Today’s song is a tough call. The original version released on 1975’s Helen of Troy, the third of three albums John Cale recorded for Island records, is not available online. Instead, there are a number of live versions from various periods, but none from the period when the song was recorded nor from the period—1979-81—when I saw Cale perform live several times.
The earliest vid I found is a solo acoustic version at Rockpalast in 1983. That has the advantage of showing Cale nearly as young as he was when I saw him, and the version of the song is fierce indeed. Then comes a version from the 1992 solo shows that became the basis for Fragments of a Rainy Season, and I saw that tour too. It’s OK, but it already feels far removed from the original. Cale has more or less standardized his solo acoustic performance of the song by that point. As again in 1999, on Jools Holland.
The recent version, in London, 2003, with a band of much younger guys, is in some ways closest to the original because, instead of ending screaming as he does in his live solo performances, he lets the band play a sort of “outro,” which is a key feature of the original released recording. What bugs me about the live version is that it’s got little of the “processional into the afterlife” feel of the original—need more of that intoning bass from Pat Donaldson, John. The “outro” on the original is one of my favorite things about the song, the way it comes in so grand after the speaker is out of words. Rather than histrionic screaming, as in so many of the live performances, the speaker just gives up. There’s nothing more to say. And the music takes over.
So, what can I tell you—you’ll just have to spring for a download of the song if you don’t have it. And why don’t you have it, hypocrite lecteur? You should simply already possess the CD collection of Cale’s Island Years, if nothing else.
I made up my mind at some point that “Cable Hogue,” with its immortal opening lines, “Traffic moving slowly, Monday morning / Money talks, people hoping,” would grace some Monday post. And why not now? Fall is here. All that we thought summer promised has either been fulfilled or never will be. A recent “milestone” or two has caused me to feel more than ever the fleeting nature of time, yes—the fact that even a period I felt was “late” (like 2007-08) is, from the point of view of now, a long ago past. I’ll let you reflect on whatever those dates conjure for you, but even if you only think of the U.S. you’ll have to reflect that we’ve gone from the rise of Obama to the beginning of the end of Obama. That fast.
And, yeah, money talks. People are hoping for more of its chat, I guess. “Cable Hogue” is about bandits, bank-robbers. It’s about the ties between outlaws and, three decades before the film Brokeback Mountain (2005), alludes to the deep bond between guys in the life. Cale has called it a “symbiotic” relationship, a song about “faggot outlaws,” and other things. No matter. Such comments are rather egregious, as the song can speak for itself quite sufficiently.
The point of the song is that it’s an amazing cri de coeur. “Cable, Cable, why’d ya leave me, Cable, where ya been?” That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. “Cable Hogue, wish you were with me now, Cable you know I love you, love you so.” Abandoned, bereft, out of money, out of time, with some small hopes left (“Gotta go to Georgia, got a bank to blow”), and harboring deep fears and resentments—“Oh, they’re looking for you down south / And all you gotta do is go down there and open that big fat mouth.” Cale’s rendition of those last lines, on the track, are full of ambivalence, the fear of what could be said—the possible incrimination that sparks these recriminations—and the fixation on that “big fat mouth.” No doubt with a touch of Hamlet’s “here hung those lips I have kissed I know not how oft.” And there’s also that implied threat—I’d like to give you a fat lip, yeah, shut your mouth forever.
The part that Cale consistently changes when doing the song live takes the line “Wanted to say goodbye / In case I die” and makes it seem something said in his own person: “Wanted to say goodbye / To all my friends / In case I die.” It’s a touching moment in a live performance because, yeah, we’re all alive right now while he’s up there singing, and then . . . .
Way back when I first heard the song I thought it a bit underdeveloped. Not much of a story. In time, I realized that it’s the kind of apostrophe—from one ever-loving bandito to another—that doesn’t require much in the way of detail. None of that “hey, remember the time, when…” No, this is on another order of things. “Wish you were with me now.” And whether it’s “I loved you like a brother” or “loved you like a lover” or “you loved me like a rock of ages” doesn’t really matter, does it? These guys were two against the world, sworn to it. And now, “something inside me tells me you won’t show.”
This is way beyond “remember when,” this is being called out by the one guy who can call your bluff. In the live versions, Cale ends screaming, “you can’t leave me here like this, Cable, please don’t leave me here like this, you can't! You can't!” Hysterical and vicious, seething with loathing and self-pity. It’s great theater.