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Songs for Drella (1990) Revival Review | NYFF 2021

The 4K restoration of Songs for Drella, the classic album by Lou Reed and John Cale, reinvigorates the passion for the pioneering and ambitious life of the legendary Andy Warhol, to whom the album is dedicated. 

Lou Reed and John Cale, both ex-members of the prestigious art-rock band The Velvet Underground “(VU),” got their start thanks to the iconic Andy Warhol, their manager back in 1966. Warhol’s art show, aka the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, had the VU front and center as its musical presentation along with Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico, adding backup vocals to their sets. Then, a year later came their self-titled debut record, which nowadays is critically acclaimed, but back then was received quite poorly. 

Fast forward to the year 1990, three years after Warhol’s death; Reed and Cale haven’t worked with each other for quite a while, albeit they reunited to make an homage to the man who forged them into the artists they are today: Songs for Drella. The name Drella comes from a nickname given to Warhol, as he has been described as a mixture between Cinderella and Dracula, which in 1974 he released his feature about the vampire, Andy Warhol’s Dracula aka. Blood for Dracula

As a companion piece to the album, they teamed up with cinematographer Edward Lachman (Carol, Far From Heaven, Erin Brockovich) to perform those tracks live on a soundstage. They rarely share looks as they sing the detailed songs; not all are in the same tone, as some are peaceful and tranquil, while others take a more energetic verve to describe the passion being driven by the ex-bandmates and the creativity of the pop art figure. Drella’s beginnings in Pittsburgh, a retelling of one of his dreams or work ethic. Each track emancipates a different aspect or point in his life, accompanied by Reed’s guitar and Cale’s piano and violin. 

When that pulsing last note in “Forever Changed” hits, you are then guided by one of the album’s most honest tracks, “Hello, It’s Me”; Lou Reed sings “things always seem to end before they start” while John Cale beautifully plays the violin. Its lyrics are so pure of heart and resentment for that lost last goodbye by Reed. “I wish someway, somehow, you like this little show; I know this is late in coming, but it’s the only way I know”. You feel the pain in your heart, and the delicate somber notes grow from within. If it wasn’t for him, where would Reed and Cale be? That’s why this record is filled with both regret and compassion for the icon people knew as Andy Warhol. 

From good friends to staying out of touch with each other, both Andy and Lou’s paths ended up separate. The last song recites how much Lou really cared as well as the pain he felt towards not visiting him when Drella was suffering. In the end, it is what it is, unfortunately. Regret filled the rock poet, so he made a record in his honor; the last thing he could do. This record is memorable for several reasons, but first and foremost, it is a beautiful construct by two people who helped achieve their dreams. Reed and Cale’s collaborative effort is now revived after all these years with a new 4K format and crisp mixing, so we can appreciate them cherishing the unique man with their memories while sharing first-hand anecdotes of his life. 

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By Hector Gonzalez

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