Efficiency, efficiency they say
Get to know the date
and tell the time of day
As the crowds begin complaining
How the Beaujolais is raining
Down on darkened meetings on the
– John Cale from the title track of Paris 1919
In 1973, John Cale recorded the album Paris 1919 in Los Angeles with the UCLA Orchestra. On Sept. 30, John Cale returns to UCLA to perform the album in its entirety with his band and members of the UCLA Philharmonic.
John Cale is widely known as a founding member of the legendary rock band The Velvet Underground. Also a composer and producer, Cale is known for his avant-garde and sometimes atonal leanings. Cale has been a chameleon in the music world, creating and adopting genres only to make inspired sharp turns into new artistic directions. A live John Cale performance guarantees the same edgy and improvisational brilliance as contained in his prolific collection of recordings, which span over 45 years.
Cale’s best known and most popular work is Paris 1919, declared a “masterpiece” by Rolling Stone magazine and “one of the most ambitious albums ever released under the name of pop.”
The album is part travelogue: Tea with Graham Greene in colored costumes, stiffly holding umbrellas … this cinematic vision of the Old World British Empire weaves its way through the recording. Paris 1919’s central theme is the Treaty of Versailles, which helped to set the stage for what would become the Second World War. The album’s lyrics have a sense of foreboding as events eerily unravel into an unknown future, as heard in the final moments of the album’s closing song, “Antarctica Starts Here.”
Her schoolhouse mind has
Where handsome creatures
come to watch
The anesthetic wearing off
Antarctica starts here
Paris 1919’s pop melodies and lush poeticism aren’t the least bit encumbered by what seem like heavy symbolic themes. In the final analysis, it’s just a great pop record. Like any great work of art, Paris 1919 can be enjoyed on many levels. It is a lyrical journey through the past, a recording that hearkens back to the seventies and the lost art of the “concept album” and yet remains enjoyable for its simple, timeless beauty.
Returning to UCLA to perform the entire album is an unusual moment of symmetry in the unpredictable career of John Cale. “When Past & Future Collide – Paris 1919” is a rare performance that should not be missed.
When Past & Future Collide – Paris 1919: Royce Hall, UCLA, 340 Royce Drive (off Sunset), Los Angeles; Sept. 30, 8 p.m., tickets $38-68 at 310-825-2101, www.uclalive.org
Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer
in southern California. She can be reached at www.mindtheimage.com.