Songs for ‘Drella – A Fiction
John Cale and Lou Reed’s Songs for ‘Drella is an intensely personal tribute to pop artist Andy Warhol, their longtime friend, collaborator, and former manager. The project reunited Cale and Reed for the first time since their notoriously acrimonious split as founders of the pioneering rock band the Velvet Underground two decades earlier. Their reconnecting, and the work they created in Songs for ‘Drella, had all the passions that had brought the two together and driven them apart in the first place.
The song cycle proceeds chronologically through Warhol’s life, with poignant post-mortem reflections on his death, expressed in Reed and Cale’s raw, literary lyrics and emotionally charged rock music. Rolling Stone has described the work as a “shining, tense merger of visions” that rendered Warhol as only those with a close relationship with him could, as “both immediate and mythic.” Its title borrows John and Lou’s nickname for the iconic artist—an affectionate combination of Dracula and Cinderella.
Songs for ‘Drella was co-commissioned by Arts at St. Ann’s with BAM in 1989 and premiered at its original home in the Church of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights. It was performed and filmed later that year at the BAM Opera House as part of the Next Wave Festival. The reconciliation of Cale and Reed inspired drummer Moe Tucker and guitarist Sterling Morrison to join them for a European Velvet Underground Reunion tour in 1993. Ironically, this screening precedes a documentary about the VU, by Todd Haynes, currently in production.
Director Ed Lachman, who went on to garner wide acclaim as the keen-eyed cinematographer of films by Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz, and Steven Soderbergh, captures the Cale/Reed connection—and their complex relationship to their late friend and mentor—at close range, along with the rich visuals projected on the stage, designed after Warhol by Jerome Sirlin.
‘Drella now returns at a time when it can once again offer healing and beauty in the face of grief. The film is produced by Channel 4 Television Corporation | Sire Records Group.
Lou Reed’s Berlin
After Songs for ‘Drella, Reed continued to be a regular at St. Ann’s in the Church and the new St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO. At Susan Feldman’s urging, in Berlin, he returned to a project that had long been a cult favorite but had also been a source of both pride and painful disappointment for him. He had recorded the Berlin album in 1972, when he was at a peak in his solo career, having just released Transformer, which included the Top 20 hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” Expectations were high that Reed would achieve another big commercial success, but, instead he delivered a gorgeously dark concept album about drifting, tormented addicts in love, broken-hearted and self-destructive, on the outskirts of a divided city.
Although now widely recognized as a masterwork, Berlin was panned by critics, and Reed, deeply wounded, put it away without ever performing it live in full. That is, until St. Ann’s Warehouse and the Sydney Festival’s Fergus Linehan joined forces to fulfill Reed’s dream: to produce a staged concert of the album. Reed’s friends and passionate Berlin devotees Hal Willner and Julian Schnabel signed on, as Music Director and Director, respectively, from the first major decision: that Reed would himself perform the central role on stage.
Lou Reed’s Berlin Live featured performances by Sharon Jones, Anohni, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, conducted by Dianne Berkun Menaker, set design and direction by Schnabel, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, and musical direction by Willner and Berlin album producer Bob Ezrin. Lola Schnabel, Julian’s daughter, provided on-stage visuals that imagined the inner world of Berlin central characters Caroline and Jim. The film also features Emmanuelle Seigner as Caroline.
The World Premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse—five sold-out performances—was an ecstatic, late-career triumph for Reed, captured on film by the great rock cinematographer Ellen Kuras. Reviewing the concerts for The New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote, “Berlin was less startling but no less ambitious or, in the end, touching. The music stayed rightfully at center stage: close to the album’s original arrangements, but with more room for guitar solos, more clarity and the immediacy and dynamics of a concert. Mr. Reed wasn’t revisiting his songs as oldies or artifacts; he was reinhabiting them.”
Schnabel’s film was edited by Benjamin Flaherty, produced by John Kilik and Tom Sarig for Matador Films, executive produced by Stanley Buchthal, and distributed by Third Rail Releasing. When it was released theatrically in 2008, Stephen Holden, in a Critic’s Pick review for the Times, called it “a grimly majestic concert film.”