John Cale
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend - John Cale


Sabotage in Austin

Text by Margaret Moser
Sunday March 21, 2004 5:15pm
San Jose Motel
Austin, Texas

Part 1

MM: ... after dinner.

JC: David Fricke, eh?

MM: Yeah - you know him, right?

JC: Yeah (pauses as he slouches in a chair and gets comfortable) I saw on the news that Kristofferson was doing a performance for, the anti-Bush site.

MM: He'll probably be at the Saxon tonight.

JC: What's going on?

MM: Stephen Bruton with the Resentments at 8:30.

JC: Who sings for the Resentments?

MM: They all do - Bruton, Jon Dee Graham, Bruce Hughes, Scrappy Jud ... JC: Ah. Different band. (yawns loudly and stretches)

MM: Yeah, local boys. Sleepy?

JC: (makes a revving motor noise and grins) It's a Sunday.

MM: (sets up tape recorder) Why did you decide to do the Alejandro project?

JC: When? (cocks his head)

MM: Why?

JC: He's always been gracious. Every time I've come to Austin, he's always very kind to me. Austin sort of has a strange position for me because it was really one of the best places I performed early on in the Seventies. Then there's this history with Sterling and Alejandro ... Austin has something. Its musical community is very different from the rest of the country. The way that whole [Las Manitas show] happened yesterday. You don't get that stuff to happen like that anywhere.

MM: (perks up) So it's not just me, then, that we're ...

JC: (nods his head in response) It's very casual but it's very careful. And it's considerate. That's a quality you don't find everywhere. And that's part of Alejandro's quality too. He's very gentle, caring, (silent???). Which are not qualities much applauded nowadays.

MM: Did you pick "She Doesn't Live Here Anymore"?

JC: Yeah, I did.

MM: Are you that familiar with his work?

JC: No, I just zeroed in on two or three of them. And that was the one. I didn't know how it was going to work but we sat down and put it together at a studio in L.A. It was very easy. Then it became apparent that it required something different out of me than before. The tempo of the song, the range of it - it's in a certain range that really sits well with my voice, and I didn't know that until I sat down with it. It was written very carefully in this one direction so ... But the harmony. I loved doing the harmony. There's tons of harmony on the album so when it came to doing it, the chorus just got together and there it was, you know? It was a little bit like the Gatlin Brothers but ... (grins)

MM: Larry Gatlin lives here in town. (laughs) You can't get away from him. JC: Oh ho. Shit. Don't tell him I'm here. (laughs)

MM: I won't tell him you lifted the Gatlin Brothers style. (giggles) When you decided to do "Set Me Free" [at the Las Manitas set] it seemed perfect.

JC: Yeah - something easy, simple, and fragile. It's a fragile song.

MM: They're both fragile songs. Do you like your music to be fragile?

JC: Fragile's not the word. I like it to be ... insecure. I mean, I never thought I got anywhere unless I felt really unsure of what the song was going to be. And when I was really unsure, that's when things started happening.
There are certain songs on the album that have never really happened. Like "Close Watch." I sat down one day and bong! there it was. "Magritte" was one of those. "Over Her Head" was one of those. "Things" is the only one really, on the entire album, where I sat down in a room somewhere and wrote on guitar and (composed???). But all the other stuff was really written in the studio, so it grew, like ... you get carbuncles on the side of a boat from sitting in the salt. In the studio, you with little things and it grows and it grows and it grows. The thing about it was, I'd really be fast because I don't have very much patience.
I just love working really fast, because I can get to the punchline and get it over and go to the next one ... yeah, and not knowing where it was. Anyway, that's the album. That's how that was. But in general, I don't think I've gained anything until I get to this point where I'm really not sure of what the song is going to be.
The main thing is the subject matters. The subject matter is really where it all centers. If I don't have that I get very frustrated at what the title is or the subject matter of the song. But I read enough and I can usually pull a book. It used to be that if I ever had any trouble I guaranteed could go back to The English Patient and open any page and start reading and bingo! There would be a lyric.
And it was weird. At the Berlinale, there were seminars being runs, campus cinema ... campus keynote (Talent Campus And there were three people holding seminars there, I wasn't doing seminars, I was doing performances. The other two were [Anthony] Minghella and Walter Murch, who was the editor for a roster of the best movies you've ever seen, like Apocalypse Now, just phenomenal things.
The other thing about it was that when I was there I thought that really the alter-ego of all this, the zeitgeist for what was happening, was really The English Patient and his writing because the guy that had done The English Patient, the director of The English Patient, Walter Murch edited The English Patient ... Zen, my book, was written for Bloomsbury, who really didn't want ... Liz ??? the editor was there had been dragged to a concert I did at Hay-on-Wye by ... (pauses and addresses me) ... who wrote The English Patient?

MM: Michael On ...

JC: Ondaatje, yeah - had taken her to the concert and she had then written a letter to me that said, 'Michael Ondaatje took me to your concert at Hay-on-Wye. I must now ask you to write a book.' So I wrote a book.
I said I wanted the book to be mixed media and I did Zen. Which they really didn't want to do book publishers ?stray seldom??. They don't really want to go somewhere where they don't. I wanted it. I gotta have this with all the visuals and shit like that and tell the story. Once they'd done it, the next book they put out was Walter Murch, and it's beautiful. You can imagine what it lends itself to. There's all these scenes Murch had edited, all these movies, his sense of visuals ...

MM: (my cell phone rings)

JC: ... anyway, that was how. Nowadays because of all the books I read it's a lot easier to come up with topics.

MM: When you said all you had to do was open a book and there would be a line or lyric ...

JC: ... it wouldn't take long ...

MM: This is something you've done for years, though. The intro to "Mercenaries" on Sabotage ...

JC: ... was Machiavelli.

MM: Right, I remember when I ran across that ...

JC: ... that little quote, yeah. On the records ...

MM: they varied.

JC: Yeah. On the new record, 5 Tracks and Hobo, there are quotes from Alain Robbe-Gillet. He doesn't write a novel for 24 years, you know? And I'm sitting there writing little sob stories, murder poems, you know, like there's about five or six of them. And they're all vague and, you know, sort of drifty. (Gestures with his hands) And then he comes out with a novel. And it's in translation, even. And it puts (me?) to shame.

» Part 2

© 1999- Hans Werksman