This waiting’s killing me
It’s wearing me down
Day in, day out
My feet are burning holes in the groundJohn Cale, Fear is Man’s Best Friend
Cale, a classically-trained musician, tumbled into heavy drug use during the 1970s after being forced out of Warhol-sponsored Velvet Underground, apparently because of his wish for the band to record their next LP underwater. It takes a special kind of maverick to be kicked out of rock’s first truly experimental band, and perhaps it’s no surprise that Cale’s drug use soon escalated from the experimental; its associated paranoia became a mainstay of his live performances, including a memorable (for the audience, Cale was high on cocaine at the time) decapitation of a chicken onstage.
Cale’s relationship with risk was a tempestuous one. As well as being abused by a priest and a music teacher in his youth, he was already also dependent on opiates for sleep due to a respiratory condition. Hence, it would seem he was dealt a loaded hand that in his drug heyday could only lead to an early obituary.
And yet, by the 80s, something had changed. He no longer wanted or needed to be a world-beating drug taker, he wanted and needed to beat the habit.
Darkness, warmer than a bedroom floor
Want someone to hold me close forever moreJohn Cale, Fear is a Man’s Best Friend
By then, Cale feared making a fool of himself and embarrassing his new family – including his young daughter – more than his demons. And so the demons that had informed his extremely successful musical projects were now keeping him in check, meaning that the strongest drug he’s taken since that time is caffeine via coffee, a fine espresso being his only vice.
In the unlikeliest of happy endings, Cale and his demons have survived his contemporaries such as Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground, and David Bowie despite – or indeed, because of – his Fear. It could be said that his fear of death has kept him running.
His lyric for “Fear is Man’s Best Friend” is inspirational because it implores us to do what feels most unlikely and unlikable – as its suggestion is that if we simply thank our fears (particularly the one that fears sudden death) for allowing us to still be here, present and well in the present moment – then we can embrace fear as a weapon against the rest of the world, and manage our risks in a way we know is good for us and our dependents.
Home is living like a man on the run
Trails leading nowhere, where to, my son?
We’re already dead
But not yet in the ground
Come on, shake my helping hand
I’ll show you around
You know it makes sense, don’t even think about it
Life and death are things you just do…
Say fear is a man’s best friendJohn Cale – Fear is a Man’s Best Friend
Whatever your age, whether you’re a classic rocker, or of the more modern era; if it’s The Velvet Underground or the Red Hot Chili Peppers who float your boat – when your rock heroes are embracing jogging and yoga – then there’s surely no shame in joining the gang.
Have a good week and stay safe.