A Note on the 52 Albums Project
Sunday Night Journal, January 29, 2017

52 Albums: Week 4 - Fragments Of A Rainy Season

[Note: There are seven links to YouTube videos in this piece. I more or less arbitrarily picked the first and last to embed for quick access, but thought embedding them all might make the page annoyingly slow to load.--Ed.]

At some point when I was a teenager I thought I should like John Cale. I liked the Velvet Underground (still do – not saying that’s a good thing). I liked Nico, whose best albums he produced. I liked Brian Eno, whom he had worked with. But when I listened to Cale’s albums there was something missing. They just seemed, well, “wishy washy” is the phrase that came to mind. I bought one or two albums, but only listened to them once or twice.

In 1990 Brian Eno and John Cale released an album together - Wrong Way Up. (I still think of this as the “new” Eno album.) I loved this album. It made me think I was missing something in Cale’s work. In 1992, Cale released a live album called Fragments Of A Rainy Season. I thought I’d give it a try, and I was amazed. I heard some of the songs I had heard before, but there was nothing wishy-washy about them. Most of the album was just Cale playing the piano and singing, but there was more energy and, I guess, momentum than I had heard from him before. The tempo was faster (on the songs I knew). The piano was driving – percussive. And the vocals (which I think were his weakest point in his studio albums) were forceful (when they needed to be).

There are 20 songs on the album. Some are pretty good – “On a Wedding Anniversary”, “Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed” (both Dylan Thomas poems), “Ship of Fools”, “Leaving it Up to You”. A few are very good - “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, “Chinese Envoy”, “(I Keep A) Close Watch”, “Buffalo Ballet.”

One song I have to single out, though I don’t really want to listen to it for a while, is “Hallelujah.” I think it’s a very good version of a great song. From what I’ve read, Cale’s cover started the craze for the song, for better or worse.

There are 3 songs that I think stand out. “Paris 1919”, “Cordoba”, and “Dying on the Vine.” “Paris 1919” is from the 1973 album of the same name. Here is the album version:

Here is the later version. “Cordoba” is from Wrong Way Up album with Brian Eno. This is one where I like both versions. The original, which is soothing, and has Cale on the viola. The live version – forceful (he definitely didn’t drink decaf before this show).

The best song on the album (and my favorite John Cale song) is “Dying on the Vine.” The album version is ok. The version from Fragments Of A Rainy Season is great. But there is a later version, which is basically the Fragments… version with the addition of a string quartet. I saw Cale in concert in NYC (The Bottom Line) when he pretty much did Fragments Of A Rainy Season with a string quartet. That was an amazing show. I’m not sure whether I like it better with just the piano or with the string quartet. The album version. - The piano version. - The string quartet version: 

I’m sure I haven’t done justice to this album (or the rest of John Cale’s) work) in this sloppy essay. I hope you’ll click on some of the links and see that there is really something there, whether I express it or not.

--Don is a regular reader of this blog who usually doesn't have anything to say.  He lives on Long Island.

Comments

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I'm also a fan of the Velvet Underground and Nico (i.e. Nico solo, not just the album by that name). A slightly guilty fan, I admit. I had a similar reaction to what little I've heard of Cale's solo work. I remember hearing Paris 1919 and thinking it was not at all what I expected, and was rather bland. So this is really interesting to me.

It isn't the live piano-only tracks that I like best of the ones in this post, though. They seem a little bare to me, and just as a matter of taste I've never much cared for the one-person-and-a-piano sound. I really like that last one with the string quartet. I'm also an Eno fan, and I *really* like the track from their collaboration. Of the albums represented here, that's the one I'd most like to hear.

Everything I know about Cale is the album he made with Lou Reed in 1990 Songs for Drella. I'm a big Reed fan, but never have found much in the Velvet Underground to interest me. Perhaps I need to return to them as an older person? I like Eno a lot too, and his collaboration with David Byrne especially.

Try the album that's just called The Velvet Underground. B&W picture on the cover. Sort of doubt you would like White Light White Heat. Most of it is too much for me. The first, Velvet Underground and Nico, is kind of a classic. I really like it but as both Don and I have suggested I'm not sure that's a good thing. It sort of makes depravity attractive. Back in its day I heard from a friend that the song "Heroin" made someone he knew set out to be a junkie. I've sometimes wondered what the end of that story was.

VU & Nico is the one of which it was said that only 1000 people heard it, but they all went out and started bands. Not so, because all my friends and I heard it and none of us started bands. But it was influential far beyond its limited sales.

I'll need to check CDs when I am at home, but I know I have the first VU album, and I may have White Light White Heat too. So I have at least given a cursory listen to each and I suppose they did not grab me.

Reed on the other hand ... he made an album titled New York and then toured back in the very late 80s I think. Me and some friends saw him on that tour in a small venue in South Florida and we were in the 2nd or 3rd row center. One of the best shows I've ever witnessed. So then I sort of worked backwards in his catalog, then forwards, but the VU stuff just didn't do it like his solo work did.

If WLWH didn't give you some kind of jolt, not necessarily pleasant, you weren't listening very closely. I think you would probably like the eponymous one, or most of it. It came after WLWH and is night-and-day different--just straightforward, low-key, good songs. John Cale had left which had something to do with the change, I'm sure. It's almost a Lou Reed solo album.

Mac,

With regards to "Dying on the Vine" - I think the string-quartet version is more beautiful, but loses some of the forcefulness of the piano-only version. I like them both.

As far as "Wrong Way Up" (the Eno/Cale collaboration) - you should definitely look that up on YouTube. It's a fantastic album. I considered writing about it here, but didn't have anything to say except "I love this album." With "Fragments of a Rainy Season" I at least had the hook of the contrast with the studio versions. :)

Stu,

I am also a Lou Reed fan (uncomfortably). I am a Latin-Mass-attending Catholic and a Republican, so I pretty much disagree with everything Reed stood for, but I can't help liking him.

My favorites are "The Blue Mask", "Growing Up in Public", and "New York." When "New York" came out, I remember reading an interview where Reed said something like "This is for all the pro-choice, pro-AIDS funding... people," and I thought "That's not me" so i didn't buy the album. Years later a friend gave it to me for Christmas. I don't like the fact that I like it, but there are some really good songs on the album.


Another Velvet Underground album to look for (what did we do before YouTube?) is VU - a collection of previously-unreleased tracks published in 1985. It has some solid songs which Reed later recycled. I think the best is "Stephanie Says", which Lou Reed recycled as "Caroline Says II" on Berlin. The earlier version is more enjoyable, but the later more powerful.

I never heard much of Lou Reed's post-VU work. All that Bowie-glam-etc stuff in the early '70s just had little appeal to me and I lost interest.

I'm definitely going to see out the Cale-Eno collaboration.

Seek out

I'm a liberal Catholic Don and some of the lyrics on New York are even offensive to me! I guess particularly the anti-police and anti-Pope stuff. But it is quite powerful and I suppose that the intent is to shock. There's always beginning of a great adventure. :) The driving music on that album too, forget about the lyrics to some extent, and that's what made the concert so memorable - two guitars and a bass.

I can't disagree with anything you've said about New York, Stu. We might differ on exactly where the threshold of offensiveness is, but Reed is up to the challenge no matter where the threshold is. But the music is great. There is a certain purity in the guitar on songs like Romeo had Juliet or Dirty Boulevard that is quite impressive. The lyrics, well, that's Lou Reed. Alienation and degeneracy are part of his act. He does them very well. It's hard to think of a good happy Lou Reed Song.

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