by carl wilson

What a Piece of Work Is Man/
What Obsolete Skill Is John Cale?


Yesterday someone sent me the only Internet 'quiz' I've ever genuinely liked, What Obsolete Skill Are You? My result was "French," which I interpreted to mean not so much French the language ("Latin" is another one of the possible answers) as being French, a skill that if not obsolete before the past few weeks certainly seems more so now. (I think it's the hedonism/obscurantism dyad that got me there.)

Today I re-took the test trying to answer in the persona of John Cale, based on last night's concert at the Lula Lounge. His answer? "You are Regularly Metric Verse: You appreciate the beautiful things in life --the joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as a series of little poems. The result (or is it the cause?) is that you are pensive and often melancholy...

That's Cale in his general glorious obsolescence, but last night - while still seeming like a man out of time - metric verse put on its leather pants and came out to rock, as befits the throwback grooves of his new blackAcetate record, which is reminiscent (in an older, wiser, better-humoured way) of Cale's hockey-mask-wearing, live-chicken-hatcheting days, with a band of studio aces to give the music an almost comic slickness - comic, that is, with Cale's knowingly twisted, stentorian Welsh drone at its centre, in that "so wrong it's right," smell-of-old-fur sense that lands a blow to a sweet spot in my inner aesthetic baby-skull, in a way Lou Reed solo never really did. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar and keyboards, he kept reminding us that nothing musical is alien to him, and certainly bearing out the impression that the last few years have given the 63-year-old ex-VU magus a second (third, fourth, sixth, eleventh?) wind. I've only seen him play solo piano in the past (which I do adore, Fragments of a Rainy Season being my Cale of choice), so the addition of a band certainly freshened up my perspective, but I think the show was quite objectively high-calibre. No Venus in Furs on this second night of his three-night stand - the most "classic" moment probably came with the encore of Pablo Picasso (a Modern Lovers song Cale produced as well as covered in the 70s, though he seemed, for the first time all night, to be having a bit of trouble with the words...?). The bits of the set I remember, probably only about half: Helen of Troy, Leaving it up to you, Things, Guts, Over her head, Magritte, Hush, new single Perfect (charting in the UK, I hear?!), In a Flood and the most extraordinary reinterpretation of Gun in which the band and Cale's voice alike all sounded as if they were being played backwards on vinyl. That mind-mojo was worth the candle on its own. Rush out to see his final Lula Lounge show tonight or in Hamilton (11/16/05), Waterloo (11/17/05), Montreal (11/20/05), Boston (11/22/05) or San Francisco (11/25-26/05).

(This recent BBC interview with Cale merits your time. And other obsolete skills I know that show up from the quiz, by the way, include "Growing One's Own Food," "Programming in QBasic," "Juggling," and "Gregg Shorthand.")

PS to the poetrynerds aka my homies before you speak up: Of course in no technical sense does Cale have much to do with regular metric verse; much less so than most songwriters in fact. But the image suits his musty bookishness (the man has written songs about John Milton, Macbeth and Helen of Troy!) and his in-control manner of being out-of-step, no?

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 15 at 03:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)



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Hey Carl, glad you enjoyed Cale pt. 2. I went to night 1 and felt similar (admired the chutzpah of Gun but I'm really attached to the studio version)The setlists appear to be similar - wonder if night 3 had any different songs (was surprised not to hear Fear...)

Posted by Chris on November 18, 2005 12:11 PM



I too, got tagged with the metric verse tag....Technical note: 31 Direct Inputs used, (tecno geeks will appreciate this deet, trust me...) and the best sound to ever emanate from ye olde Corktown speakers.
Cable Hogue...yessssssss!!!

Posted by Bruce Mowat on November 17, 2005 02:13 PM



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Posted by bio on November 16, 2005 06:55 AM



before cale came on last night i overheard two middle-aged guys in duck hunting jackets overviewing the man's career. one guy says to the other:

"the thing is that cale has aged gracefully, you know."

you hear that a lot about artists late in their career who've managed to have a long one, and stayed fairly relevant and interesting over its course. but really, what's aging gracefully got to do with staying relevant? if anything the truly interesting artists like cale are the ones who continue risking embarrasment rather than succumb to staging a vaudeville show of their earlier selves.

over the last two records alone--hobosapiens and black acetate, both fairly different records from each other--cale has managed to inhabit a variety styles creatively, and still write excellent songs. there's no other anglo-american pop artist who has managed to combine avant whatever and pop so thoroughly. and i can't think of a better lyricist around. (only foreign pop artist i can think of like cale is caetano veloso).

he's also remarkably generous to other musicians. backed by a trio of alt-rock youngsters he seemed to give them license to do their own thing, even when at one moment it threatened to turn one of cale's ballads into a quadrophenia outtake with all their rock opera wankery. in the end, that interaction and respect is what helps cale continue to evolve and be open to new ideas.

and add to that list of macbeth, milton and helen of troy, charlemagne, graham green and archimedes. but no other artist pulls off such dandy cleverness so convincingly and entertaining.

last, it's a silly game to play sure, but i think in 50 years cale will have a much greater influence on artists than lou will. there's so much more invention there.

only bad note on the awesome show-- especially the set closer leaving it up to--was the lame dinner theatre set-up. cale's show was way too much of a metallic k.o. for that.

eesh, such earnest fandom.


Posted by cfrey on November 16, 2005 01:35 AM



I too am regularly metric verse. which I suppose is not surprising.

Posted by Dixon on November 16, 2005 01:22 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson