When Lou Reed and John Cale’s collaborative tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs for Drella, came out in 1990, I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. It felt really forced. Over time it came to grow on me, but seeing the suite performed onstage, in the form of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s video documentation of the piece, really brought it alive.
Songs for Drella was part of 1989’s “Next Wave” festival at BAM and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see something staged there, well, the lighting design and the general production values are usually more on a level of a Broadway show than a typical rock concert. Songs for Drella is essentially a theater piece and the visuals provide much of the enjoyment as well as a vague narrative. The songs are roughly in chronological order as they tell the story of Warhol’s life, from Pittsburgh, his early days in NYC, getting shot and his worldwide fame. The narrator changes from first person (Warhol’s POV), third person descriptions and Reed and Cale’s own commentary, as both longtime friends and collaborators with the artist.
According to a photographer I knew who shot the two of them around this time, Reed and Cale seemed to absolutely loathe each other. He described them as the two biggest bastards he’s ever been hired to shoot, in fact. Hissing snakes. The pair apparently vowed never to work together again, but they did anyway, for the ill-fated Velvet Underground reunion of 1993.
Shot on December 4–5, 1989 without an audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Songs for Drella came out on VHS and Laserdisc, but as yet, has still not come out on DVD. The album itself was recorded in the weeks after this was taped.