Lou Reed, Songs for Drella (1990)

This album was the first collaboration in decades between bandmates Lou Reed and John Cale, whose artistic and personality conflicts caused the Velvet Underground to eventually disintegrate. The album was a tribute to the recently deceased “Drella”, a nickname for pop artist Andy Warhol combining the words “Dracula” and “Cinderella”. Warhol, who died in 1987, was a manager for the band and shepherded them through their early years, as well as designing the infamous banana peel cover for their first album. He was also a friend and a mentor for Reed in particular.

This song in particular deals with Reed’s strained relationship with Warhol in the aftermath of Warhol’s shooting on June 3, 1968. Valerie Solanas (1936-1988) was a prostitute and hanger-on at The Factory, Warhol’s studio and groupie hangout. Her literary endeavors included the manifesto for an organization of one called SCUM: the Society for Cutting Up Men, which she sold on the streets for a dollar to women and for two dollars to men. She wrote a play called Up Your Ass and insisted that Warhol produce it, pestering him for a year about it. Unfortunately for him, Warhol not only refused to produce the play but lost the only copy of it. So one day she showed up at the Factory with a .32 caliber pistol and shot him, as well as an art critic named Mario Amaya who had been waiting to see Warhol. Solanis managed to hit Warhol with only one of the bullets she fired, but that bullet passed through both his lungs, his spleen, his stomach, his liver, and his esophagus. Warhol was clinically dead, and while doctors managed to resuscitate him, he never fully recovered, and complications from these injuries were most likely responsible for his death during a routine gallbladder operation two decades later.

Solanis turned herself into a traffic cop in Times Square and said she shot Warhol because "He had too much control of my life." She spent little time in prison, and most of that in the psychiatric ward. Amazingly enough, Solanis has become a weird sort of feminist folk hero in some circles, culminating in the 1996 movie I Shot Andy Warhol, where she was played by Lily Taylor. But perhaps it's not so amazing after all, because there has always been a romantic strain in the culture that tends to admire the insane and psychotic. Reed’s response to this idea is that there is something terribly wrong when a woman like that is admired and not punished. It’s not a juvenile, bloodthirsty call for capital punishment, it’s a primal metaphorical response to a world where the traditional rules of morality are inverted, mingled with his guilt about his deteriorated relationship with his mentor.

The lost copy of Up Your Ass turned up years after both Solanis and Warhol died, in a trunk that belonged to another Factory regular, Billy Name. It was produced in San Francisco in 2000 by George Coates, who added some songs to the 40 minute piece. It got mixed reviews, though nearly everyone, probably out of surprise, noted that there were some genuinely funny scenes in the mess. In a sad sign of the changing times, they were careful to note that the play was not funded by the NEA.

Valerie Solanas took the elevator got off at the 4th floor
Valerie Solanas took the elevator got off at the 4th floor
She pointed the gun at Andy saying you cannot control me anymore

And I believe there's got to be some retribution
I believe an eye for an eye is elemental
And I believe that something's wrong if she's alive right now

Valerie Solanas took three steps pointing at the floor
Valerie Solanas waved her gun pointing at the floor
From inside her idiot madness spoke and bang
Andy fell onto the floor

And I believe life's serious enough for retribution
I believe being sick is no excuse and
I believe I would've pulled the switch on her myself

When they got him to the hospital his pulse was gone
they thought that he was dead
His guts were pouring from his wounds onto the floor
they thought that he was dead
Not until years later would the hospital do to him what she could not
what she could not
Andy said, "Where were you, you didn't come to see me"
Andy said, "I think I died, why didn't you come to see me"
Andy said, "it hurt so much, they took blood from my hand"

I believe there's got to be some retribution
I believe there's got to be some restitution
I believe we are all the poorer for it now

Visit me, visit me
Visit me, visit me
Visit me, visit me
Visit me, why didn't you visit me
Visit me, why didn't you visit me
Visit me, visit me
Visit me, why didn't you visit me