Songs for Drella
February 23, 2008 6:34 AM   Subscribe

21 years ago, Andy Warhol died of complications from gallbladder surgery. Lou Reed and John Cale, two founding members of the Velvet Underground -- Warhol's Factory house band -- paid tribute to their mentor on the 1990 album Songs for Drella. Edward Lachman's recording of a 1991 performance is available on YouTube: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

New York Times review; Rolling Stone review (that curiously only credits Reed for the album); Cale-centric commentary on the album; a look back from Brooklyn Heights Blog. Bonus Reed/Cale performances from Saturday Night Live and Letterman.
posted by pxe2000 (23 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks. One of my favorite albums.
posted by dobbs at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2008

I was watching Highlander when I heard Warhol had died--I was pissed. I had this goofy Beatles-fan preoccupation with him, and he had been slated to appear at a Milwaukee Art Museum party that March. Good post.
posted by everichon at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2008

Also, the most recent (1968) Factory is available for lease or purchase. (Don't know the status of the original Factory [1963].)

Love John's emo hair!
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:49 AM on February 23, 2008

What was Cale/Reed's relationship like in '91? I know that they were kind of chilly towards one another after '72 but never bothered to find the back story to Songs for Drella. Cale looks not-so-happy to be in the same room as Reed in that clip of "Small Town."

nice post!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2008

NolanRyanHatesMatches: the Wikipedia entry claims that Cale had vowed never to work with Reed after they'd fulfilled their obligations towards the Drella promotion. However, a few years later the VU reunited. Make of that what you will.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:03 AM on February 23, 2008

Very nice! Thanks for posting this.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2008

I actually think "Satellite of Love" most perfectly catches Andy Warhol's weird worldview and deadpan oddness, even though it wasn't meant to directly reference Warhol. But when I hear the lines "I watched it for a little while; I love to watch things on tv," it just sounds to me like something lifted from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2008

If anyone in the midwest is up for a roadtrip, Andy's museum is well worth the visit (It's free after 5 on Fridays!). There's 5 or 6 floors of exhibits. One of my happiest moments is taking the ex and his 2 daughters there. While at the time I didn't think the girls really grooved to it, they've asked to go back (which we did last year). Hell, the youngest did one of her school reports on him.
posted by xena at 11:05 AM on February 23, 2008

Wow, I'm a big fan and I've never heard this, so thanks very much!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2008

Thanks, I love Cale and Reed and the VU.... This was great to see..
posted by jockc at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2008

Don't forget that Warhol was one of the creepier specimens out there.

He egged people on to take huge quantities of drugs, and when they died, made sure that every trace of them was expunged (Edie Sedgewick being the canonical example but there were many others); he egged people on to engage in risky sex and when AIDS appeared, cut off (almost) every homosexual he knew and even stopped going to restaurants that he suspected of having gay waiters. There's little doubt from reading the various biographies and his own dreary writing that he was a literal psychopath (who are surprisingly common in the top tiers of society). He certainly never expressed affection or friendship for anyone (aside from in the most formulaic of phrases).

Not much good to stay about Warhol. He was a brilliant artist and his work changed the art world forever, but not, I think for the better.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:13 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not sure about Cale, but I've read in a few places that, according to Lou Reed, Warhol had, like, nothing to do with the VU's music, and that the extent of his "producing" their first record consisted of him showing up to the recording sessions very briefly.

At any rate, both the VU and Warhol were great. Thanks for the post.
posted by Rykey at 2:48 PM on February 23, 2008

I was a senior in high school in 1990. This was a favorite and influential album for me; it connected aspects of the 70s-80s I remembered as a kid with aspects of the 60s-70s-80s that I knew only through art and gossip.
posted by desuetude at 4:45 PM on February 23, 2008

lupus_yonderboy, thanks so much for expressing that opinion about Warhol. I found it very validating from my experience of him and a number of people in his scene in the late 1960's and early 70's. (John Giorno, Ultra Violet, Wynn Chamberlain, Lulu de la Falaise, Taylor Mead, the debauched board certified psychiatrist, Dr. S, who supplied a good portion of the recreational drugs).

I was trying to think what Andy brought to the world with his art and his scene. So much of his message was a combination of profound cynicism, nihilism and a particular love-hate with the well-heeled who purchased his art. But there was some pith in his debauchery too. I'm just not sure what it was. That said there is a special allure to Lou's music and Warhol's art, a seductive beckoning over to Dark Side of hip.

There was a cult of death around heroin and speed, which Lou Reed's music darkly sensualized. A sort of tribal circle of poseurs, narcissistic voguing, obsession with image, image, image and about "being a star".

Other artists, innovators, trend setters of the day predated or were contemporaneous with him in creating "Pop Art", Roy Lichtenstein in particular, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselman and Marshall McLuhan among others, without the destructiveness that surrounded Warhol.

The 1956 collage, Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?, is thought to be Pop Art's official beginning.
posted by nickyskye at 4:46 PM on February 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Afterthought. Reading up just now on Lou Reed's Wikipedia entry I came across this line, which seems such an apt title for Andy, "Drella - Warhol's nickname - is a portmanteau from the words "Dracula" and "Cinderella".

For many years Reed maintained a deliberately "camp" manner and image, stylistically predicting the heroin twink aesthetic that was to define queer fashion in later years.

Heroin twink aesthetic. ouch.
posted by nickyskye at 5:02 PM on February 23, 2008

Thanks for the post to the collage, nickyskye! I do so love the Velvet Underground myself.

Don't forget Nico in that list: Nico Icon reveals much of the good and bad parts of the whole scene. I actually liked Nico's music rather more after that, but I was pretty shocked at some of it, and this was quite recently: in particular, her son claims that she gave him heroin when he was very young, 11 if I recall correctly (couldn't find a source on the web). Phew! (I know someone who took ayahuasca with her son in her womb and then later gave it to him at the age of 12; I wasn't too thrilled with that idea either. She wasn't the nicest human...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:32 PM on February 23, 2008

LY & Nicky, good to hear someone say it like it is about Warhol. His self-mythologizing seems to have caught on so completely in most circles.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:15 PM on February 23, 2008

lupus_yonderboy, Glad to have an opportunity to validate you.

Ari became Warhol's youngest star when he later appeared with his Nico in The Chelsea Girls in 1966 [he was born in '64]. When he grew up he became a heroin addict - turned on to the drug by Nico who was also addicted to it - and spent his life in and out of clinics and psychiatric hospitals. In 2001 while living in Paris, he published a book about himself and Nico called L'Amour N'Oublie Jamais (Love Never Forgets). His decision to write the book coincided with the birth of his own son.

This site has some Nico videos you might enjoy and biographical info.

At the age of four he emptied the drinking glasses of Bob Dylan, John Cale and Paul Morrissey, and sucked on amphetamine pills, mistaking them for candy.

He ate nothing but french fries, in train stations, hotels, airports.

Alain Delon, who fathered her son, Ari, but refused to acknowledge him.

Sadly, it seems he rejected his adoptive mother, Alain Delon's mother, who saved him from a life of abject misery and whose last name, Boulogne, he initially took and then changed it to Nico's birthname, Päffgen.

Simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the excesses of her subject's addiction, she reveals details like the introduction of Nico's son to heroin by his mother, but does not report that Nico was on methadone when she died.

Nico was another complex and talented narcissist zombie with a deep S&M penchant, among the other "Superstars", pretty from far but far from pretty. It seems a good majority of celebrities behave despicably. They certainly did around Andy. There was a smug death wish among them all, a lust for glitter in the gutter. Her grave.
posted by nickyskye at 6:38 PM on February 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a picture of Lou Reed over my bed, so yeah, you can bet I'll be enjoying this. Great post pxe2000.
posted by Mapes at 6:55 PM on February 23, 2008

Mapes, is one of those other photos Robert Creeley?
posted by dobbs at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2008

lupus_yonderboy, I woke up this morning thinking about your comments in this thread. What came to mind about Nico's son was that until the self-help 12 step meetings movement took a grassroots hold on the American population and then went mainstream with Oprah Winfrey's shows about dysfunctional families in the late 1980's, there was little protection legally for kids who were abused as Ari was.

And Ari was abused, maliciously neglected, pushed towards death's precipice by adults who weren't capable of parenting. That group of people, Andy's circle, seemed profoundly anti child, as if that kind of innocence were despicable or contemptible. Maybe the core of it was that they wanted their indulgences gratified, like children, and were envious of children who were authentically entitled to behaving like children?

pxe2000, been going through those videos this morning. They are stunning. More like a poetry reading, or poetic dialog between Lou Reed and John Cale. Fascinating the dance of animosity, the complex story behind these songs and that, while this is a sort of tribute that both men abandoned and avoided Warhol his last five years of life.

It's so poignant looking at these two middle aged men, whose faces openly show their various life pains, singing/playing about a man who was at the center of their lives for a number of years and also caused them a good deal of pain. Looking them up on Wikipedia I see that Lou Reed and John Cale were born days apart. Lou Reed, born March 2 1942 and John Cale born March 9 1942.

I'd never heard of Andy being called Drella before and now I know it's a combination of Dracula and Cinderella, it's so perfect a label. the Dracula part embodies what I think of as the core issue of pathological narcissism, NPD. The Cinderella part epitomizes for me his histrionic side, his HPD, which I think he vented by surrounding himself with histrionic types, HPD by proxy.

It adds a whole new dimension to listening to/watching these videos. Reading that Andy died in '87, Nico died in '88 and Drella was put on stage in '89, it's especially interesting to contemplate the feelings between the men as they perform this, knowing that Reed and Cale had both slept with Nico, fought over her and known that Andy had watched this troubling triangle, or quadruple or whatever it was.

Interesting also in one of your links it says, After the project, Cale vowed never to work with Reed again.

Thank you for putting together this amazing opus of Reed and Cale videos.
posted by nickyskye at 9:01 AM on February 24, 2008

The summer of 1990 I primarily listened to two CD's: Songs for Drella and Goo.
posted by Rashomon at 5:27 PM on February 25, 2008

This is a cool thread. I have absolutely no idea what anyone's writing about and it sounds interesting. You all put up links I'll read. Nice post, pxe2000.
posted by puddinghead at 9:08 PM on February 25, 2008

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