It's not that difficult really. In the end the music must be separated from the man.
If I'd ever thought about judging artists purely in ideological terms then I'd never have read the brilliant novels of Yukio Mishima, a writer who elevated the Japanese Emperor to a deity, or I'd have boycotted the albums of Neil Young because on his last one he very weirdly did a version of 'God Save The Queen'!
In an age of septuagenarian singer-songwriters some are producing the very best music of this century, while others flounder.
Dr John's 'Locked Down' was (apart from one track) his best album ever and Tom Waits' 'Bad As Me' a definite return to form, full of black humour and wistful balladry.
Bob Dylan's 'Tempest' however, despite being lyrically interesting, is one of the most musically tedious albums I've ever heard, with the band chugging away as if half-asleep. It had universally positive reviews!
John Cale hails originally from Garnant, in what was the mining area of Carmarthenshire , and now lives in LA after spending most of his life in New York. For his 'Obscene British Empire' gong he dyed his hair pink to meet Carlo.
I only wish he'd given his award the same treatment as he once did a chicken on stage, beheading it in front of a large audience!
An article about Cale recently appeared in the 'Observer Food Monthly' and ,sadly, Cale has not become a veggie in order to do penance for the chicken homicide. Journalist Ed Vulliamy described Cale as a musical 'genius'.
This is an epithet bandied around in rock / pop circles . In Cale's case however, it's deserved.
Ever since my friend the Bartzman taped 'Faithless Kind' way back when, I have collected most of his albums.
Some are very tricky to get, including piano music 'La Naissance d'Amour' which Malcolm Lewis once described in 'Planet' magazine as his pinnacle. Likewise 'Caribbean Sunset' which has been undeservedly deleted.
I've seen him live twice and both times it was very memorable. Firstly he concentrated on the acoustic versions of his songs, as on 'Fragments of a Rainy Season' and secondly highlighted his then latest album, 'Walking On Locusts', which is underrated,comprising as it does several wonderful songs like 'Set Me Free' and 'Some Friends'.
I deeply regret not going to his most recent concert in Wales at the Coal Exchange. A friend went and called it 'superb' and he is a recent Cale convert. According to Vulliamy someone at the front commented - 'He's ours!'
Over the years Cale has had an ambiguous relationship with Wales, though his entertaining autobiography is called 'What's Welsh For Zen?'
He has recorded songs such as 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' and 'Ship of Fools' which draw greatly on his upbringing here.
His musical interpretations of some of Dylan Thomas's poems on the album 'Words for the Dying' are very much 'marmite music'. Personally I like their angular, rhythmic approach which reminds me of Bartok's piano music.
He has admitted that his daughter Eden felt more empathy with the Welsh language (he was brought up a Welsh-speaker), yet he used Cymraeg at his recent concert. I believe the way he resists Americanisms in his voice and places emotion at the hub of his music shows he is still 'ours'.
His latest album 'Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood' is his finest this century by some distance.
His most intriguing work in the last decade has been on two EPs, '5 Tracks' (a unique and captivating musical adventure) and the more direct and often witty 'Extra Playful'.
'Nookie Wood' combines what works on both of these as Cale uses modernist techniques of composition, the layers of Brian Eno's influence, with melodies which instantly engage.
If the songs are outwardly very catchy in their repeated choruses, then the lyrics are a fascinating journey into the wood as it's turning dark, all its passages and strange sounds surrounding.
I love the way they bewilder and riddle and even an ostensibly straightforward song like 'Living With You' has a dark subtext.
Musically, this album rewards you the more you listen and you only have to watch the video of 'Face to the Sky' to appreciate that. There is a mysterious and gentle keyboard phrase throughout, punctuated from time to time by clashing, crashing synthesizer chords which suggest the passion and energy of the woman dancing, 'dizzy like a top on a chessboard.'
For anyone who only associates Cale with the Velvets I suggest you start with his selected, 'Close Watch' and then get this one.
For all the achievements of Dr John and Tom Waits, there simply is no other musician/ singer / songwriter/composer as bold yet ironically as accessible as Cale right now.
And on this album he even lifts up his old and trusty viola to occasionally provide the kind of sound so characteristic of the Velvet Underground in their prime.
Hail Cale! Viva John! Bachgen bach o Garnant erioed erioed!
LEAVING SWANSEA BAY
He set sail
on a ship called Pianoforte
out of Swansea Bay
set off for New York
and the factory of sound
with frames for tins
fish swam in and out
of the strings
he mimicked the cries
of gulls on his viola
( Cymraeg had been an anchor
and ropes of home
tied to a pier
unknotted by the wind
to hold the distant torch
beyond the beats of the sun