Monday, February 11, 2008


I admit, John Cale tends more towards "relationship" songs of the tragic, regretful, angry, &c. nature than he does towards the "love song" per se. Most serious songwriters do, don't they? Because art loves conflict, and love and lust cause as much conflict as any other human feelings - no surprises here.

But Cale does put some uniquely weird spins on things. He can write a love song revolving around the hostility of the outside world, a common enough trope; but (giving him as much credit as possible) he seems to plant clues that argue against the hostility of the outside world, that even imply (stretching, here) that the hostile wasteland is the unavoidable - maybe even desirable - result of the forces of love.

(studio version)

Then again, he can write a love song with poison-pen lyrics like Woman, using an atonal verse and an anthemic chorus (building to an over-the-top synth choir coda). It might be my favorite song on blackAcetate - for an album I feel lukewarm about, there sure are a lot of candidates - but it stretches the boundaries of the genre a fair long way. (The Circus Live version is enjoyable enough, but having a riff and more than a trace of melody on the verses ruins the texture of the song. It's better than that live album's mediocre average, but that's saying little.)

"You're ignorant. You're cool. You never learned to say you're sorry."

No real idea nor little interest about who it's actually about, but... well... it says something that somebody made this video. The thought had occurred to me, too.

(live version)


Matt Seneca said...

Interesting that you chose to post a video that implies Cale sees Reed as just one of the women in his life. I've never gotten that from this song, but there's another one that seems more suspect to me -- "Mary Lou". Besides the obvious title jab, there's the way Cale changes the "she/her" describing the titular character to a "he/his" in the live version. To me, given what I know of Cale's life, this song has always hung heavy with bile directed at Rise Cale.

Inverarity said...

Heh, I didn't know about the gender change in Mary Lou.

I don't really think this song is about Mr. Reed, and I think Cale would be surprised that anyone took it that way. Nevertheless, the thought had occurred to me (it's a very Reedian thing to do), and I was tickled to see a video that followed through on the thought.

One interesting thing about the song is that the chorus on bA is, "The woman in my past, I want her in my present;" the live version is, "The woman in my past, she wants me in her present." The verses are meant to be negative - threatening or twisting the blade - while the chorus is meant to be actually positive/celebratory. I like that tension, and how quickly one mode turns to the other like a switch being flipped.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was about his first wife, Betsey Johnson.


calewives said...

That's my vid! I feel so proud. We did our own analysis of the song to come up with a video so ridiculous.