The first memoir by a member of the Velvet Underground, the cult band that could, John Cales perversely entertaining trip through the past darkly will interest almost exclusively will often only make sense to those already interested in his music. But qualified readers will have a good, gossipy, sometimes enlightening time, in spite of the book feeling somewhat cobbled together. Whats Welsh for Zen? joins an already substantial body of literature concerning the Velvets and Andy Warhols Factory, the primordial soup in which they formed; but Cales story runs back as well to his poor childhood in Wales, London school days, an apprenticeship in Manhattans classical avant-garde, and forward through a 30-year career as a recording artist, producer (Stooges, Modern Lovers, Patti Smith) and composer more consistently adventurous than his more celebrated, cranky ex-partner Lou Reed. Cales love-hate relationship with Reed (whom he damns, one might say, with great praise) is the books leitmotif; their latter collaborations the Warhol memorial Songs for Drella, and the brief Velvet Underground reunion seem to have been as inevitable as they were inevitably ill-fated. Not that Cale, who appears to have spent some time in therapy, or anyway in a library, lets himself off the hook. Hes honest and interestingly analytical about his own worst impulses his (past) drug addictions and failed marriages, including one to designer Betsey Johnson, and his penchant for self-sabotage and turns a perhaps too-critical eye on his art. But he proves remarkably good company nevertheless.
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WHATS WELSH FOR ZEN?: The Autobiography of John Cale | By JOHN CALE, with Victor Bockris | Bloomsbury USA | 272 pages | $25 hardcover