Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not So New Music

John Cale - Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Through out John Cale's long and lustrous career the rock god has released live albums that are not just live performance of old recordings but fully realized albums of their own. This particular recording just barely beats out Sabotage/Live for the coveted spot of favorite live album, with Fragments from a Rainy Season coming in a close second. These recordings stem from 1978 and 79 - depending on who you ask - but was not "officially" released until the very limited CD run in 1987.

Cale is of course know for his avant garde leaning when approaching pop music, but the album is much heavier on the Avant side. The songs here had all been unreleased up to this point, except of course for Helen of Troy which features a BRUTAL performance on the guitar by Ritchie Fliegler as he out Fripps Chris Spedding's original performance. The over the top theatrics of opener Dance of the Seven Veils features Judy Nylon on vocals who he had collaborated previously with on one of my favorite fun Cale tracks The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy. The ballad Don't Know Why She Came stands beside I Keep a Close Watch and I'm Not the Loving Kind as one of his finest.

While this live recording is not as beautifully poetic as the minimalistic Fragments From a Rainy Season or as full on punk rock as Sabotage/Live or as lounge room sleazy as John Cale Comes Alive (boy that's a weird one!) but I think this one one works best as a synchronization of all the aspects of Cale that make him the performer I adore so.

This is the CD version of the album, unfortunately the record is one of the few missing spots in my 23 LP Cale collection. The LP features a couple more tracks one of which is Jack the Ripper. I went ahead and included the studio version featured on the Island Years collection because it is a damn fine song and should be heard.*

Since the blog is coming to end I'm going to try and keep these coming every Tuesday until we officially call it quits and I might even throw in some fun extras like the big block of text you see below. This is a review I wrote after seeing the man, one of heroes, live for the first time. Just thought you would like to see that my annoying writing style was framed well before becoming part of the staff here.


Frank Phosphate circa 2005


For most of my adult life I have been a near obsessive fan of a musician by the name of John Cale. He is, in my opinion, one of the most important artists, constructors and trend setters in modern pop and rock and roll. Yet like most truly great artist his work goes unrecognized. When I found out that not only would he performing in Texas, but in Dallas and in Austin with an in store at Waterloo records. I cleared my schedule and have been dreaming for the past two months about these two days of musical ecstasy.

I just returned home from the Dallas show and tomorrow I will be staying at home and cleaning instead of visiting Austin. We will discuss why this is later.

So why is John Cale my favorite musician? Here is a crash course. John Cale is from a foreign country named Wales. It is here that he studied classical performance and at a young age won a scholarship to study in New York. It is here where Cale worked and composed alongside such notable figures in avant garde music as LaMont Young, John Cage and Terry Riley.

Then John Cale changed rock music forever when he met up with Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker to form the Velvet Underground. Leaving the band after two monumental albums he went on to create a catalogue of some of the most diverse and forward thinking rock and roll ever recorded. Along with his studio albums Cale produced some great debut records by The Modern Lovers, Squeeze, The Stooges and most notably Patti Smith's Horses.

Now with his latest release BlackAcetate (astralwerks) Cale continues to wow fans and critics with his unique brand of rock and roll. What other 60+ musicians claims his current influences to be The Strokes and Dr Dre? I highly recommend that you go out and purchase any and everything you can by him, or give me a call and I’ll give you a mix CD.

I sat alone toward the front of the stage amongst a crowd of what looked to be community college professors and civil lawyers. The people of my age bracket preferred to hang out toward the back bar area comparing the tightness of one another’s pants and attempting to pick up the bar maid in the mini skirt. I could not stop shaking in anticipation. Just imagine if you had the chance to see Radiohead or Pink Floyd with an audience of maybe one hundred people and you can imagine where my nerves were. As I looked around no one else really seemed to be as excited as I was. Maybe in their later ages they have learned to control their giddy child like glee.

The curtain comes up there he is with his trademark violin and tears right into the Velvet Underground favorite “Venus in Furs”. The sound was amazing and the setting was more intimate than I could have ever hoped for. He didn’t spend much time talking it up or making witty banter. He stuck to the music and that was just fine by me.

The set was very tight, maybe a little too tight. He did a wonderful job of not neglecting his older catalogue playing Guts, Helen of Troy and a few other seventies masterpieces. The supporting band looked and sounded like they could have just as easily been backing up Ashlie Simpson. While they were competent you could see their faces become bewildered as Cale veered off into any territory they hadn’t practiced earlier. This was one of the problems I had with the show. Cale works better as a solo performer. I have heard numerous live albums (official and bootleg) where it is just him, a guitar and a piano. It is in this capacity that he is able to explore the dark recess of his music and emote a near cathartic wale that is uniquely his.

By the end of the show my hands were red and raw from clapping he thanked the audience and left. We demanded more. After a few short moments he came back on to perform “Concrete” from the new album. A very musically haunting and stark piece but lyrically surprisingly suburban with lines such as “a voice calls out from the den ‘What time does Survivor come’” It is songs like this that make Cale so great. He is able to create songs that push you’re your ears and brain to work overtime but never forgets the one element that almost all great artist do, to have a pedestrian sense of humor.

I was now at that critical juncture. Do I bask in the glow that radiated through my soul and ear drums and call it a night or do I try to stalk the musician. Like a recovering heroin addict who just ran out of methadone I took the route that I would later end up regretting. I needed another fix, and was going to go for it.

As the crowd cleared out I made a beeline to the back of the theatre where I saw that the tour bus was. Here was my chance to meet the man who I have been listening to and idolizing for years. Here was my chance to shake hands with one of the most important figures in avant-garde, pop and experimental music of the twentieth century. There were seven people with the same idea as me standing there. They of course were all at least 25 years older than myself. I stood around for over an hour as roadies loaded equipment into the back of a trailer. I cupped my ears to try and hear any talk about Cale and more importantly a hint that he might be exiting the bus anytime soon. After I had flipped through my horrendous digital pictures for the billionth time one of the Granada workers tipped me off.

“Hey man, looks like Cale is off the bus, here is your chance”

I glanced up and indeed, he was off the bus joking around with the drummer. I stood up and with great caution made my way towards him. I cycled through all the ways that I could possibly ask him for a photograph without sounding like just another twenty something male fan or a complete idiot. There I was, about fifteen feet away from him. His conversation with his pal had ended and the man had left toward the club. Here is my chance. I begin to raise my hand to wave and for a split second our eyes met. Before I had time to blink or fully extend my arm he turned around and walked on to his bus. As I stared blankly at the bus I could hear the thunderous clank of the lock being fastened on the door.

It was on the lonely ride home that a lot of things became clear to me. John Cale is an artist and in that respect he is a master. Every time I put on one of his records I get a feeling that no other artist can, and that has not and will not change. I don’t know what I thought seeing him live would have done for me. Maybe I thought I would have a greater insight into him as a man or gain a better understanding of his music. Maybe I just wanted to let him know how much he meant to me beyond just being the guy that left The Velvet Underground. Even though that moment I had never felt such great disappointment, I am glad that he turned his back on me, whether he did it consciously or not.

So I am not going to Austin. I will not be driving for 6 hours, spending 20 more dollars on a concert ticket, waiting in line to get my early 1970’s ads from Melody Maker signed or trying to get my picture taken with a 63 year old musician.

Am I glad that I went to The Granada tonight? Yes. It was a great show and I am glad that I got to experience the music live. And it did something that I didn’t plan on, it turned my views on the relationship between art, artist and consumer upside down. But what else is great art meant to do but to make you feel elated and confused at the same time?

This is all too much to think about. I am going to go lye in bed and listen to Trapped in the Closet.


* EDIT: Ah fuck it I am going to go ahead and include this self made album of unreleased/rare material as well because I just got back from a really nice date involving spinach quesadillas and Terminator 2 so I am feeling extra generous. These are all tracks that I have collected from various bootleg/collections/live sources and arranged in a some what coherent fashion and titled Save us From the House of God. Aren't I clever? Of particular interest is the song Velvet Couch that is a collaboration with David Bowie in Bowie's apartment at cocaine o' clock sometime in the early 70's. The recording quality is horrendous but it is a rare piece of Cale history.

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