Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” Performed by John Cale (and Produced by Brian Eno)

I’ve only known a few peo­ple of Welsh her­itage, and most of them have, at one time or anoth­er, looked for a way to pay trib­ute to their com­par­a­tive­ly exot­ic ances­tral home­land. Some start going by their unusu­al vow­el-inten­sive mid­dle name; oth­ers sim­ply start read­ing a lot of Dylan Thomas. The Gar­nant-born Vel­vet Under­ground co-founder John Cale, who spoke no lan­guage but Welsh up until mid-child­hood, took it a step fur­ther when he record­ed 1989’s Words for the Dying, his eleventh stu­dio album. Though it con­tains a few short orches­tral and piano pieces, it has more to do with words than music — words writ­ten by Cale sev­en years ear­li­er, dur­ing and in response to the Falk­lands war, that use and re-inter­pret Thomas’ poet­ry, most notably his well-known vil­lanelle “Do not go gen­tle into that good night.”

At the top of the post, you can watch one of Cale’s live ren­di­tions of this piece, per­formed two years before Words for the Dying’s release with the Nether­lands’ Metro­pole Ork­est.

Just above, we have anoth­er, per­formed in 1992 at Brus­sels’ Palais des Beaux Arts. The album enjoyed a re-release that year, and again in 2005, mak­ing for anoth­er musi­cal vic­to­ry not just in the illus­tri­ous and adven­tur­ous career of John Cale, but in the equal­ly illus­tri­ous and adven­tur­ous career of its pro­duc­er, Roxy Music found­ing mem­ber, artist of sound and image, and rock musi­cian-inspir­er Bri­an Eno. Though col­lab­o­ra­tion has famous­ly put Cale and Eno at log­ger­heads, it has also led to this and oth­er cre­ative­ly rich results; their 1990 album Wrong Way Up, whose cov­er depicts the two lit­er­al­ly look­ing dag­gers at one anoth­er, gar­nered strong crit­i­cal respect and spawned Eno’s only Amer­i­can hit, “Been There, Done That.” And as for their team effort on Words for the Dying, need we say more than that it made the year-end top-ten list of no less a lumi­nary of alter­na­tive artis­tic-rock cul­ture than Cale’s one­time Vel­vet Under­ground band­mate Lou Reed?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dylan Thomas Recites ‘Do Not Go Gen­tle into That Good Night’ and Oth­er Poems

Antho­ny Hop­kins Reads ‘Do Not Go Gen­tle into That Good Night’

Dylan Thomas Sketch­es a Car­i­ca­ture of a Drunk­en Dylan Thomas

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • janemcgovern6942@hotmail.com says:

    Fab­u­lous-Bri­an should get togeth­er with Bryan Fer­ry and do some­thing with this ‑now is the time-Would res­onate with the Roxy Music gen­er­a­tion

  • Ojay says:

    I always won­der after watch­ing this footage, if it would be so great if Thomas’ own read­ing was­n’t so crap. I’ve no doubt it would be but it helps me to remem­ber that a pompous deliv­ery, even by the author, can trash a great poem. Love this ren­di­tion.

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