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

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Cale in Canada in the eighties

Touring in the eighties in Canada
Review by Daniel Gackle <>

Cale did numerous solo tours in Canada between 1984 and 1988. I seem to recall seeing him 4 or 5 times in Calgary during those years, including once a couple of days prior to that Vancouver date. I used to wonder why he was doing that; the clubs were small and grotty and the audiences not very big. Was he having that much trouble making a living?

The first one, I remember, was at the local university. He was fat, very drunk, and wearing pajamas. (Yes, everybody swore they were pajamas.) I remember he told an incoherent, drunken story about the end of war celebrations in Wales, how he was too young to know what was going on, but kids were running around screaming "the war is over!" and taking advantage of the havoc to beat each other up. He then started playing "Mercenaries" on acoustic guitar and messed it up repeatedly. No one minded. Polite Canadians I guess.

Another show he played was at a long-gone place called Club Notes. I remember we were sitting on the dance floor and the only light in the place was shining directly on my group. He played the whole show looking straight down at us. I sometimes wonder what on earth he would have been thinking about the naive hero-worshipping underage kid (me) staring up at him with total adulation. We tried to get in to talk to him after the show and the club manager laughed in our faces.

Another show was on a duet tour with Chris Spedding, who looked more on the brink of death than anyone I've ever seen -- it didn't affect his playing -- and whose absolutely fixed dour expressionlessness made Cale seem positively bubbly by comparison -- rather an achievement, I would say.

All of these shows were very similar, a certain amount of variation in repetoire but not that much. (Indeed, he was clearly going through the rote. But what a rote!) I remember when Fragments came out, thinking that it was a good record of what his solo shows had been like; except that the venue and the packaging and the dignified applause made everything seem rather refined and aesthetic. The shows I saw were all in seedy clubs with ugly, dirt-cheap decor and a lot of spilled beer all over the place. Also the Fragments show was more restrained. The Canada shows, I remember, had a lot more screaming and general aggressiveness (not towards the audience, which he almost never reacted to in any way, but in his playing and singing.)

Your picture brings back some memories. Those were fantastic performances and I felt fortunate to have the chance to see him several times in such small out-of-the-way places. I'm sure there are many on this list who saw him on his mid-80s solo tours. That period seemed to come to an end when Drella came out -- a piece that I've never cared that much for, as I've never cared that much for his work ever since. He brings the same gifts and intelligence to no matter what he does, but as he's become more explicitly fine-arts oriented over the years, he's become progressively less captivating to me.

© 1999- Hans Werksman