Listen to this track by twin Velvet Underground founders and former Andy Warhol musical interests Lou Reed and John Cale. It’s “Hello It’s Me” as taken from the 1990 album Songs For Drella, a concept album about the aforementioned Warhol, in part as a way of saying goodbye.
Warhol had died in 1987 after a gall bladder operation. And in that time, some distance had grown between him and two of those who had been taken under his artistic wing in the late 1960s. The Velvet Underground was a project of Warhol’s as much as it was Reed’s and Cale’s. It was under Warhol’s mentorship that the band initially established their presence.
This record is a musical journey of a life, tracing Andy’s origins in Pittsburgh, to his rise to fame as a pop art mover in New York City, to the assassination attempt on him, to his founding of Interview magazine, and to his latter years.
Perhaps this song, which is the closer to the set, is the most overt goodbye there is from two men who had known Warhol best, and not without a significant amount of guilt, too
The Songs For Drella record came together after Reed and Cale had connected at Warhol’s memorial. The meeting and the eventual project took place over twenty years after the White Light/White Heat record that saw an end to the original incarnation of the Velvet Underground when bassist-violist Cale left. The working relationship between Reed and Cale would never be entirely without its bumps in the road. But, the two wrote the songs between them, united by their common respect of Andy Warhol as a sort of musical biography, often taking on the voice of Andy Warhol himself in the first person.
This song is something of an afterword of that biography, with Reed taking the lead vocal while Cale’s viola provides a second voice to a song that is about love, but also about regret, and about finding a way to make amends for things left unsaid. It’s about making up for the lack of emotional vocabulary to connect with a person while they’re alive, yet finding a voice to tell them you love them after they are gone.
This isn’t the usual space that Reed and Cale take up. Usually, it’s less about friendship, redemption and forgiveness, and more about pursuing the heart of darkness. But, here we’re reminded that underneath all of the hostility and disdain to be found in their catalogue, it’s the vulnerability and sense of loss to be found there that makes those first elements work so well in the work of both men. In some ways this way of working through an honest grieving process is appropriate, seeing as these are songwriters we’re talking about here. Of course the best way to say “I love you, goodbye” for them is through song. It only stands to reason.
The Songs For Drella project led to a few live performances of the material (although not a full tour), and also provided the basis for the Velvet Underground reunion in 1993, featuring Reed, Cale, and Mo Tucker and Sterling Morrison, too. The band were inducted into the Rock ‘N” Roll Hall of Fame that year, too.
And after that once again, Cale and Reed vowed to never work together again. Since then, we’ve seen off Morrison, and of course Lou Reed most recently too, whom Cale would remember fondly just as the two had remembered and celebrated Andy Warhol.
Friendship is not always an easy road. But, saying goodbye never is.
Speaking of farewells, you can read Laurie Anderson’s poignant tribute to Lou Reed, her partner and husband of 21 years, here on Rolling Stone.
If you want to learn more about Andy Warhol, consider warholfoundation.org.
[UPDATE: November 20, 2017: check out this Andy Warhol page that features his art, biographical information, and more about artists associated with him.]