Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sylvia Said

B-sides are funny things. Some bands don't do them - Pink Floyd, for example, once they'd dissolved in Roger Waters's bile. Some bands bury their best songs there - Radiohead's "Cuttooth" being one example. And some (most?) issue studio wankery or songs they don't like as b-sides. These categories are fluid, though, and artists regularly switch from one to another.

John Cale never put out many non-album b-sides, and hasn't in a long time (except to someone else's a-side). On the rare occasions he has, though, he's seemed to move randomly between categories B and C. "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores" certainly fits in the latter category. Fear-era Sylvia Said (the b-side of, unbelievably, The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy), despite some nice touches, goes into category C.

The proto-R.E.M. instrumental work and the bittersweet though makeshift viola part are cool. But it's the slightly drunken and definitely demo-quality vocal that drags the song down. Then there's the seemingly improvised lyrics. It's also the vocal melody, which sounds awfully reminiscent of something. (And what's with that Lou Reed trademark-infringing title, eh?) It's all very ad-hoc, moreso than some contemporary tracks that stayed in the can for another two decades.

It's got a certain Dennis Wilson charm to it, and the instrumental work is very enjoyable, but it didn't deserve a spot on an album. You can pick it up in its proper place on The Island Years.

Note: This exclusively covers the Island Years version. I've read at least once the actual b-side is a different take. I don't have the single, so I can't verify that or judge its quality against this release. Please weigh in if you can compare.


Unknown said...

Of course, once you have read Cale's autobiography, it becomes obvious that this lovely little song is a sly shot at Lou Reed-- the opening lines clearly turn on the ship references in 'Heroin,'and describe Cale's brief fling with Sylvia before she married Reed.

Nice blog, I really enjoy your notes on Cale's songs.

Dan W (aka pacemakerblink)
San Diego, CA

Inverarity said...

Thanks for the kind words!

I didn't remember anything about Sylvia Morales from What's Welsh for Zen (it was a very randomly-organized book, I thought), but didn't she and Lou Reed only marry in 1980? It makes this song an even more interesting companion to the a-side, in any case.

Unknown said...

I looked this up the other night in WWFZ. It's almost a throwaway reference on page 189-- Cale says that he and Sylvia had a one-night stand in 1979. Which, I now realize, makes it impossible for "Silvia Said" to have been written about the experience. So how did Cale come to write a song that plays on the titles and lyrics of several Lou tunes, and which mentions going to bed with a woman named Sylvia, at least six years before the event in question?

Very mysterious.

Best regards,
Dan W

Brian Bath said...

We all know that John would not allow a back alley for a law suit.

So that could only lead me to believe that he was exploring the possibilities, in a writers mind.

So Lou was not even involved.

And it's funnuy that after listening to Soldier by Iggy Pop it would lead me to believe that he actually listened Lou Reed.