Fine. A number of Reed's recent albums have come from the urge to explore single themes or symbols, including 1989's New York, a funky snapshot of the city with which Reed is synonymous; Songs for Drella, a tribute to Andy Warhol on which Reed collaborated with former Velvet John Cale; and Magic & Loss, a song cycle exploring Reed's response to the deaths of two friends. And Ecstasy? Reed responds with a patented patronizing tenor. "The theme is ecstasy. That's what I think the theme is."
But would he care to elaborate? Why ecstasy at this point? Perhaps it has something to do with his relationship with Laurie Anderson, with whom he seemingly has settled down after a tumultuous emotional life with other women (and men). Was the album inspired by the drug ecstasy? "It's not about drugs," he says, lighting up a cigarette. "I mean, unless you want it to be. If that makes you happy, it could be about drugs, but that's not I meant it to be."
He looks away. On an EKG, I'm flatlining. He places an elbow on the table and a hand on his right cheek, setting his face into a haggard rock legend variation on Mount Rushmore.
1:24 p.m.: Only three minutes in, Reed mentions Andy Warhol, unprompted, and seems to perk up slightly at the name. He is responding to a question about his self-declared laziness by comparing his creative output with that of Warhol. Though the white-haired painter-provocateur died in 1987, Reed speaks of his old friend in the present tense.
"Listen. I was at a show of Andy's over at the Dia Gallery, it was called Shadows. It was, like, so fabulous. So fabulous. It was, like, 84 paintings. And I think there were a few more they didn't have room for. So one album a year is nothing. Really. It's zero. I should be making five albums a year, but . . . the way the record business is set up, you can't do that."
1:27 p.m.: He is cupping his right ear, an unintentional indication of his diminished hearing. No surprise, given the amount of noise he has subjected it to.
1:28 p.m.: I try to ask him a question about the recent revival of glam rock, which reached a minor peak with the film Velvet Goldmine. Reed was one of glam's boy toys in the early seventies. That period seems to have slipped his mind. "I think I was only involved for a week, I'm not sure," he says flatly. "You may be making more of it than really exists."
1:33 p.m.: New tack. Where does he think he fits in the current music scene? "I don't think about where I fit in. I'm in the Lou Reed section."
1:38 p.m.: In the 1998 PBS film Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart, a friend referred to Reed as "the gearhead's gearhead," keying on the musician's fascination with the mechanics of recording. True to form, Reed responds to a question about Ecstasy with a stream-of-consciousness, Rain Man-type ode to the recording studio's specialized mixing board and his nimble-fingered engineer. This subject relaxes Reed so much that he feels comfortable enough to make a self-effacing joke about his faulty office door, which has been banging against its frame during the interview.
1:40 p.m.: By way of illustrating his pleasure with the quality of recording on Ecstasy, Reed is extolling the virtues of Like a Possum,an 18-minute drone on the album. "I wanted a long song. I wanted you to have a different view of time. I wanted you to realize that it was going to go on long enough, the rock thing, where you could give yourself up to it. You can't normally do that because it's over in three minutes . . . I didn't want to complicate it; I wasn't doing jazz. You know what I'm saying? This is straight, basic rock. It's a heavy overdrive guitar, but it's user-friendly."
"We sat and listened to it seven times after we did it, and every time, in and around some section of it " -- he snaps his fingers -- "Gone. And then it's over and you're back. That's unbelievable, it's like magic." Reed heads to the door. "I'm interested in magic. That's my real, real interest."
He is talking to his assistant before I can ask him what the hell he means by that.