Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gideon's Bible

One of the best songs on John Cale's debut, Gideon's Bible is also representative of the general sound and approach of Vintage Violence. It sports surrealistic yet pithy lyrics over a thick, vaguely pastoral bed of piano, acoustic and electric guitar, slide guitar, viola, and wordless backing vocals. It doesn't quite achieve the dramatic gravity of Ghost Story, but it comes close. But it's the chorus melody that really stands out here: it's one of Cale's best, with a haunting and lyrical character unmatched on this album. Or through most of his career, for that matter.

The production on this number is quite interesting: to keep the barrage of instruments from turning the song syrupy, Cale puts the piano and acoustic guitar solely in the left stereo channel and the electric and slide guitars solely in the right. The backing vocals start in the left channel and the viola in the right, but gradually move to the center. The helium-girl verse backing vocals, which start out as a barely perceptible left-channel echo in the first verse, take a much more prominent role for the second verse, putting an interesting spin on Cale's vocal. He was using woo-woo girls effectively from the very beginning (if the shadow vocal isn't, in fact, his own pitch-shifted). It's not as schizophrenic a use of two channels as the Velvet Underground's The Murder Mystery, but it is noticeable and fairly unique.

For me, the lyrics again evoke Old China (the time and place, not the song): "Pulling on the golden robes, another foreign language / stretching out the verbs and nouns together in a greeting." There's hints of the trade with the west: "rolling out the cotton shirt upon the carpet pillow." In that chorus, too, unmoored from the verses as it is: "Gideon lied and Gideon died, the force of China felt." And hints of violence and disaster: "Peering through the cutting wrist", "throttling children carelessly, a messy day with Clancy." No idea if the song is about anything specifically, but I think of the Boxer Rebellion.

1 comment:

Norton Zenger said...

Hey, saw your post on the WFMU blog. I totally could've given you an MP3 of that song five years ago if you'd asked. Drop by sometime. I got MP3s of Cale and Mike Heron live at the Roundhouse, 1971. Quality blows but it's the earliest solo Cale you'll ever find.