Q&A With Rock Critic Jim Derogatis”

  1. Ed King Says:

    Good stuff! The Bottom Line concert is pretty great.

  2. Mediated » How Much Velvet Underground trivia do you need? Says:

    […] But then right next to it was Jim DeRogatis’s book The Velvet Underground – An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side.  This one is much more graphic, with lots of color reproductions of photos, posters, etc.  (But didn’t ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ come out from Lou Reed solo, after the band broke up?).  Here’s a nice interview with DeRogatis. […]

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