Veggies, feathers and the myth
On April 24, 1977 Cale was playing The Greyhound in Croydon, England. During Heartbreak Hotel a dead chicken was introduced on stage which Cale decapitated with a meat cleaver he had bought in Germany. After which he threw the parts to the stunned audience.
Joe Stefko was the drummer and a vegetarian. He walked:
"We got along just fine until we got to England in '77 and he was being hailed as the godfather of punk, that's when everything changed. We discussed the chicken thing before it happened and I told him that I would leave if it came to that. I didn't want to be a part of it. He did it and I walked right off the stage. It was a shame because he was so good, he was just getting bad advice. I've seen him since, we bump into each other in the village every now and then. It was so long ago that we just laugh about it now."
Cale said he was sorry soon after the incident. The documentary John Cale (1998) contains an interview to that effect.
He writes about it in What's Welsh For Zen:
"One day on the tour, we were driving back to London and I said to the tour manager, 'I want to get a live chicken.' We had bought a meat cleaver in Germany and it gave me an idea. I told him to stop at a farmhouse and buy a chicken, but put in a box so that nobody else in the band would know. However, he came out of the farmhouse holding the squawking chicken by its legs. All the way back to the Portobello Hotel everybody in the band was asking, 'What's he gonna do with the fucking chicken? You're not going to hurt it, right?'
The gig was at Croydon. I had the chicken killed backstage and put on a wooden platter with a handle. I told the roadie: 'When I get into the second verse of Heartbreak Hotel, slide it out to me on the platter.' I already had the meat cleaver stashed on stage. The guys in front were slam-dancing, bopping and swaying. All those punks with their leather and chains, pushing everybody because they had taken too much speed. So I thought, try a little voodoo! I am singing, 'We could be so lonely,' swinging the chicken around by its feet, nobody in the audience knowing it was dead, 'we could be so ' Twhok! I decapitated it and threw the body into the slam dancers at the front of the stage, and I threw the head past them. It landed in somebody's Pimm's. Everyone looked totally disgusted. The bass player was about to vomit and all the musicians moved away from me. Even the slam dancers stopped in mid-slam. It was the most effective show-stopper I ever came up with."
Drummer Joe Stefko and bass player Mike Visceglia walked off. The non-vegetarians Ritchie Fliegler (guitar) and Bruce Brody (keyboards) stood their ground.
The ep Animal Justice which contains the track Chickenshit - a putdown for his deserting band members - was released later that year. It was recorded in London within days after the incident. The "Arthur" in the song is supposedly Joe Stefko, but
Denny McNerney was Cale's FOH engineer in 1976/1977 offers a diffent explanation:
Maybe "Arthur" was supposed (or intended) to be Joe (Stefko) on the Animal Justice record, but that's Ritchie Fliegler's voice. The real Arthur was a guy who used to hang around CBGB's, who was (perhaps) "mentally challenged", and used to come up to people and say, "hi, my name's Arthur"...and practically nothing else. iI became an inside joke w/ the band, and it obviously was put on the intro to Chickenshit for us to hear.