Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Endless Plain of Fortune

Hello. This is the wife mentioned on the About page-- the one who thinks that the blog-owner's definition of "Good John Cale Music" is waaaay too broad. My definition of Good Cale-- nay, great Cale-- is Paris 1919, his finest studio album (no arguments). And my favourite song off the album isn't the title track or the lovely "A Child's Christmas in Wales," great though they are. No, it's "The Endless Plain of Fortune" that I'll hit up again and again.

It's a wonderful and evocative title, a title that promises something epic in a Don Quixote way. We don't quite get Don Quixote, but we do get something of the exotic. The song is infused with the same kind of quasi-historicity that permeates the album; Paris 1919 exists in the space between the Great War and the end of Empire-- while the songs aren't any more historical than Neil Young's "Like An Inca," they possess a unique and haunting atmosphere. Shadowy characters rise out of the lyrics-- Field Marshal, Martha, Segovia, the Radio Man-- and disappear again. And while I don't always hang on to every lyric while listening to Cale, fascinating phrases catch my attention while I'm submerging myself in the music: "it's gold that eats the heart and leaves the bones to dry," "she walked away in time/she walked a crooked line," and more. I notice different facets of the lyric with every listen.

Is it a post-colonial critique of South African gold mining and British policy in the Transvaal? Is it the plot of some old film as fed through the Cale filter? I don't know, and almost don't want to find out; the mystery is part of the charm. Great backing track, too... it does have a bit of a movie-theme feel, and I mean that in the best possible way.


Inverarity said...

It's a wonderful and evocative song, indeed. The death-march piano figure, repeated endlessly, the massed strings and horns (used so subtly!), the seismic bass (no earthquakes, just rumbling), the sensitive and continually evolving drumming of Richie Hayward, and above all the unearthly slide guitar playing of Lowell George.

Two pivots of the song:
- when George's guitar briefly moves from the left towards the center of the sonic picture at 1:35. Text can't describe it.
- when the song stops and restarts at 2:30, rotating about the drum passage.

I'm awestruck by the coda, too - nothing that you haven't heard early in the song, but it comes together so forcefully, so irresistably, that I'm overcome every time.

I agree with your view of the lyrics - "Look out below, the tides lean heavily like wine / We are all innocent in spite of you and me" somehow always gets to me. Segovia's appearance in the dramatis personae has always intrigued me - no military man or biblical figure he.

I've never been able to pick a favorite from this album - depending on my mood, any track would do. Seriously, Cale novices, Paris 1919 is damn near perfect and in print. It doesn't cover the man in full, but nothing does. Every moment you haven't heard it, you're poorer for it.

Guscairns said...

"Segovia watched, gendamerie and all, that's all" makes [a little] more sense if Segovia is the city, not the person.