John Cale and the ‘Legs of Marilyn Monroe’

Musician John Cale – a founding member of the Velvet Underground – has just released a new solo album, Mercy, which features an ambient track with the intriguing title, ‘Marilyn Monroe’s Legs (Beauty Elsewhere),’ produced by the British electronic musician, Darren J. Cunningham aka ‘Actress’.

It’s hard to discern much from the oblique lyrics, although the line ‘She’s always there, late to the party’ might suggest Marilyn’s legendary unpunctuality, and/or the classic Velvets track, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties‘. There’s also a mathematical conundrum (‘Seven times seven and forty-nine/The cube of nine seven three’): this reminded me of a scene from the fantasy movie Insignificance, where Marilyn – named only as ‘the Actress’ – demonstrates the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein.

‘It was ugly/There’s always beauty elsewhere’ might allude to the gulf between Marilyn’s glamorous image and her troubled life, with ‘running into space’ evoking her cultural legacy. The seven-minute track begins with what sounds like the bleeps of a life-support machine, and ends with a series of engaged tones, conjuring Marilyn on her deathbed, clutching a telephone. (The album was written during lockdown, and so the track probably reflects Cale’s mortality as much as Monroe’s.)

Reviewing the track for Pitchfork, Jesse Dorris observes that it’s “more Cronenberg than Warhol, but at least not as creepy as Andrew Dominik’s recent Blonde.”