Velvet Underground Star Hits Town
John Cale, co-founder of the legendary rock band the Velvet Underground and one of the most versatile and influential musicians of recent decades, is in town Tuesday on the Moscow leg of his whistle-stop tour of Russia.
His concert at the Estrada Theater is called "Fragments of a Rainy Season" after the 1992 live album of the same name. But Cale has also promised to bring new material and the concert should show the immense range of his music over the last decade, spanning the genres of classical, rock and punk.
His visit coincides with the 10-year anniversary of his album "Words for the Dying," recorded in 1989 in Moscow with the Orchestra of Symphonic and Popular Music of Gosteleradio. A highlight of Tuesday's concert will be "The Falkland Suite," the songs Cale wrote to the poems of Welsh poet and fellow countryman Dylan Thomas and included in "Words for the Dying." This 31-minute composition marked a new turning point in Cale's career - back toward his beginnings in classical music.
"That was part of a much larger process," Cale said of the album last week in a telephone interview from New York. "I was trying ... to reassess my background in music which really I began as a composer in Wales. I got to a point in New York where I'd been living in America for a long, long time and been involved in a lot of different kinds of music and I wanted to go back to my roots and find out exactly what it was that originally made me fall in love with music and composing."
This time Cale has decided to go without orchestral backup and will perform with only guitar and piano for accompaniment - his way of testing the quality of his music.
"The orchestration is only as good as your song ... If your song is weak you may be able to support it with some orchestration but you will always have a weakness in it. So doing it without an orchestra just strips it down."
Cale began his rise in the music industry playing on the streets of New York with Lou Reed in the early 1960s. The two of them soon founded the Velvet Underground, widely considered one of the most influential experimental bands ever. When Reed and Cale split over personal differences, Cale went into producing, discovering such improbable punk legends as Iggy Pop and The Stooges.
But he never stopped playing himself, sealing his reputation as an innovative soloist with such albums as "Paris 1919" and "Artificial Intelligence."
Cale cites endless variety and experimentation as the key to his longevity.
"I'm sort of impatient, and I do my best work when I change, when I deal with different materials. You know, some artists like to work in clay, some artists like to work in marble, some artists like to work with paint, and I think in my case I like to switch between all of them because then it stays fresh in my mind."
Cale has also always maintained close ties with contemporary artists and in particular Andy Warhol, who drew the famous banana for the Velvet Underground's first album. Returning the favor, Cale wrote the score for two cult films on the art world, "I shot Andy Warhol," and "Basquiat."
"I stand astride both the art world and the music industry," Cale said. "It's a strange position to be in but it's something that I'm quite comfortable with."
John Cale will be playing the Estrada Theater Tuesday at 8 p.m. as part of the Greenwave Festival. The theater is located at 20/2 Bersenyovskaya Naberezhnaya. Tel: 230-1868. Metro: Borovitskaya/Polyanka. Tickets cost from 300 to 960 rubles: Tel. 138-2846 after 11 a.m.