Sunday, April 21

Old rocker still showing off new tricks


Aging icon's new Album displays an ever-changing musical style

At the age of 63, rock “˜n’ roll legend John Cale
wants to get funky. The former Velvet Underground creative force
has been many things throughout his long career: a child prodigy on
classical piano and viola who moved to New York at the age of 21
with the help of composer Aaron Copland; an avant-garde minimalist
who collaborated with John Cage; and a violent punk rocker who once
cut off a live chicken’s head on stage and threw it into the
audience.

“It was a long time ago, but I remember it like it was
yesterday,” Cale said. “Stress reliever is exactly what
it was, cutting a chicken’s head off. I recommend it any
day.”

Cale, who is performing at Royce Hall tonight in a UCLA Live
double bill with the Tiger Lillies, may have been crazy during the
’70s, but never funky. And that’s exactly what drew him
to creating some of his own beats on his new album, “Black
Acetate.” Inspired by Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Gorillaz and Jill
Scott, Cale created a handful of hip-hop tracks, two of which,
“Hush” and “Woman,” landed on the new
album. The beat on “Woman” could be straight off a
Snoop Dogg track.

The rest of the album channels ’80s rock, The Doors,
electronica, gospel, blues and hard rock. Although impressive, his
chameleon character is partly why he’s managed to remain
under the mainstream radar for more than half a century’s
worth of music-making. He’s been inducted into the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The VU, which has heavily
influenced everyone from The Strokes to Joy Division, but many
people don’t even know who he is.

After creating two arguably revolutionary albums with the band,
Cale parted ways with The VU after an apparent power play by
frontman Lou Reed. The band shocked listeners with Reed’s
racy lyrics about drugs and sado-masochism and Cale’s
avant-garde elements, such as the famous viola-drone in
“Heroin.”

After his departure, Cale began a prolific solo career and went
on to collaborate on or produce about 80 albums, some of which
include major works in the rock canon, such as the self-titled
debut album from The Stooges, Patti Smith’s
“Horses” and Nick Drake’s “Bryter
Later.”

Cale has become part of a group of aging British rockers,
including The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, who have managed
to maintain relatively productive and healthy careers. But what
sets Cale apart from the others is his constant drive to
drastically reinvent himself with each album and even from song to
song.

All this genre-hopping may have listeners wondering: Who is John
Cale?

“He’s a changeable individual,” Cale said.
“He doesn’t like to sit still for very long. I
don’t like looking at what I’ve just done. I really
want to do something different every time.”

It was in this spirit of keeping things fresh that Cale gave his
album the name “Black Acetate.” The predecessor of
vinyl records, black acetate records were extremely fragile, often
lasting through only a few plays, so they were always new when
listeners played them.

“You couldn’t play them more than three
times,” Cale said, “but for three plays, you had
something that was a finished product. It’s that newness
about the acetate. It’s just something that was fresh and
really excited me.”

With each new album, Cale admits that, besides the urge to try
different sounds, he still feels the need to prove himself as a
solo musician. He is still, after all, mostly known for his short
stint with The VU and for his work on other musicians’
albums.

“I put myself under pressure all the time,” he said.
“(My) weakness will change from day to day. So what
(I’m) really faced with is unfinished work, unfinished
business. Writing songs, (I’m) always on that edge where (I)
don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not
going to work.”

Despite his lifelong musical career, Cale still sounds like a
young musician at the beginning of his career. But beneath his
humble talk about becoming a better recording artist lies a certain
confidence as well.

In the electronica piece “Brotherman” on the new
album, he says, almost in defiance of potential naysayers, “I
write reams of this shit every day/Haha! This is just some of the
magic … Where the heat comin’ from, brotherman,
brotherman?”

In other words, John Cale brings the funk.

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