Two burgeoning musical geniuses came together in the mid-60s to form the Velvet Underground, a group that expanded the definition of what a rock band could be. Lou Reed’s literary ambitions led him to craft lyrics steeped in the gritty language of the streets, while John Cale called upon his background in the avant garde music scene of downtown Manhattan. Their unique talents coalesced on tracks like “Venus in Furs,” “Sister Ray,” and “Heroin,” groundbreaking songs that laid the groundwork for punk, art-rock, and many other genres to come. The Velvet Underground’s historical influence cannot be overstated, but their lack of commercial success led to heightened tensions in the group. Reed felt his dominance challenged by Cale’s musical virtuosity and forced him out of the band, which would never achieve the same level of musical daring. Their prolific solo careers in the ’70s and beyond bore traces of their ex-partner, as Reed sought to bolster his artistic credentials with noise experiments, while Cale developed his gift for melody and song craft. Ultimately, it was the unexpected death of their estranged one-time benefactor, Andy Warhol, that brought the pair back together to make peace with themselves, their troubled history, and their towering musical legacy.
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