Sunday, December 9, 2007


Of course, Cale's longest-running, deepest, most meaningful, most destructive collaboration was with Lou Reed. Those who don't know Cale think of the Velvet Underground as Reed's band. Those who worship at the shrine of Cale tend to view Reed rather negatively, and the reverse seems equally true. Me, I enjoy a lot of Reed's work, but it doesn't engage me as directly or as deeply as Cale's. If you're coming from a different conceptual space I can imagine "Street Hassle" would be more moving than "Cable Hogue" - to me the former's very interesting and intellectually engaging, but weirdly like darkside Harry Chapin.

Anyway, you'd think that both viewpoints would find something appealing about Songs for Drella. The two poles of the Velvet Underground, together to remember their lost friend and mentor. And it just doesn't work out that way. They try to find the old magic of the Velvet Underground on a few tracks, notably "Images" - a seemingly born-of-improv attempt to recapture the assault-drone they produced live for Warhol's film showings. They do some Lou Reed songs, some John Cale songs, many indeterminate ones.

It's an enjoyable album, it's touching in spots and illuminating in others, and it's convincing as a collaboration - it's hard to tell who to credit for most of the songs. (Reed is quite sure he did all of it, but what else is new.)

I don't know why I don't care much for it. It may be the subject matter - Warhol was a catalyst of many interesting things, but his art generally doesn't do much for me. There's also the fact that the album has a decidedly passive-aggressive feel to it - Reed had a lot of animosity towards Warhol, and he couldn't get rid of it completely. There's the little biographical note that both men abandoned and avoided Warhol his last five years of life.

Listening to it, you feel you've intruded on an uncomfortable wake, where the guests are drunk enough to admit past cruelties and to slip in barbs at the deceased, but not drunk enough to let go their masks and hit emotional catharsis. Then, too, they hate each other. Don't you get enough of that in real life?

1 comment:

Jack Feerick said...

The image of Lou Reed as heir to Harry Chapin has me giggling audibly. Not because it's outlandish, but because it is stone-cold true.