Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lou Reed And John Cale: Style It Takes

Taking the last SwissAir flight from Heathrow back to Basel, I was one of the few people going through the airport after landing. Things shut down early in Switzerland, even on a Friday night, so I drove back to my apartment through what might as well have been a combined curfew and blackout. Dead beat but unable to sleep, I turned on the TV to see John Cale singing this piece. It was catchy, and the setting was strange. It took a minute to sink in that the founding members of the Velvet Underground had gotten back together for the first time and were performing a requiem for Andy Warhol at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Warhol had played mentor and barb, promoter and stifler to the band. Like a surreal Colonel Tom Parker, Warhol introduced, showcased, pushed, and had "creative differences" with them. Eventually they had a falling out and never spoke to each other again. But after Warhol died in 1987, Cale and Reed, who also weren't speaking to each other, got together to go over their scrapbooks and start writing Songs for Drella. ("Drella" refers to a nickname coined by one of the actors in Warhol's interminable films, Ondine, who had pegged Warhol as a perfect cross between Dracula and Cinderella. The nickname stuck.) Though not always an unreserved fan of any of the artists involved, I was pleased to witness an artistic achievement. The song and album really capture Warhol's artistic energy, optimism, and determination, and he really did want to put the Empire State Building on all our walls, so we could watch the sun rise above it in our rooms. The lyrics:

You’ve got the money, I’ve got the time.
You want your freedom, make your freedom mine;
’cause I’ve got the style it takes--
and money is all that it takes!

You’ve got connections, and I’ve got the Art.
You like my attention, and I like your looks;
And I have the style it takes--
and you know the people it takes!

Why don’t you sit...right...over there?
We’ll do a movie portrait;
I’ll turn the camera on, and I won’t even be there--
A portrait that moves, you look great! (I think.)

I’ll put the Empire State Building on your wall.
For 24 hours glowing on your wall;
Watch the sun rise above it in your room--
wallpaper art! A great view!

I’ve got a brillo box and I say it’s art.
It’s the same one you can buy at any supermarket;
’cause I’ve got the style it takes--
And you’ve got the people it takes.

This is a rock group called the Velvet Underground.
I show movies on them, do you like their sound?
’cause they have a style that grates--
and I have art to make!

Let’s do a movie, here next week.
We don’t have sound,
but you’re so great,
You don’t have to speak!

You’ve got the style it takes (kiss)
You’ve got the style it takes (eat)
I’ve got the style it takes (couch)
We’ve got the style it takes (kiss)

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