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

Live reviews

Gigs from Hell

Poster for the two shows at The Edge, Toronto 1980-01-19_20

The Edge (Toronto, Canada)

Review by Nigel Walkey. Photo: © Ed Ezergailis

The Edge gig that followed the Guelph-from-Hell gig was another of the many shows I saw of Cale. This gig was just Cale solo, though, so maybe we're talking a different tour.

Cale shows up with just the clothes on his back, his electric guitar and an attache case that contained a few copies of the magazine Foreign Affairs and some White House stationary. Cale had to borrow an acoustic guitar off of a local musician from underrated local band The Scenics. Got the guitar, went to his "dressing room", and finding it locked, promptly kicked it open, splintering the frame, destroying the door, and scaring the crap out of anyone with spitting distance (within an hour he'd already paid promoter Gary Topp cash for repairs). I'd arranged with Jane Friedman to meet Cale after the concert: I was hoping to get an Arts Council grant to make a documentary about him. But when my pals and I went to the show, we decided that the optimum way to watch the show would be to sit and eat magic mushrooms. It was a killer show, mushrooms or not, and my most vivid memory is of Cale bathed in red light hunched over and wailing on the guitar, screaming out a version of Pablo Picasso that I didn't want to end. By the time the show was done, I was supposed to go and meet with him. But when the lights came up, I realized just how potent the mushrooms we had been nibbling on were, and figured that rather than approach Cale and try and talk to him with drool dripping down my chin, tears in my eyes, and various hallucinations popping up out of the corners of my eyes, I'd best just play it safe and head home.

Cale at The Edge

The next day at noon I got a call from Gary Cormier, Topp's partner. "You still wanna talk to Cale?", he asked. "Well…yeah", I answered. "Hang on then", he said, and the next voice I heard was Cale's. Weak and weary from the previous nights mushroom stone and completely intimidated to be talking to my musical hero, I remember chatting to him while I sat on the edge of my bed, sweat literally dripping off of my forehead and onto the floor. "You're the film guy, eh? Come on over to Cormier's place", Cale said, "You'll find me on any ceiling in the house".

I circled the block a few times before getting up the nerve to knock on the door, but finally did. The only tape recorder I had was a shitty Panasonic cassette deck with built-in condensed mike. We sat down and chatted, and at first Cale was somewhat wary of me, but then I think he realized that I knew quite a bit about him or something, and he seemed to open up a little. He went to the fridge and pulled out a serious vial of coke. Wow -- I was going to do coke with John Cale! Wait until I have grandchildren bouncing on my knee -- won't they be in awe! But, alas, Cale talked and listened and must've snorted a good couple of grams in the space of an hour and a half -- and didn't offer me the tiniest grain. At this point, the man had been awake for almost three days.

As I told Cale that if I got money from various Arts Councils in Canada, and arranged for the Youth Orchestra of, I think, Winnipeg or somewhere, to perform one of Cale's orchestral pieces, I might be able to put together a documentary. As Cale got higher, he became more and more interested in either the idea I had, or, more likely, the notion that I was going to get "free money" from the Councils to make the film. He insisted I turn off the tape while we talked about the potential money. The last thing you hear on the tape is a huge snort as he sniffed up the remaining anthill of coke beside the condensed mike.

I never was able to convince the Arts Councils of the worthiness of my project, but I did get a bit of a kick when I heard an interview he did the same day as mine on radio station CFNY, the so-called "hip" station back then. Cale was very nice to me (even though he never shared the drugs), but with CFNY he was just... difficult. I felt like I'd accomplished something, although not quite clear what exactly. The radio interview was Cale as the contrarian. "So, John, that was quite a show you put on last night at The Edge", the interviewer would say. "What show?", said Cale. "Uh…the one at the Edge", replied the interviewer. "Who said I played there last night?", teased Cale. "Well…uh…I was there…uh…and we have a tape of it…", said the now stammering interviewer. "Tapes can be altered, boy.", said Cale, "That proves nothing", and the interview was over.

© 1999- Hans Werksman