Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Banquo: It will be rain tonight.
1st Murderer: Let it come down.

These words, stark in their black ink against a white background, were printed on the cover of a record called - ominously, in this context - Fragments of a Rainy Season. The cover was very plain - no decoration, just text - and I almost thought it was a bootleg. I was forced to buy it: the Macbeth quotation, pithy and unnerving, was a sign of a malevolent intelligence worth pursuing.

It was my first album-length confrontation with Mr. Cale. I rushed back to the music store the same evening to pick up the other Cale album I'd looked at, a record called Paris 1919. Partly it was because I needed more of this stuff, partly it was because I'd seen a track called "Macbeth" on it. Once Fragments was over, I put Paris 1919 on, and - impatient for more background on the importance of this epigraph - skipped to Macbeth.

I wasn't really expecting killer slide guitar (by Lowell George, as it happens) over an uptempo drum barrage! Nor had I expected the vocal to be so... poppy and upbeat (despite the screamy quality of it). But he was saying something, and it wasn't very nice. The words were rueful, celebratory, ruthless, sly ("Banquo's been and gone / He's seen it all before"). The chorus was longer than the verses. And the crux of it was unknowability: "Somebody knows for sure / It's gotta be me or it's gotta be you."

It was enigmatic and irresistable. I had to investigate this guy further. Who knows what other skeletons were in his closets?

1 comment:

Mark of the Asphodel said...

"Macbeth" is the outlier of Paris 1919. It's also the turning point, the fifth-track of a nine-track album. The gentle "Andalucia" gives way to a barrage of percussion and guitar with an almost crunchy feeling to it. Cale's vocals sound a little processed on this, though it may be an illusion created by how explosive the backing track is. It's an abrupt shift in tone, coming after the dreamlike mood established by the preceding four songs.

The rockin' fadeout of "Macbeth" in turn gives way to the dramatic strings that open "Paris 1919" itself-- a second head-turning shift, though not quite as rude as the transition from "Andalucia." It's like passing from lazy late afternoon to full-moon midnight to the proverbial morning after (and then we get dark teatime of the soul that is "Graham Greene").

So what's... uh... the deal? "Macbeth" couldn't have fit anywhere else on the album, so making it the keystone song was a brilliant move on Cale's part. But what's the significance to this Shakespearean nightmare? Well, oddly enough, "Macbeth" is actually a re-working of one of the weakest offerings on Vintage Violence. Give the dopey and trivial "Adelaide" a spin, and lo and behold, it's the skeleton of "Macbeth" there beneath the forgettable lyrics (shrill harmonica subs in for slide guitar). Cale must have found something redeemable in the tune and turned this early clunker into the sinister revved-up vehicle for the themes of fate, betrayal, death, and surreal faux-history that make Paris 1919 so tasty.

Good move, Cale. Nice save, there. It's one of the best pieces of song cannibalism this side of Pete Townshend. And the quotage from Shakespeare's play on the cover of Fragments of a Rainy Season makes it even more provocative.