Interview with John Cale about Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, January 2002

When did you first meet Andy?
"He showed up at a party for Jackie Kennedy that the group and I were playing. We were ensconced in this platform bed that Henry Galsall had in his house. There was secret service everywhere and it was jammed and we had to stop playing because we were just making a huge racket in a very small space. He showed up with his entourage and that was the first taste that I had of that papparazi style that he was happy with. He'd take groups of a dozen people with him everywhere."
Why did he like to do that?
"Oh, safety in numbers. It was always like a caravan. There was something going on all the time and everyone around him was kind of like court jesters. All of this was on a blatently and enthusiastically pointless level. Everybody was having a lot of fun and doing nothing. But if you went to the Factory, the opposite was true. You saw these people grubbing around on the floor making silk screens which was a lot of hard work. So I don't think it stopped. For him it was work."
He was always absorbing art.
"Yeah, absolutely. Anybody new that would come along. Somebody would always be in touch. It was like having a periphery around him that was always aware of what else was going on."
What did he bring to the Velvets?
"He protected us in a way. He made sure that whatever our instincts were about what our songs should be about was there all the time. He kept reminding us. Sometimes we'd be off in twenty four different directions at once and when we'd lose focus on something he'd remind us of it. It was important, with Lou I think, with the songwriting, he knew that Lou was happiest when he was given tasks to do. He said here's 14 titles, write me 14 different songs on these titles. And Lou loved that challenge."
Was he an easy person to get on with?
"Very easy. I enjoyed his company because he was always very precise. I'd never go to him just to have a conversation. Because he'd be having conversatons with five different people at the same time going on. The only reason to go and talk to him was to solve a problem. And solving a problem, it was a pleasure to watch. It was always so easy for him to come around and just benignly solve something that was intractible before. There was a certain amount of magic about that."
Do you have any specific memories of Andy?
"The way he handled the press. There was a show we did up in Providence, the TV people came up for it. In those days there was a very formal sort of television. The news anchorman came out to you. If that happened then that was really big news. Get him out of the studio, get the anchor person out. They came round to the place where we were performing and we were up there making a racket and Andy was called out to come and do this interview. And instead of standing there with his talking head, he decided to lay down on the floor and do the interview lying on the floor. Which was great television. This guy was enjoying himself as well. There was one of those glass balls on the ceiling, a crystal ball, that sprayed the whole room with these flecks of light and the guy wanted to know why Andy was lying on the floor for this interview and Andy looked up at the celiing and said 'look, I can see all the stars'. The guy was not ready for Andy's naivity. And that incredulity was really what worked for him al the time."
Was he always looking at the stars throughout his life?
"Yeah. He had plenty of them around him. He was looking for them and at them."
Do you think he changed as a person after he was shot?
"He tried not to but he did. It was very difficult for him. I don't think he understood why somebody could...there were a lot of people around that were unstable. And this one particular person, there were a lot of people like her."
How do you think he changed?
"He was hurt. And I think from his point of view there was something in there, in him, that said how on earth could this have happened, what did I do that was wrong? Because the guy was always trying to be saintly in some way or other about what he was doing. Even if he was arguing and playing a tight game financially with people and not being an easy businessman to deal with. He personally felt 'I didn't do anything wrong here'. There was a lack of understanding, which I guess everybody goes through and it really punctures the bubble that you live in."
Did he become less confident socially?
"I don't know about confident. I wouldn't go that far. I think just more cautious. And slightly withdrawn. He just couldn't go out and do what he did before. Paul had seen this developing and was just outraged that things hadn't been done about it before. And then she came back again afterwards and all of this was just nightmarish. So when this thing was not over, it just put more and more stress on his social activities."
What impact has Warhol had on popular culture?
"Well, I'm always worried that the colours will fade and they won't be as bright as I remember them or as bright as they were originally which is always something that painters have to put up with. But it's the way he absorbed all of advertising. And clear images. Like mostof the pop artists. By blowing them up they became clearer."
Do you still see his influence today?
"Yeah. Everybody's trying to use that one image, like a banana or something else. Iconic thinking like that was there before he came along, but he popped it into everybody's face."
What's your fabourite Warhol work?
"The Brillo Box. When I think of all the opportunities there were to get a piece by Andy. I mean there were all these Brillo boxes sitting around the Factory and we all just sat on them. They were like boxes to sit on and rehearse and play. But they were really on their way out to galleries and whatever. I'm wondering how blind I was to their value at the time."
Was his talent was seeing value in the everyday?
"Yeah. Because everybody knew the everyday. So he got through to more people."
Will there ever be another Andy Warhol?
"I suppose so. I think these terms change don't they every five years. His name will change in five years. It'll mean something else."


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