Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Year of the Patriot

The aesthetics of desperation really work for me. That said, I have another obscurity for you, from the recently reissued Words for the Dying documentary - and its tragic nature (and the story gets worse) isn't its only notable aspect.

As usual, Hans scooped me on the money quote, but, hey, I'm not proud:

There was a Russian double bass player that Brian Eno and I ran into when recording ‘Words For The Dying’. He had gigantic hands. He had hands like spades. I remember before I met him I was listening to the radio in New York and they played his record. He used to play Paganini on the bass. I got to Moscow and I asked, “Do you know this guy?” And someone says “Yeah he’s in the next building. He works next door!” I told Brian about him and I said, “You gotta hear this guy play. He is just amazing! He plays the double bass but he plays Paganini on this thing!”
So we set it up and arranged it and it was really sad. I mean the guy walked in a tuxedo and sat himself up and brought all the armors with him and set the armors up on chairs behind him in a semi circle and he stood in the middle and he started playing the bass. We noticed there was something wrong and also we noticed that the people that worked with him were making fun of him. What was happening was the guy had a disease called lupus [ed. note: um, no, though quite possibly Marfan Syndrome.] and his whole body was changing. You know the bones kind of crumble and they swell up. And his hands were gigantic. Very efficient in playing what he was doing but his face had altered. And he had this sort of distorted flat face. And it was horrible the way they were making fun of him.

It's an uncomfortable scene - Cale and Eno are obviously rather horrified by the situation, and they're both remarkably condescending - but what emerges from it is an outline of a remarkable piece. Despite the project, the lyrics don't appear to be Dylan Thomas, but Cale - "I'm buying my enemies to sell my friends. I'm buying my friends to sell my enemies. In the year of the patriot, the traitor is king and the genie's out of the bottle." OK, somewhat rough, but it's the start of something.

When I first saw the documentary - on a hard-won VHS tape - I was struck by the piece and was saddened that it was reduced to this little scrap. It's hard to see what more they could have done with it, to be sure, but what's there is evocative. I guess I should be grateful to have it.

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