This waiting’s killing me

It’s wearing me down

Day in, day out

My feet are burning holes in the ground

John Cale, Fear is Man’s Best Friend

Welshman John Cale was a founding member of seminal rock’n’roll band The Velvet Underground and was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of that band in 1996.

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 more

John Cale, Fear is a Man’s Best Friend

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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 friend

John 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.


  • dailingual

    Broadcaster, editor and translator

    Dai Lingual

    Real name Wyn Williams, Wyn invented his 'dai lingual' persona in 2011 in order to build his freelance portfolio; which he's never quite managed to display on his own website with any great refinement due to the numerous successful - and unsuccessful - projects he's managed since that time. In the 2020s, Wyn will try to prioritise family, friends and sport over work in his diary. Wyn often wonders what people who don't have a name that sounds like an imperative verb do with their lives.