Musician John Cale is perhaps best known for his brief tenure as second banana to Lou Reed in The Velvet Underground. But Cale's musical background in the avant-garde was a vital ingredient of that band's influential sound, a fact his autobiography What's Welsh For Zen makes clear. Cale's entire career is peppered with pivotal meetings and collaborations, the impact of his work extending well beyond VU's broad reach. This literally oversized autobiography—it's chaotically designed and illustrated by Dave McKean and blanketed with photos, quotes, lyrics, and clippings—expounds upon his various adventures with remarkable candor. The book is divided into logical eras, from Cale's Welsh upbringing to his involvement with such influential New York avant-garde figures as Tony Conrad and La Monte Young, through alter-ego Reed and VU, as well as Cale's subsequent career as a punk producer (for the Stooges, Nico, Jonathan Richman, and Patti Smith) and solo artist (with such classic recordings as Paris 1919 and Fear). His diary-like prose is brutally frank about his rocky relationships (both personal and professional) with various lovers and creative antagonists who include Reed and Brian Eno, and Cale's voyage from classically trained schoolboy to addled and addicted rock singer is frequently fascinating. Until recently, John Fahey was a far more obscure figure than Cale. But Fahey's pioneering avant-folk exercises have found a new audience, which is why the indie-rock label Drag City has released an illuminating volume of his writing. How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life is billed as fiction, but each story seems suspiciously autobiographical, and while it's hard to know for sure, there's no question that Fahey has a unique voice. An infamous eccentric, Fahey is also funny and down-to-earth: His tale of growing up in the D.C. suburbs dominated by Jewish families is fresh and familiar, while he wrings hilarity out of a story in which he punches out director Michelangelo Antonioni after being asked to score the desert-orgy scene in Zabriskie Point as a statement of American depravity and death. The book is less a memoir than a statement of iconoclastic purpose presented as a series of anecdotes. Fahey has always done his own thing, and this book reveals an unpredictably invigorating new side of his individualism.

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