Interview by Bill Flanagan. Published in Musician no. 126, april 1989
PAINTER/EXPERIMENTAL Filmmaker media icon Andy Warhol was introduced to the Velvet Underground Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tuckerand Sterling Morrison in late '65. The band was struggling, playing Reed's innovative rock 'n' roll songs to a Greenwich Village scene hung halfway between hootenannies and acid rock. Warhol was looking to expand his influence into the rock world then dominated by Bob Dylan in New York and the Beatles in London. Any number of bands might have fit into the colony centered around Warhol's "Factory," but against all odds the painter and his aide-de-camp Paul Morrissey found a group touched by genius. The Velvet Underground signed on as the musical component of Warhol's traveling multimedia show "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable." That sound-and-lights happening also sometimes included dancing by fashion model star Edie Sedgwick, and extra vocals by the European femme fatale Nico. The addition of Nico as a part-time member of the band was rumored to have annoyed the Velvets but that was another era and, besides, the chanteuse is dead. Their first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, produced by Warhol, included great Reed songs such as "Heroin," "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "I'll Be Your Mirror." The record was not a commercial success, but like all the Velvets' albums it is still reaching new fans and influencing musicians today, long after most of the hit groups of the time have hit the cut-out bins.After that album, Nico was left behind (though Reed and Cale wrote songs for her solo debut, Chelsea Girl, as did her teenage boyfriend/guitar player; Jackson Browne) and soon the band decided to cut loose of Warhol and get serious about the music business. After their second album, the abrasive White White Light/White Heat Heat, Cale quit. Although his multiple instruments and dark humor had helped define the Velvets' sound, Cale's songwriting had been lost in Reed's shadow. Freed of that inhibition, songs and solo albums poured from him. The Velvets made two more studio LPs before Reed went solo in 1970. Of course, once they were dead, people decided they loved them.
Getting Lou Reed and John Cale to sit down together to be interviewed was just a little easier than reuniting Lennon and McCartney, a bit harder than finding common ground between Shamir and Arafat. That's not because they don't get along Songs for 'Drella demonstrates that whatever animosity once existed has been buried - but because both men are engaged in ongoing careers and don't get much satisfaction from public strolls down memory lane. But with Andy and Nico gone, and former hangers-on cashing in with tarted-up memoirs of the Warhol/VU. glory days, it seemed like a good time for Cale and Reed to get a few things off their chests. We spoke at suppertime on January 20, Presidential inauguration day.