Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-01-31 - 12:19 p.m.

I went to Swindon to a Research Council brainstorm – there and back listening to Desertshore. Gradually I remembered why I had gone to such lengths to get the CD.

After the Marble Index, Elektra dropped Nico and Joe Boyd offered a record deal via Warners if Cale would produce. The recording was done partly in New York and then Cale came to London to work some more on it with Joe Boyd and through him with John Wood. The three seemed to get on well and it was during the Desertshore project that Fly and Northern Sky got done. So Desertshore shows very clearly what else was on the Boyd-Cale-Wood agenda when those bits of Bryter Later were undertaken.

Marble Index is more experimental than Desertshore – which is not say that DS is a conservative album – to me it sounds as if it might have been recorded last week. MI is clearly further out and (in strictly personal terms) MI was one of the references that I could bring to mind for the territory Gilbert and I found ourselves in doing 10 Short Stories.

Looking in the Drake oeuvre for the song which is most like DS, I would chose Clothes of Sand – related modes, moods and romantic references. One might also throw a glance in the direction of Strange Meeting II – particularly as interpreted by Tony Reif. DS looks forward to Pink Moon as well in a number of ways.

Nico brought a vast range of association with her to DS – Derrida, Fellini,Dylan, Jackson Browne, Hendrix, Belmondo, Warhol, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison. When linked with Cale’s network which includes Lamont Young, Cage, the Stooges, Terry Riley, Lou Reed. While in London Cale was working on a Fluxus project – the art movement that included Yoko Ono and hanging out with Marianne Faithful. This heritage is more finely focussed on DS than on Nico’s earlier album.

Joe Boyd himself had been involved in the emergence of the San Francisco hippie scene, particularly the late 1965 Mime Troupe event where Grateful Dead played alongside the legendary John Handy band whose post Mingus modal approach is believed to have influenced the first King Crimson album.

In many ways, this 1970 confluence is unique. Boyd shortly moved back to LA taking Cale with him and both joining Warner Brothers. Of course Wood and Drake went on to create Pink Moon as a masterwork. However this 1970 collaboration is before the early 70s begin to take their toll on various ways on the various parties.

Its worth looking at Cale’s evolving relationship to song as an arena of creative endeavour. Initially Cale worked in NYC on experimental sound forms. When he met Reed the 1965 demo tapes from Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side show a very folky approach to instrumentation and arrangement. Of course, VU carved their place in history by linking Reed’s reportage with Cale’s sonic radicalism.

Emerging from VU, Cale seems to be moving back towards song form – towards his first major achievement as a songwriter, Paris 1919, recorded in LA with the help of Little Feat. The Marble Index is more “experimental” than Desertshore – in simple terms MI is more about texture, less about rhythm, more like a Cageian experiment, less like Bryter Later.

The closest specific point of contact between DS and BL seems to be Afraid/Fly – both have a viola accompaniment and a scalar descent in the bass from the tonic. A lot more may be said by way of comparison, not least in the way that on Fly the viola part is more experimental. I have been playing with the thought of how this nexus might be extended both back and forwards. Going back I end up with Sunday Morning and Saturday Sun (maybe Jackson Browne’s These Days) and forward with From the Morning and something from the 1992 live Cale album, I’m not quite sure what. This lineage is about song structure, theme and the deployment of instruments.

However there is however a more novel carry-over. On DS Cale/Wood/Boyd create a soundworld which is also to my ears there on Northern Sky. Nico’s work on DS is incredibly intimate – especially where her work involves her son. The production manages to reflect this in an intimate warmth and enclosure of sound – and it is this, I suspect, that makes Northern Sky such a strong favourite amongst many Drake fans.

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