‘They didn’t go not far away for beer’: Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs for Drella

Andy Warhol by no means goes away, however 35 years after his demise, he’s in all places. There are The Andy Warhol Diaries and Andy Warhol’s America on TV, The Collaboration and Chasing Andy Warhol in theatres on both aspect of the Atlantic, whereas Christie’s is hoping to internet a record-setting $200m (£152m) when it auctions a 1964 Marilyn display screen print subsequent month.

Entire forests have been flattened making an attempt to unravel the Warhol enigma – Blake Gopnik’s 2020 biography thuds in at 976 pages. But in simply 55 minutes, Lou Reed and John Cale’s 1990 album and movie Songs for Drella get to the guts of a person obscured by his wig, shades and clean expression. Their music cycle begins with Smalltown, a jaunty portrait of Warhol’s childhood in Pittsburgh, “Dangerous pores and skin, unhealthy eyes, homosexual and faddy” (or is it “fatty”?), by way of his hyper-productive golden period within the 60s, to his later years battling ache from the injuries sustained when he was shot by Valerie Solanas (author of the Society for Cutting Up Men Manifesto), alienation from collaborators and associates, and a rising dearth of concepts. All of the themes biographers have subsequently handled as nice revelations – Warhol’s Catholicism, his queerness, his relationship together with his mom – are right here, explored with taut precision and financial system.

Andy Warhol (centre) between John Cale and Lou Reed with members of the Velvet Underground and Factory star Paul Morrisey (far right).
Andy Warhol (centre) between John Cale and Lou Reed with members of the Velvet Underground and Manufacturing unit star Paul Morrisey (far proper). {Photograph}: Everett Assortment Inc/Alamy

Reed and Cale, after all, had a selected perception into Warhol. They had been the inventive engine of the Velvet Underground, the rock band the artist managed and produced and whose first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, ignored on launch, turned a bible for glam rockers, drag queens, junkies and punks, and is arguably essentially the most influential LP ever made. Provided that Reed fired Warhol, then slung Cale out of the band a 12 months later (not nose to nose, both – he obtained guitarist Sterling Morrison to do it) relations between the three males had been lower than cordial. Even the title Songs for Drella is ambivalent: Drella was a nickname used behind Warhol’s again, and which he didn’t like, a conflation of Dracula (the blood-sucking evening creature) and Cinderella (the servant who goes to the ball). But with none sentimentality, Songs for Drella reveals the nice and cozy currents of respect and friendship that lay deep beneath the frosty floor.

The cover of the Velvet Underground’s first album. designed by Andy Warhol.
The duvet of the Velvet Underground’s first album. designed by Andy Warhol. {Photograph}: Information/Alamy

Warhol died out of the blue in 1987 after routine gall bladder surgical procedure, aged 58. Cale and Reed determined to make Songs for Drella after assembly at his memorial service – the primary time they’d spoken in years. They lastly carried out its 14 songs in full on the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, on the finish of 1989. Presumably with a watch on the flamable nature of the partnership, in addition to on its nice cultural significance, somebody determined that this efficiency ought to be filmed for posterity. Enter the nice cinematographer Ed Lachman. Now 76, Lachman photographed Removed from Heaven and Carol for Todd Haynes, incomes Oscar nominations for each movies, and has labored with Sofia Coppola, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog. It was, nevertheless, a music video that obtained him the Songs for Drella gig.

“There was an Aids profit compilation referred to as Purple Scorching + Blue,” he remembers. Zooming from a color correction studio in New York, he’s squashed right into a nook of the body so all I can see is one full of life eye and his fedora. “I used to be going to make a video with Derek Jarman and Annie Lennox, however Derek was too sick by then.”

Jarman had been recognized as HIV constructive in 1986, and was to change into critically unwell making his 1990 movie The Backyard. “We met and he gave me residence motion pictures of his household when he was rising up, so I had the concept of projecting the photographs of his childhood over the white pancake face of Annie singing the Cole Porter music Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. It was beautiful and it obtained a whole lot of discover, and that’s why Channel 4 got here to me and supplied me to do that live performance.” Sure, the TV station about to be bought off by Nadine Dorries co-produced Songs for Drella, together with Sire Information within the US.

Ed Lachman.
‘I don’t understand how I’m going to shoot the live performance with none cameras’ … Ed Lachman. {Photograph}: Marion Curtis/StarPix/AppleTV+/REX/Shutterstock

Lachman had a gathering with Cale and Reed to discern whether or not he met with their approval. “Lou was very emphatic and mentioned: ‘I don’t wish to see any cameras on the stage and I don’t need cameras to be between me and the viewers. Are you all proper with that?’ So I mentioned: ‘Properly, I don’t understand how I’m going to shoot the live performance with none cameras.’

“I thought of it, got here again the following day and mentioned to them ‘Look, would you let me shoot two of your rehearsals on the stage with nobody within the viewers and I’ll shoot the efficiency however the cameras might be off the stage?’ And he agreed.”

The result’s not like every other live performance movie. Lachman’s 16mm digital camera is so near the 2 protagonists that you simply appear to be studying their ideas – each about Warhol and about one another. Filmed when each males had been 47, Cale seems aristocratic in a black go well with and fabulous wedge haircut, whereas Reed serves disgruntled librarian in a black sweater and octagonal spectacles. Neither of them appear to be rock stars, they usually’re each concentrating exhausting, going through each other whereas delivering the vocals (singing isn’t fairly the correct phrase in Reed’s case) and hammering on the piano or guitar. Although there aren’t any drums on Songs for Drella, the music is commonly spiky and percussive – not least on I Consider, during which Reed startlingly declares that Solanas ought to have obtained the demise penalty for taking pictures Warhol. In truth she obtained three years, which tells you one thing concerning the low regard during which homosexual lives had been held, even well-known ones.

As with the Velvet Underground, the abrasive moments are leavened with others of intense sweetness – as an illustration Type It Takes, during which Warhol coaxes a beautiful younger factor into performing in one in every of his screen-test movies, and which options the self-referential traces: “This can be a rock group referred to as the Velvet Underground / I present motion pictures on them, do you want their sound?” At moments like this, the digital camera lingers on Reed and Cale’s faces. “Sven Vilhem Nykvist, the nice cinematographer of Ingmar Bergman, mentioned the face is the panorama for the digital camera,” Lachman notes. “If there have been ever faces that could possibly be landscapes it might be theirs.”

The Velvet Underground in Rotterdram in 1993 … John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison.
The Velvet Underground in Rotterdram in 1993 … John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison. {Photograph}: Rob Verhorst/Redferns

In direction of the tip of Songs for Drella a temper of self-admonishment takes maintain, as an illustration in A Dream, the place Cale recites traces taken from Warhol’s diaries comparable to: “You realize I hate Lou, I actually do. He gained’t even rent us for his movies, and I used to be so happy with him …” It’s at this level that you simply look much more carefully at Reed and Cale. There’s a lot to surprise about as you stare upon their inscrutable expressions. Can we discern remorse at their meanness, each to Warhol and to one another, delight within the blazing mutual creativity of their youth, sorrow that it’s too late to do issues in a different way?

“It was not solely a tribute, an homage, a eulogy, nevertheless it was additionally kind of a confessional,” says Lachman. To that finish, Cale and Reed had been filmed in close to darkness, typically with Warhol’s artworks, or the New York Put up entrance web page that sneered “Pop goes pop artist” after the taking pictures, projected above them. “Cameramen prefer to separate folks from the darkness,” Lachmnan provides, “however I wished them to emerge out of the darkness.”

Lachman had first met Reed years earlier than – he had been enlisted to make a video clip for Reed’s baroquely gloomy 1973 album Berlin. “He got here as much as the digital camera after I was setting it up, kicked the leg of the tripod and mentioned: ‘Do it like Andy’. I used to be horrified, I used to be making an attempt to carry on to the digital camera that was about to fall on the ground.” By the point of Songs for Drella, Reed had sobered up. “I requested him if he remembered that, and he mentioned ‘I don’t keep in mind a lot from again then’, smiled and walked again to the microphone.”

John Cale and Lou Reed in 1998 at work on what became Songs for Drella.
John Cale and Lou Reed in 1988 at work on what turned Songs for Drella. {Photograph}: New York Occasions Co./Getty Pictures

So what was the ambiance like between Cale and Reed? Did they joke round? “What you see is what you bought,” Lachman says. “They confirmed up they usually did the work. I wasn’t hanging out with them after or earlier than, I had my palms full. They didn’t go not far away for beer.” Certainly, Reed and Cale fell out within the aftermath of Songs for Drella – “Lou at all times needs to be in management,” Lachman notes – earlier than making up and deciding to reform the Velvet Underground. The band toured Europe in 1993 (together with, improbably, an look at Glastonbury) earlier than Cale and Reed turned estranged once more. That was it till the band had been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Corridor of Fame in 1996, which turned out to be their last efficiency. Reed died in 2013, aged 71; Cale is now 80. He rebuffed approaches to speak about this movie.

Songs for Drella was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1990, a efficiency I recorded on VHS, and which appeared to my teenage self to be a transmission from a planet of cryogenic coolness. It’s lived deep inside my bones ever since, so it’s a shock to listen to that it had truly been “misplaced” since that first broadcast. Within the US, it was launched on a laser disc, then disappeared. Lachman tried to search out the movie whereas engaged on Todd Haynes’s documentary concerning the Velvet Underground, and eventually positioned it throughout the pandemic, going by way of containers of fabric he’d requested from the Movement Image Lab in New York. “There, 100ft from my mattress, was the precise authentic negatives, however no sound,” he says. Warner Brothers provided him with the unique sound combine, “and I used to be ready by way of sound restoration to sync it up, and it now has the very best sound it may.”

The restored model now lives once more on the streaming platform Mubi, and appears and sounds divine, Lachman filming every music in a subtly completely different means, some in monochrome, just like the concluding Howdy It’s Me, during which Reed expresses remorse for the issues he didn’t say to Warhol: “I wanted I talked to you extra once you had been alive / I believed you had been confident once you acted shy …”

“For me, the digital camera has a taciturn remark, virtually like Andy,” Lanchman says. “Lots of people felt Andy was a voyeur, some sort of svengali, however I feel he was rather more passive and he lived by way of the those who he made stars.”

After all, it’s Warhol’s presence above all that hangs over Songs for Drella, that difficult, far-sighted ghost summoned within the reminiscences of those that knew him finest. “I at all times felt that it was the spirit of Andy that introduced John and Lou collectively,” Lachman says. “His spirit was nonetheless with them.”

  • Songs for Drella is on Mubi from 17 April.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.