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Posts Tagged ‘John Cale’

On Classicism Part I: The Trouble with Classicists

In Classicism on March 29, 2009 at 12:47 am

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

3In 1990, Lou Reed and John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground, latterly famously not getting along, reunited to make Songs for Drella, a tribute/ musical biography of their first patron, Andy Warhol. Drella is a 15 song cycle which takes the listener through Andy’s life and career, from his early days in Pittsburgh, through success in New York, getting shot, latter-day isolation and and loneliness, and ending with an epitaph. The songs fit loosely together in chronological order. Here is the basic scheme: “Smalltown” sees Andy unhappy in Pittsburgh and dreaming of the big city; “Open House” describes the early days of the factory, when all and sundry stopped by and provided Andy with inspiration; “Style it Takes” gives an overview of some of Andy’s famous works and his working method; “Work” explains the considerable work ethic that underlay Warhol’s success; “Trouble with Classicists,” in what is presumably Andy’s voice, provides a series of opinions about “classicists”, “impressionists”, and “personalities”; “Starlight” appears to consider Andy’s flirtation with Hollywood, or Hollywood’s flirtation with him; “Faces and Names” kicks off the second section of the record and finds Andy in despair, something like a midlife crisis; “Images” details Andy’s philosophy of art and hits back at the critics of his method; “Slip Away,” “It Wasn’t Me,” and “I Believe” represent the nadir of the record in which Andy is warned about the people he associates with, confronts a junkie, and is shot by Valerie Solanis; “Nobody But You” sees Andy bereft of companionship hanging out and paying the price of dinner of a nobody; “A Dream” synthesizes all which has come before and puts Andy’s life into fuller perspective; “Forever Changed” sees Andy’s past slipping away; and “Hello It’s Me” represents Reed’s epitaph and apology to Warhol.

Some of the songs are better than others; specifically, I get comparatively little out of “Starlight,” “It Wasn’t Me” and “Forever Changed,” but every song has its place in the story of Warhol’s life and his influence on Reed and Cale, his circle, New York city, and the art world in general. This post will take up the first five songs as a bridge into a wider discussion of the meaning of “classicism” today. There may or may not be a part two to this post.

“Smalltown” is about leaving Pittsburgh, and introduces us to the fact that Andy was gay:

When you’re growing up in a small town
Bad skin, bad eyes – gay and fatty
People look at you funny
When you’re in a small town

New York is more to his liking, and provides a context for his art to flourish:

Where did Picasso come from
There’s no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh

I hate being odd in a small town
If they stare let them stare in New York City

The theme of small town boy (girl) made good in the big city is classic and well worn, of course, but Andy thrives in NYC, and soon “The Factory” is open to all comers (“Open House”):

Come over to 81st street I’m in the apartment above the bar
You know you can’t miss it, it’s across from the subway
and the tacky store with the Mylar scarves

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