‘Songs for Drella’: Lou Reed and John Cale pay tribute to Andy Warhol, live 1989
12:18 pm


Andy Warhol
Lou Reed
John Cale

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.

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Soundtracks: Cinematic themes from Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, John Cale and more

Yesterday I blogged about an amazing music mix from ‘70s Sexploitation films. This cinematic compilation is a lovingly curated mixtape of soundtrack and spoken word work which includes Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, John Cale, Neil Young, Sonic Youth and many others. From Fluid Radio on SoundCloud.

Do enjoy!


Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) by Andrew Dominik
Gilles Deleuze on cinema
Bernard Hermann - Taxi Driver (1976) by Martin Scorcese
Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle - One From The Heart (1982) by Francis Ford Coppola
Antoine Duhamel - Méditerranée (1963) by Jean-Daniel Pollet
Jonny Greenwood - Bodysong (2003) by Simon Pummell
Maya Deren on the creative process
John Zorn - In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002) by Martina Kudlacek
Mihály Vig - Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) by Béla Tarr
Carmine Coppola - Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola
Mogwai - Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2004) by Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno
Tindersticks - Trouble Every Day (2000) by Claire Denis
Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks (1990) by David Lynch
Arvo Pärt - Je Vous Salue Sarajevo (1995) by Jean-Luc Godard
Elysian Fields - Sombre (1998) by Philippe Grandrieux
Hilmar Hom Hilmarsson - In the Cut (2003) by Jane Campion
John Cale - Le Vent de la Nuit (1998) by Philippe Garrel
Neil Young - Dead Man (1995) by Jim Jarmusch
Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason - Solaris (1972-2012) by Andreï Tarkovski
Lech Jankowski - Institute Benjamenta (1995) by The Brothers Quay
Popol Vuh - Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) by Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog on the jungle
Sonic Youth - Pola X (1999) by Leos Carax
Danny Elfman & Elliot Smith - Good Will Hunting (1997) by Gus Van Sant

Via Boing Boing

Written by Tara McGinley | Discussion
The Brief Marriage of John Cale and Betsey Johnson
02:15 pm


John Cale
Betsey Johnson

Weddng day, 1968

The Velvet Underground’s John Cale met fashion designer Betsey Johnson in May 1967, when she was designing costumes for the Edie Sedgwick movie Ciao! Manhattan. She had been using Edie as her fitting model for years and had even designed her “Edie dress,” a jersey knit creation with a criss-cross back. Johnson was dating Sterling Morrison at the time and working on her own clothing designs.

Cale wrote of Johnson in his memoir What’s Welsh for Zen? in 1999:

“Betsey took amphetamine every day—diet pills, black bombers. She was a little overweight and very sensitive about it, and she would sit up all night making clothes. Betsey was a strong individual character. When she started showing up at all the VU gigs because she could afford to, I really admired her…It seemed to me that Betsey knew everybody I knew, and she was living at the Chelsea Hotel. It was a match made in heaven.”

Johnson began making elegant dark stage clothes for the band and hanging out at New York clubs with Andy Warhol and Cale. In 2008, Johnson told Woman’s Wear Daily: “I always made John his black canvas suits with big hunks of ruffles and bows coming out, which were gorgeous. And Lou [Reed] wanted his crotch to be big, so I would always cut him a crotch.”

On her wedding day in 1968, Betsey was turned away from New York City’s City Hall for wearing pants as part of her self-designed red velvet pantsuit. She returned wearing the shortest miniskirt she could find. Cale wrote, “I made her cry on the day of her wedding because I forgot to buy her a corsage.”

During their short marriage the couple lived together in a beautiful loft on La Guardia Place but were seldom home at the same time. Cale did not take well to being married to such an ambitious working woman:

“Betsey worked hard all the time, like Andy. She would be in her showroom, and she often spent weeks in San Francisco or Los Angeles, where her factories were…I realised our career paths were so divergent that we actually lived in completely different worlds. Betsey seemed able to pass in and out of my world with ease, but I could not negotiate hers. I felt stymied by it. At that point I would get lonely and find somebody else. Betsey and I were both interested in our careers to the exclusion of personal relationships.”

Cale divorced Johnson in 1971 after relocating to Los Angeles to work as a solo artist and producer and upon meeting Cindy Wells, a.k.a. Miss Cindy, one of The GTO’s, the girl group formed by Frank Zappa.

In 2011, Betsey Johnson revealed to a reporter from Jezebel that John Cale was her favorite of her husbands.

Betsey Johnson and John Cale on the back cover of his 1970 solo album Vintage Violence

Written by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
John Cale and Jonathan Richman interviewed together on Aussie TV, 1983
01:40 pm


John Cale
Jonathan Richman

A youthful Jonathan Richman and a surprisingly (for the time) clear-eyed John Cale interviewed on After Dark by Aussie TV host Donnie Sutherland when the pair played some dates together down under in 1983. Richman describes their Australian gigs as “Bozo the Clown opening for Jean-Paul Sartre.’

Jello Biafra was on the same show, but sadly there’s not video of that on YouTube.

In the clip below, Cale sings “Chinese Envoy” accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar:

Part 2 here.

Here John and Jonathan are a second time with Sutherland. This time it’s Richman performing “Vincent Van Gogh.” Even Cale, who seems hungover in this one, breaks out into a big grin.

Thank you, Jim Neill!

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend’: Two clips of John Cale live in 1975
08:52 am


John Cale

Clips of John Cale performing live during the 1970s are pretty rare, but these takes on “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” and “Buffalo Ballet” at London’s Crystal Palace Concert Bowl, on June 7, 1975 (along with guitarist Chris Spedding) are gems.

Last night in New York, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Cale presented the sold-out “Life Along the Borderline: A Tribute to Nico,” joined by The Magnetic Fields, Kim Gordon, Sharon Van Etten, Greg Dulli, Mercury Rev, Alison Mosshart, Meshell Ndegeocello, Peaches and Yeasayer.

Tonight and tomorrow night, Cale performs his landmark album Paris 1919 (accompanied by the Wordless Music Orchestra) plus new material from Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood.

“Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” gets nicely crazed at the end.

“Buffalo Ballet”:

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Cocaine’s a Helluva Drug: John Cale’s Rockpalast freak out, 1984

The first in an intermittent series of posts showcasing the most coked-out music performances of recent times, that are still available for the public to see via the magic of the internet.

Cocaine’s A Helluva Drug kicks off with this frankly terrifying clip of John Cale tearing up floorboards at the German Rockpalast festival in 1984, as he rips through Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” on the piano.

The madness begins at 4:40, and it is preceded in this clip by a relatively sober Cale performing the same track at the same festival one year earlier, which gives great context for just how fucked up he is the following year. Apparently most of the crowd the second time round were waiting for London’s white-funk homeboys Level 42.

For the record, Cale’s interpretation of this classic is simply astounding, delivered here in a stripped down, chilling arrangement showcasing Cale’s delicious butter-from-the-gutter growl.

This is neither a warning nor an endorsement. It simply IS.

John Cale “Heartbreak Hotel” (Live at Rockpalast 1983 & 1984)

Written by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Documentary on heroin addiction hosted by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale

Photo: Bob Oliver

BBC news program Week In, Week Out covers the the heroin problem in Wales. Your host: John Cale.

The director of the documentary, Nick Skinner, talks about making the film with Cale:

The world I explored with John Cale was much darker. In the rundown post-industrial towns of South Wales, and the backstreets of Cardiff and Swansea, we came in contact with a the dark side of drug use. Teenagers shooting up because their mates do it, because there’s nothing else to do, because they are blocking out the pain of an abusive past. Adults trapped in a downward spiral of drugs, crime, prison and more drugs.

Heroin, Wales And Me.

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
The Velvet Underground: Under Review (full film)

If you have ever seen any of those low-budget “Under Review” made for DVD rockumentaries, then you know that they follow a fairly tried and true formula: Almost no music by the group or performer the doc is about, approx 5 minutes of archival film clips in the course of 90 minutes and usually a bunch of crazed loner rock critics you’ve never heard of, yakking it up about their favorite rock groups. Often the interviewees are fairly tangential to the subjects, but not always. The range from awesome (the one on the early days of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was excellent) to awful.

In The Velvet Underground: Under Review, they managed to nab TWO actual members of the Velvet Underground, Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule—both Reed and Cale, predictably sat this one out—which elevates this way above most of the others ones. Even longtime VU fans might learn something new here. For instance, I’ve listened to the VU for 36 years now and I didn’t know that Maureen Tucker didn’t play drums on Loaded because she was pregnant. Every copy of that album (and the CD) credits her on the back—your copy and mine—but it’s not her drumming, it’s Doug Yule, studio engineer Adrian Barber, a session drummer named Tommy Castanaro and Billy Yule, who was still a high school student (It doesn’t sound even remotely like Mo Tucker on Loaded as I found listening to it the day after I watched this doc). You also hear Mo talk about how she stripped down her drum kit to get a more primitive, less busy, sound. And Yule, who always gets short shrift in the VU saga, gets plenty of onscreen time to discuss his role in the band (How many of you reading this know it’s him singing “Candy Says” and not Lou Reed?). I’ve never seen an interview with him and I was very pleased to see his participation in this film. If you’re a VU fan, this film is absolutely worth your time.

Get it on DVD.


Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Kiss the boots of shiny, shiny leather’: The Velvet Underground, live, 1993
12:54 pm


Lou Reed
Velvet Underground
John Cale

When the 1965-1968 core Velvet Underground lineup of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker reformed for a 1993 European tour, I was excited but worried that a VU reunion couldn’t help but to be a disappointment. I didn’t want to spoil my image of the band, but when the live recordings of the Paris shows (mostly the second evening of a three night stand, a show described by John Cale as a “home run”) was released as Live MCMXCIII, I thought they pulled it off admirably, even if it’s not an album I’d ever think to pull out to play when I felt like listening to the Velvet Underground…

Cale and Reed fell out again during the shows in Europe (which included the Velvets opening for.. U fucking 2?), so a US tour never took place. Fans left distraught to have been shut out of the reunion shows had to satisfy themselves by watching the live concert video taped at L’Olympia. That material is now on YouTube in very good quality. Watch the opening numbers, “Venus in Furs” and “White Light/White Heat,” below:


Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
VU reunion: Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico on French TV, 1972

In 1972, Velvet Underground alumni Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico reunited before the cameras of the Pop 2 TV program at Le Bataclan, a well-known—and very intimate—Paris venue. It was Cale’s gig originally and he invited Reed and Nico to join him. Reed, who hated rehearsing, spent two days with Cale working out what they were going to do. According to Victor Bockris’ Reed biography Transformer, rock critic Richard Robinson videotaped these rehearsals, which took place in London.

Both the videotape and just the audio from this show has been heavily bootlegged over the years. A legit CD release happened a few years ago, but it still sounds like a bootleg. A high quality video turned up on various torrent trackers and bootleg blogs after a rebroadcast on French TV a few years ago. It’s fairly easy to find. Now if only some of the outtakes from the Le Bataclan filming would slip out—they did “Black Angel’s Death Song” which I’d dearly love to see—not to mention what Richard Robinson has!

This is Reed coming off his first solo record and just a few months before he recorded “Walk on the Wild Side” with David Bowie and took on a totally different public—and we can presume, private—persona. This is “Long Island Lou” seen just before Reed’s druggy bisexual alter-ego showed up. Cale is heard doing “Ghost Story” from his Vintage Violence album and Nico looks stunning and happy here singing “Femme Fatale.” It’s before the damage of her drug addiction took its toll on her looks.

One thing worth pointing out here is that during “Berlin” you can see Nico’s face as Reed sings a song which he told her was about her. She might even be hearing it for the first time.

More from the Le Bataclan performance after the jump!

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
A Rainbow in Curved Air: Terry Riley
08:26 am


John Cale
Terry Riley
LaMonte Young

The music of minimalist composer Terry Riley has always had a special place on my turntable and in my CD player. His 1967 album, A Rainbow in Curved Air is the perfect thing to put on when guests are over—it creates a great mood but never overpowers conversation—and you can bliss out on it like a meditation mantra (the composer’s intent, obviously). You can hear parts of it behind the narration of the original BBC radio broadcast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe and it’s on the radio station in Grand Theft Auto IV. Chances are that even if you don’t know it by name, you’ve heard it many times.

In the 1960s Riley used to play all night concerts, with audience members showing up with sleeping bags. He’d use tape loops to accompany himself, letting them run by themselves when he had to take bathroom breaks. His 1964 piece “In C,” where the same series of notes are played over and over and over again by (at least) 35 musicians, with a single anchor melody of a “C” note played at octaves as eighth notes (serving as the metronome or “pulse” and played preferably by “a beautiful girl,” as the music’s notation instructs) is considered the very first minimalist composition. At a recital of “In C” at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, 124 musicians took part.

The repetitive synth section that leads off The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” was inspired by Riley’s signature sound and the title is a portmanteau of his name and that of Indian mystic Meher Baba. He also did a collaboration with John Cale—both of them heavily influenced by LaMonte Young—called Church of Anthrax, which is absolutely amazing and deserves a post of its own at a later date.

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
John Cale performs ‘Pablo Picasso’ at the Melbourne Festival Of The Arts

John Cale performing a scorching version of ‘Pablo Picasso” at The Melbourne Festival Of The Arts in October of last year.

The Melbourne Festival Of The Arts asked some of the world’s finest singers to reflect on our theme of spirituality and mortality with the question: ‘Which seven songs would you leave behind?’

The festival criteria was that the musicians had to include “the first song they wrote, one that switched them on to music, one they covet, one to share, two of their own, and one from the songbook of legendary Leonard Cohen.”

Cale’s list included “Pablo Picasso,” which he wrote with Jonathan Richman, “Letter From Abroad,” “Dirty Ass Rock and Roll,” “Magritte,” “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”

This is so fucking hot it turned Cale’s hair pink!

“Letter From Abroad” and “Heartbreak Hotel” after the jump…

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Their Last Tour: The Velvet Underground - Live in Paris, 1993

In June 1993, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker kicked-off their official (sans Nico, who had died in 1988) Velvet Underground reunion tour with two nights at the Playhouse Theater, in Edinburgh. There had been rumors of a VU reunion for years, and these rumors slowly became real after Reed and Cale had successfully toured with Songs for Drella - their musical collaboration celebrating the life of Andy Warhol.

From their opening gig in Scotland, The Velvet Underground then played London, before taking their show to Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, and Italy, where the tour finished on 9 July. During the tour, they also gave a headline grabbing performance at the Glastonbury Festival, and had a WTF? moment when they supported U2 for five dates.

The VU reunion was so successful that an American tour was planned, and a showcase on MTV Unplugged… was all but booked. However, before any of this happened, Reed and Cale fell out and all plans were shelved.  In 1995, Sterling Morrison died. The following year, the VU were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Reed, Cale and Tucker reformed the Velvet Underground for the last time.

This footage is from the Velvet Underground’s performance at the L’Olympia, Paris, in June 1993.

More VU, ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘Waiting for the Man’, after the jump…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
John Cale on I’ve Got A Secret
01:53 pm


John Cale
Erik Satie
I've Got A Secret

On a prior Dangerous Minds post, pioneering architect Frank Lloyd Wright was the game show guest on I’ve Got A Secret.  Today’s guest is a pre-Velvet Undergound John Cale.  What’s Cale’s secret?  His participation in an 18 hour and 40 minute piano recital of Erik Satie‘s Vexations.

Cale and a number of performers—including John Cage—all took turns playing the piece that’s just 3 lines long, but needs repeating 840 times.  Cage, it seems, also organized the event, having been introduced to Vexations in Paris in ‘49.

The man sitting beside Cale is off-Broadway actor, Karl Schenzer.  His secret?  He was the only audience member ballsy enough to stick out the entire concert.  Schenzer went on, possibly, and according to the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, to become a bit player for Francis Ford Coppola.

Bonus: John Cale live performing Paris, 1919

Written by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
The Velvet Undergound Live: Symphony in Sound



It used to pain me to think that the only footage in existence of the Velvet Underground performing was silent. Think about it: Have you ever seen any sync-sound film of the Velvets in any of the various documentaries made about them, Lou Reed, Nico, John Cale or Andy Warhol for that matter? I didn’t think so, but thanks to the rather enterprising employee of either the Museum of Modern Art or else the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh who liberated Symphony in Sound you can now see the Velvets in action and actually hear them too! That’s the good part.

The bad part is that this film, made to be screened behind the band onstage during The Exploding Plastic Inevitable “happenings” is pretty boring. It goes on for a LONG time with not much happening besides a drony primitive jam and a frenetic camera zooming in and out. Nico is there (with her young son Ari) but she’s not singing, just hitting a tambourine. Lou doesn’t sing either. At one point the camera droops on its tripod and no one readjusts it for a while. So it’s boring, most Warhol films were boring—Warhol himself always said his movies were better discussed than actually seen—but it is the freaking Velvet Underground playing live on camera for what is probably the ONLY time during their original incarnation, so it’s worth looking at for that reason alone. If you can get over how dull it is, it’s actually pretty cool. There are several versions of this online, this one, from Google Video is merely the longest. I don’t know if this is the whole thing but in the later moments of the bootleg DVD I have, it gets better when the cops show up due to a noise complaint and Warhol has to deal with them himself.


Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion