kale only The son of a miner and a schoolteacher, he spent the first eighteen years of his life in the small village of Garnant in South Wales. Zen. “At the age of 7, he began learning English and classical piano. Years later, the BBC came to his school and filmed the precocious young man performing his own compositions. The sheet music is gone. So Cale had to skip the ending, it was thrilling, it was his first time improvising.
“Creatively liberated me,” he wrote. “I started taking chances.”
A key element that would later change the Velvet Underground’s sound, the viola fell into Cale’s hands by chance. The local library was his portal to another world, especially when he realized he could request sheet music. “I could put my finger on all these scores in the avant-garde,” he said in the studio, citing Webern, Berg, Haubenstock-Ramati and, of course, John Cage.
When Cale was 15, he saw “Rock Around the Clock” at the local cinema. All his classmates rushed to the screen and started bopping. He was electrified and bewildered — until then, Stravinsky was his rock and roll image — and a little scared that everyone was about to get in trouble. “I was confused. Did you want to be in the avant-garde or did you want to be in rock and roll?”
He went to Goldsmiths College in London, a good place to understand it. Cale’s incendiary student performance, which also included a piano-playing performance with his elbows, resented some of the faculty, but he was already dreaming of America. After exchanging letters with Cage and Copeland, Cale received a scholarship from Leonard Bernstein to study at the prestigious Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. In 1963, he came to New York and soon met Conrad, Young, and the boldly minimalist Theater of Eternal Music, frequently joining them for hours of contemplative drone performances. Finally he found the community and the mind-expanding experience he had been craving all along.