The Bottom Line, a rock and folk club in Greenwich Village from 1974 to 2004, featured performances by Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, and Meat Loaf, among others. The music and commentary showcase In Their Own Words, a staple on rock station WNEW in the 1990s, was recorded at the club. The event, moderated by DJ Vin Scelsa, who also hosted the popular free-form radio show Idiot’s Delight, highlighted artists as diverse as Pete Seeger, Roger McGuinn, Shawn Colvin, Doc Watson, Joey Ramone, Jimmy Webb, and Barrett Strong.
This episode of In Their Own Words features the unlikely duo of Kris Kristofferson and Lou Reed on the same stage. (Suzanne Vega and Victoria Williams also took part in the interview, but their contributions are not on this CD.) This musical odd couple fields questions from Scelsa and play songs from their vast repertoire. In a loosely orchestrated Q&A, Vin talks with one artist about songwriting, and then the artist plays said song or in some cases, a different one.
Kris relates tales of being in the military while secreting harboring a desire to be a songwriter. He talks about working as a janitor at a recording studio so he could write songs at night. Kris was sweeping the floors when Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde in Nashville. He plays some of his most famous songs including “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, and “Me and Bobby McGee” and reveals why he choose the name Bobby McGee for the song title.
Unsurprisingly, Lou has the best lines in the interview segments. “What’s your worst nightmare?" Vin asks Lou. “Being asked a question like that,” Lou responds without missing a beat. Kris shows respect for Lou’s “Strawman” (from the New York album) reciting the harsh lyrics.
Lou, in an uncharacteristically chatty segment, revealed he worked for a Tin Pan Alley-type music publisher, writing surf songs, teen death songs, and a dance song “Do the Ostrich”. The ostrich dance craze never quite caught on. It’s hard to believe the same guy who wrote “Heroin” got his start in the music business that way. Lou plays “Sweet Jane”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Strawman”. He initially avoids discussing the Velvet Underground, then warms up to the subject, even doing a spot-on imitation of Andy Warhol. Perhaps revisiting his early songwriting days, Lou’s version of Tracks of My Tears, ends the CD.
The CD audio is crisp and clear. You can even hear audience banter, down to the “yeahs” and “oohs.”
The quirky and revealing Q&A, along with the impromptu performances, make Lou Reed and Kris Kristofferson: In Their Own Words an interesting slice of rock history. It’s refreshing to hear these icons being interviewed in a relaxed setting, instead of the more common, rushed PR jaunts to promote a tour or album. The notoriously difficult-to interview Reed even sounds more engaged in the dialogue than usual.