Thursday, 23 October 2008

john Cale was a founding member of the band the Velvet Underground among other claims to musical significance. His autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen? (1999) is one of the great illustrated books of our time. it was Neil Gaiman who brought Cale and Dave McKean together for the project, as Neil explained in his blog last year. Mckean did something more than just set the type on almost every page of the 270 page volume. He even found ways to use his familiar comics approach in a few places. It doesn’t tend to turn up in lists of McKean's work; Wikipedia doesn’t mention it while having a list of all his comic books and DVD covers ( “We’ll fix that when we get home, Bart”).

Here are a few random example spreads:




While revisiting the book recently I became fascinated by Cale's brief account of the oddly famous September 9 1963 performance of Erik Satie's Vexations. This musical composition has its own 3,000 word Wikipedia entry. It was organised by American 'avant garde' composer John Cage, described on the Wiki page as being "doubtless instrumental in creating some misconceptions about Erik Satie's work in general". The instructions on the score indicate that it is to be repeated 840 times. It was played the requisite number of times in a public performance by a relay team of players including the 21 year old John Cale. An interesting follow up to the event occurred on the tv show ‘I've got a secret” which teams Cale with Karl Schenzer, the only person in the audience who sat through the whole thing. That sequence from the program is of course is easy to find on Youtube:



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11 Comments:

Blogger Bobby.N said...

What a wonderful looking book. McKean's 'Cages' blew me away when I first saw it, and this one looks like a gem too.

-Bobby.N

23 October 2008 6:49:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Austin Kleon said...

Man, I picked this up at the library today...amazing design! Warrants a video flipthrough...I'll getting working on that.

23 October 2008 7:45:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Brendan Byrne said...

Huh. I didn't know this was back in print. I once worked in a book store in the West Village with Victor Bockris, who used to pal around with Burroughs and various disreputable New York junkies who moonlighted as musicians. I, of course, was delighted that he had once spoken to Neil Gaiman on the telephone.

23 October 2008 9:46:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

not back in print as far as I know. I talk about OLD BOOKS here a lot, and I've just added that as a label to the post. sorry.

23 October 2008 9:55:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Mick Evans said...

I'm selling mine on eBay.
http://cgi.ebay.com.au/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&item=110302810923

Mick

23 October 2008 11:41:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley said...

If Campbell thinks it's good out the window it goes?

24 October 2008 4:46:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Mick Evans said...

No, no. It's a good book but I've learned all I need from it. It needs a new home. And I need the space.

24 October 2008 8:24:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Sean said...

It looks like it's available on amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Welsh-Zen-Autobiography-John/dp/0747546223/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

24 October 2008 2:14:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Fnord Serious said...

Thanks for showing off the book. I had no idea that it existed. The old game show clip is fun too.

24 October 2008 8:21:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you muchly for the Satie info, sir. I've been nuts for his creepy music since high school, and every now and then my dad drops some gem of a weird fact about his compositions or eccentricities... I'd never heard of this Vexations stuff though. 840 times! Yes! The poor pianists had to take it in shifts. The best part is how most of the 3000 words attempt to divine an explanation for the composition that doesn't involve Satie being completely freaking insane. Dadaist experiment, my bum.

The link to the article is broken though. I had to search for it myself with Google. Ludicrous!

1 November 2008 9:10:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

link fixed.
thanks , sarah

2 November 2008 3:33:00 am GMT-5  

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