Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cale to represent Wales

The Welsh pavilion was one of my favorites of the Venice Bienalle in 2005. The work by Bedwyr Williams was simple, unpretentious and very funny. It was worth the trip outside the main grounds to visit. Last Friday the Guardian reported that Wales will be represented in 2009 by Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, who intends to collaborate with other artists (which is often what he is best known for), and will centre around "Cale's relationship with the Welsh language", says the Arts Council of Wales.

Cale was born in the village of Garnant and studied music at Goldsmiths College (under the tutelage of Aaron Copland) before relocating to New York, where he collaborated with artists affiliated with Fluxus, before founding the Velvets with Lou Reed. He contributed a film of blinking police car lights to a Fluxus festival and often played with La Monte Young and Tony Conrad. His solo career is large and varied, but if I had to narrow it down to three albums I'd say they'd be: Paris 1919 (for his accessible side), Music for a New Society (representing his pricklier side) and Fragments of A Rainy Season as a good career retrospective. The latter is performed live on solo guitar or piano, and features songs spanning the bulk of his career, including his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which became the template for Jeff Buckley's cover, and every one that has followed since (they all omit the same verse that Cale does, as evidence). Fragments has a cover designed by Joseph Kosuth, who is good friends with Cale. Despite being best known for collaborating with Reed, they actually only made three studio records together: the first two VU albums, and the under-appreciated reunion record Songs for Drella, a tribute to Andy Warhol.

He has also worked with Patti Smith, Terry Riley, the Stooges, Siouxie and the Banshees, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Brian Eno and countless others. His 1999 autobiography is titled What's Welsh for Zen?

Cale said he was "surprised and honoured" to be invited to represent Wales. He added, intriguingly: "It offers an occasion to address certain pernicious issues in my background that had lain dormant for so long. There are certain experiences uniquely suited to the exorcism of mixed media and I am grateful for this opportunity to address them."

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