“Year of the Patriot” is a 1989 song recorded by John Cale during sessions for his album Words for the Dying, produced by Brian Eno. The recording sessions were captured on video by director Rob Nilsson, and a brief snippet of the apparently-finished track is heard in Nilsson’s 1993 documentary, also entitled Words for the Dying. The song, however, has never been officially released, nor has it turned up as a bootleg.

John Cale & Brian Eno feat02:52

John Cale & Brian Eno feat. Rodion Azarkhin - The Year of the Patriot

The Words for the Dying Sessions

In the early 1980s, Cale began work on a long orchestral piece called “The Falklands Suite,” a musical setting of four poems by Dylan Thomas. The work had its live premiere in 1987 in Amsterdam, with a Dutch ensemble. In 1989, producer Brian Eno worked with Cale to produce a recording of the piece to be released on Eno’s Opal Records label. The decision was made to record the orchestral parts in Moscow, with the Orchestra of Symphonic and Popular Music of Gostelradio under the direction of Alexander G. Mikhailov; the decision was made at least in part because recording in Moscow would be less expensive than working with a Western orchestra. Documentary filmmaker Rob Nilsson was invited to document the process.

During their time in Moscow, Cale and Eno met with many local musicians; one of these was Rodion Azarkhin, a virtuoso of the double bass who had once been a rising star in the Soviet Union’s classical music scene, but who by 1989 was in sadly reduced circumstances after many years of living with a degenerative disease. Inspired by hearing Azarkhin’s tone on the instrument, Cale and Eno decided — apparently on the spur of the moment — to collaborate with him. During a day off from recording with the full orchestra, they arranged for Azarkhin to come in and cut a track with them.

Recording “Year of the Patriot”

In an interview, Cale later described the recording session with Azarkhin as “really sad.” According to Cale, the studio engineers and staff were cruelly mocking Azarkhin’s physical condition, although this is not apparent in Nilsson’s documentary.

It is plain from the footage, however, that the session was frustrating for the musicians. Cale and Eno did not provide Azarkhin with a written part, relying on him to improvise over the basic track; but because of the language barrier (Azarkhin spoke no English) they were unable to provide him with much useful direction.

The Song

It is unknown whether “Year of the Patriot” was an existing Cale composition, or was worked up specifically for the occasion. The only known lyrics, heard in Nilsson’s documentary, are:

I am buying my enemies to sell my friends I am buying my friends to sell my enemies
In the year of the patriot, the traitor is king
And the genie is out of the bottle.
These lyrics do not appear to derive from any known writings of Dylan Thomas.

The basic track is fairly typical of Cale’s studio work at the time, with a spoken vocal over a bed of electronic keyboards; it is probable, although unconfirmed, that Eno provided at least some of the synthesizer sounds heard in the song. There is no clear melody line; Azarkhin’s bass is employed largely as a sound effect.

As far as is known, it has never been explained why “Year of the Patriot” was left off the album release of Words for the Dying. It is possible that the piece was abandoned after the unsatisfactory session with Azarkhin; but the excerpt heard in Nilsson’s documentary would seem to indicate that at some point a rough mix and master were made.


Analysis of the song at Fragments of a Cale Season

Biographical information and interview with Rodion Azarkhin (archived)

Rob Nilsson's website

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