Oil painting titled "Composition Four - Melancholia" by Raymond Jonson, 1925
I'd heard for a long time that the solo work of Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale was pretty weird, so I got a real surprise when I started buying his '70s-era albums. They were surprisingly pop-oriented and accessible - 1970's Vintage Violence and 1974's Fear were immediate favorites, and songs like "Buffalo Ballet", "Ski Patrol", I Keep a Close Watch", and "Big White Cloud" could easily have been AM-radio hits. That's not to say, though, that there wasn't a bit of weirdness going on with these albums - there's some edgy paranoia in songs like "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend", "Leaving It Up to You", and the crazy spoken-word piece "The Jeweler". And then there's "The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy", a bouncy piano tune about the quiddities of group sex.
I have many questions about "The Many Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" (which comes from the Fear album), beyond the question in the title of this post. First, why does Cale pronounce the word "orgy" with a hard G, so that it rhymes with "Corgi"? It would make sense if there were a reference to Welsh Corgi dogs in the song, although I don't want to think what kind of orgy that would be. Second, why does he focus on the economics of orgy participation? Is this a '70s cultural thing that I would understand if I'd been there? Was there an entrance fee or an X-drink minimum? Maybe it's not about money - maybe Cale is saying something about not being able to "afford" to orgy from a risk or ethics perspective. Third, are the kinds of "men" listed in the verses supposed to be likely orgy participants? I'd rather not imagine an orgy that consisted of a postman, con man, milkman, butcher, astronaut and curate.
The interjections of the female voice in the song may be the most puzzling part - the woman appears to be a prostitute soliciting on the street, but what does this have to do with orgying? The song almost seems like a song about orgies written from the perspective of a child who is conflating multiple sexual taboos into a single scenario. It's hard to say - I guess the important thing is core lesson here: Orgies can be expensive and aren't for everyone. Words to live by.
"The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" by John Cale