Tag Archives: Nick Cave

A New Nick Experience

This is an email I sent to my friend Sue, a fellow Nick Cave fan, to report on his recent live streamed, socially distanced concert experience, “Idiot Prayer: Alone at Alexandra Palace,” filmed recently in London.  I’ve left in the personal references, and anyone who doesn’t already have an appreciation for Nick Cave might not have an appreciation for this blog entry, but I encourage the interested and curious music lovers among you to check out some of the work of this modern-day genius, which is cited throughout.

Amidst an “I’m a technological disaster!!” panic attack, I wasn’t able to get the concert to stream on my big-screen HDTV, but it might have been just as well.  The experience on my 15-inch laptop screen was amazing in that I could get so CLOSE – and really, that was a huge appeal of this format, the NEARNESS of it.  So many times we’ve gone to concerts and shows of his where he was SO DAMN FAR AWAY that you lose facial expressions and lyrics.  But this live-stream experience, “Idiot Prayer: Alone at Alexandra Palace,” was something else entirely (well, it was sort of a live-stream – I didn’t manage to log in right at 10 p.m., when it was scheduled to start, but I was able to join in on a delay, so I didn’t miss a moment) – just the magnificent Nick Cave and a Fazioli grand piano so glossy that it reflected the hammers on the strings inside the piano as if they were in the back of the music stand, so you could see them as you were watching Nick from the front, a kind of weird optical illusion that caught my visual attention.

As he’s walking into this cavernous room, otherwise empty but for the piano and some microphones (and some kind of lightning out of frame, used to great effect throughout, illuminating eerie dust motes sweeping into every light source), he narrates the lyrics to “Spinning Song” (from his latest album, Ghosteen (2019)).  Then he sits at the piano and just dives in, with the names of the songs coming up on the screen in between but no more narration from him – just his deep, dark and dense lyrics, clear and crisp and every word understandable, another benefit of the closeness and the spareness of just a boy and his piano.

The camera gets very, VERY close to Nick, as well.  His skin is remarkably clear for a 60-something year old man, and he has a scar in the middle of his left cheek that could have been from a knife.  He wore rings on all four of the fingers of his left hand (I could never glimpse enough of his left thumb to see if he had one on there as well, but he may have), and his ring finger had at least three.  His nostrils are cavernous holes.  He’s got a prominent nose that overbalances his weak chin, a face ripe for caricature. His eyes, when he looks straight at the camera, are blue and galactic, his skin pale, set off by his jet-black, slicked back hair.

He would submerge into each song, focused, feeling it viscerally.  He rarely smiled, but once, as he finished a song (I think it was “He Wants You”) he gave a little laugh.

So here’s the set list, with my comments throughout.  Many of these songs we know pretty well from concerts and films and album listening over the years.  I actually own every one of his CDs from Henry’s Dream (1992) on, but there were quite a few albums before that, dating back to 1984.  (I own all of them except for Murder Ballads (1996), that is, which YOU actually had recorded on cassette for me – that album featured that otherworldly duet he does with his buddy Kylie Minogue, “Where the Wild Roses Are”.  But alas, the cassette was lost to the flood.)  He also has another assemblage of musicians that he performs with called Grinderman that I actually know very little about.  I only have one of Grinderman’s songs on my iPod and I don’t even like it that much. (I think it might have been from a “Free iTunes” compilation.  Remember those? I loved those! I got a lot of free, interesting music from those iTunes collections – Amazon had them, too, free samplers from some up-and-coming labels. But now Apple and Amazon are too obscenely mercenary to actually share new music, for free and for KEEPS, with us dinosaurs who still need to own hard copies of their music.)  But given that two of the songs in the set that I didn’t previously know (or know well) but liked very much were from the two Grinderman albums, I definitely need to explore further. From what I understand, Grinderman is basically the Bad Seeds without my beloved Blixa Bargeld and some of the other members from the various Bad Seed incarnations.  But I’m not as familiar with that catalogue as I need to be.

 

  1. “Idiot Prayer” (The Boatman’s Call (1997)) – A solid start, as is his wont. [A note about Boatman’s Call:  This is my favorite Nick Cave album, and it also seems to be one of his, because he plays a lot of these songs at a lot of shows, including this one.  I remember when he played “West Country Girl” when we saw – well, HEARD – him at Prospect Park, which is a song that always makes me think of you, for some reason. That’s from that album as well.]

 

  1. “Sad Waters” (Your Funeral . . . My Trial (1986)) – From an earlier album that pre-dates my collection. I really liked this song.  It was the first time I remember hearing him perform it.

 

  1. “Brompton Oratory” (Boatman’s Call) – Another gorgeous song from that album that he plays a lot.

 

  1. “Palaces of Montezuma” (Grinderman (2010)) – I liked this song quite a lot. I think I’ve heard him play it before but didn’t realize it was a Grinderman song.

 

  1. “Girl In Amber” (Skeleton Tree (2016))

 

  1. “Man In the Moon” (Grinderman (2007)) – Another Grinderman song that I had never heard before and liked very much. The lyrics were particularly lovely.

 

  1. “Nobody’s Baby Now” (Let Love In (1994)) – My first Nick Cave album!! Cover art makes him look a little like David Bowie from his Aladdin Sane phase.  I believe Nick counts Bowie among his influences but Nick is NOT on the Periodic Table of Bowie.  I think he probably should be.

 

  1. “(Are You) the One I’ve Been Waiting For” (Boatman’s Call) – Another of Nick’s gorgeous, plaintive love songs.

 

  1. “Waiting for You” (Ghosteen) – Utterly heartbreaking song. I wept the first time I heard it. He did a nice version here, his voice cracking on the high notes (as it should).

 

  1. “Mercy Seat” (Tender Prey (1988)) – An interesting thing happened at this point in the program. As happens sometimes when you have a solo acoustic set, on guitar or piano, an artist runs the risk of a repetitive, kind of low-key tempo throughout the set.  It makes the listener a little sleepy, I think.  In order to keep the intimate feel but increase the tempo, Nick at this stage in the show sneaks in a few of the songs that would maybe benefit from the power of the Bad Seeds behind him.  You’d think at first that he can’t do a piano-only, gradually building lava flow crescendo of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth . . . “ BUT HE CAN.  He pounds the piano and makes it ring like there’s a whole orchestra (well, a SMALL orchestra) behind him.

 

  1. “Euthanasia” – This is evidently a brand new song that he debuted tonight (which I didn’t know at the time). It was kind of oddly incomplete, I think, not fully formed, but there were some thought-provoking moments.  Typical Nick.  I need to hear it again, though.

 

  1. “Jubilee Street” (Push the Sky Away (2013)) – Another of those “tough” songs where Nick beats on the keys to make up for the absence of Warren Ellis and a backing band. But I liked this version because I could hear every lyric and absorb every unsettling image.

 

  1. “Far From Me” (Boatman’s Call)

 

  1. “He Wants You” (Nocturama (2003)) – One of my favorite songs, and it sounded really nice in this performance.

 

  1. “Higgs Boson Blues” (Push the Sky Away) – I have to admit, this is probably my least favorite of his songs most nights, and the same went for tonight. The ONLY clunker.  He could have done any number of other songs – he did NOTHING from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! or the Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus double album, and there’s a lot of sublime music on those three disks.  “Hold on to Yourself” from Lazarus would have sounded ideal in this slot, and he could have even pummeled the dark end of the piano a little. But Nick clearly has his favorites, and this is one of them.

 

  1. “Stranger than Kindness” (Your Funeral . . . My Trial) (Great album title, by the way – surprised “Mercy Seat” isn’t on that one.) – Didn’t know this song, either, but it was actually NOT written by Nick but by Blixa and a woman named Anita Lane. I actually remember reading about her in that graphic novel you gave me a couple of birthdays ago. [Reinhard Kleist, Nick Cave, Mercy on Me (2017)

 

  1. “Into My Arms” (Boatman’s Call) – Classic love song, one of my favorites of his. If I ever met a man who would specifically request this song to be played at his wedding, I would marry him!!  (Well, I’d WANT to, anyway . . . )

 

  1. “The Ship Song” (The Good Son (1990)) – Love this song. There’s an adorably joyful video for this tune from back in the day!  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0spQCw35D4]

 

  1. “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” (Henry’s Dream) – Another opportunity for a piano-pounder, the last of the night. A golden oldie that we don’t hear from him too often.

 

  1. “Black Hair” (Boatman’s Call) – Last one from that fine, fine album. He loves this song, too.

 

  1. “Galleon Ship” (Ghosteen) –A heartfelt finale, kind of book-ending from the opening lines of the show.

 

After that, he pushes back his bench, surrounded by the sheet music he’s discarded on the floor around his feet as he was done with them, gets up and strides into the dust mites of an open doorway.

A beautiful show.  Yet another way to experience Nick.  He really has to be one of my favorite human beings on the planet.

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A section of my bulletin board, on which Nick features prominently.

Children Are Our Future

I saw the Nick Cave documentary “One More Time with Feeling” at City Winery in NYC last night.  It was yet another excellent “date” suggestion by my friend Sue (she always has the BEST ideas):  a free showing (to those who made advance reservations, which she did, twice, just to be sure) of the recent film describing his creative process and how specifically the making of his most recent album, “Skeleton Tree”, was a way of dealing with his grief over the accidental death of his 15-year-old son Arthur.  The film also featured his wife Susie Bick and his other son, Arthur’s twin Earl, as well as Nick’s long-time musical partner Warren Ellis.  Nick Cave is one of my heroes and I believe he is a genius writer, composer and musician, so I would have fully appreciated the movie as a straightforward window into his creativity (much like his “20,000 Days on Earth,” which was a dramatization of a “typical” Nick Cave-ian day).  But the pervasive undercurrent of pain and grief among the principals in the film made it heartbreaking as well as fascinating.

I cannot imagine the devastation of losing a child.  I agonize over those stories on the evening newscasts – like the one last week about that monster who, in an uncontrollable road rage, fatally shot an accomplished young woman, days away from attending her college orientation, because she wouldn’t let him merge into her lane – where a parent, face swollen and red from days of non-stop weeping, can barely speak when confronted by the news crews asking about the horrifying and unexpected death of their beloved child, even days or weeks after their loss.

My daughter is so very precious to me.  I never had any great desire to be a parent, and it pretty much took me the entirety of her nearly 22 years of life on earth so far to admit that I’ve done a good enough job raising her to not have caused her any noticeable damage.  She has never been anything other than amazing to me, this passionate, caring, intelligent, funny and gorgeous young woman, everything I ever imagined or wished she would become.  And her future is bright and exciting, although she’s not quite sure where she’s headed just yet.  (I’m not worried – she’ll get there.)  The possibility of her not being around anymore is beyond imagining.

My aforementioned friend Sue waited until later in life to have a child and her son, Jed, is the light of her life.  I saw a recent photo of him from his 8th grade graduation ceremony and he looked so mature and confident.  I knew she was somewhere in the background just gut-busting with pride.  My daughter’s aunt had her first child just over a year ago, and judging by the barrage of Facebook photos (which I love seeing), she cannot get enough of her kid (and neither can her mom, Darian’s grandmother).  A child who is wanted and beloved is a miracle in every way.

Sometimes I try to imagine life for my daughter after I’m gone (she’ll be pretty old by then, I hope).  She says she doesn’t really want children of her own (just pets), but I remind her that it was never on my radar either until the day when, at age 35, I found out I was pregnant and figured, hey, I’ve been in a committed relationship for 6 years and my boyfriend had just suggested that we “do the right thing” and get married.  (How romantic, right?  My ex finally figured out my sense of romance after multiple incidents like this:  He once sent me a dozen roses at my office for Valentine’s Day and I was furious at him for spending so much money.)  If I don’t have a kid now, when (if ever)?  Instinctively, it felt good to make the choice to go ahead with parenthood.  (It almost goes without saying, to anyone who regularly reads this blog, that I am grateful that I had the choice, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that my daughter and her potential daughters and every other daughter always have that choice as well.)

My pregnancy  itself was pretty painless, until about a month before my due date when I developed preeclampsia and my doctor put me in the hospital for a couple of days just to get my blood pressure under control.  Eventually, the toxemia, plus the baby being over 9 pounds, led to me being induced, which failed miserably, and then a C-section, so I never even went through labor.  In retrospect, having my daughter was the best decision I ever made.

But let’s say she DOES decide to have a child or perhaps two.  (I never understand anyone who wants more than two kids.  One is perfect, but two is okay, especially if there’s one of each gender, so they can keep each other company.  I had a friend who, in her forties, after a number of failed pregnancies, gave birth to boy and girl twins, healthy and perfect in every way.  And yet she wanted to risk having ANOTHER child, at her advanced age.  That was something I just couldn’t comprehend, but it’s a free country (so far), and people should be able to have as many children as they want, as long as they have the means to properly take care of them.  Her third child turned out just fine, by the way.)  Would Darian and her kids (and perhaps a father/husband) live in this house, our renovated bungalow here at the beach?  She made me promise I wouldn’t sell it, but the big questions is:  Will this house survive global warming?  Now that it’s been “flood-proofed”, it has a better chance, but if sea levels rise to the point where the Long Beach barrier island goes underwater, EVERTHING will be gone, flood-proofing be damned.

I saw an AARP article the other day that talked about how the number of people living to be 100 will increase 12 times by 2060.  [Jo Ann Jenkins, “Live to 100. Plan on It,” AARP.org, 5/2/17, http://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2017/jeanne-calment-plan-to-live-to-100-jj.html]  In 2060, I would be counted among that number.  I think I would like that, as long as I wasn’t decrepit and/or demented.  I clearly ought to start taking better care of myself!

And yet I fear for our planet, for the human race.  It seems that the people with the loudest voices and the deepest pockets (despite not having the largest numbers) are hell-bent on destroying Earth and all the creatures who call it home.  I have always believed that our creator set our species, the most advanced on the planet, on this grand experiment to exponentially evolve and advance, to get not only smarter but also more altruistic and cooperative (see “Aliens & Altruism, 7/29/15, for an earlier take on this topic), but it could just as easily be that we were designed to self-destruct at or before some random “expiration date.”.  If that does happen, would it be during my lifetime?  My daughter’s?  The lifetimes of my daughter’s children, or their children?

What did our grandparents and great-grandparents (and beyond) think about this topic?  I mean, my great-grandmother (who lived to 102) was born in the late 1800s, before telephones and electricity and air travel, let alone computers and thousand-channel streaming TV.  I’ve never been a huge science fiction fan but it certainly is intriguing to project into the future, to wonder what human beings might be capable of, both good and bad.  For the sake of our children and (potential) grandchildren, I certainly hope it’s the former.

Some Thoughts About David Bowie

I saw on Facebook this week (and then elsewhere, including an article by Ben Yakas [“David Bowie Co-Writing Musical Based on The Man Who Fell to Earth”, 4/2/15] on The Gothamist website, which I’ve been liking recently, because it makes me feel like I’m a New Yorker even though I am so far removed from living in NYC, it might as well be China) that Bowie is joining his pop icon brethren (Bono and Sting and my favorite punk genius, Billie Joe Armstrong) in collaborating on a new stage production based on Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, which Nicolas Roeg later adapted into a film of the same name which starred Bowie in his first major role. Roeg’s movie was a revelation to me in my formative years. I had probably been too young to see it, really, as it featured lots of naked alien Bowie. Bowie’s physique, in all its lissome paleness, became my ideal male body type for a while; it was exemplified, in my estimation, by one young man in high school who shall go nameless here as we have not reconnected, but those of you who know me from then will know exactly to whom I am referring. Only in retrospect have I made the connection that Mr. High School X was my Bowie stand-in.

Mr. Yakas’ article mentioned an obscure Bowie nugget from the Low album called “Breaking Glass” (which, upon clicking on the link to listen to it today, put me in mind of a Beatles’ song – maybe a cross between “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Yer Blues”, but with a Bowie-Eno twist?), and the author said maybe we’d finally find out what Bowie “drew” on the carpet (the relevant lyrics, for those unfamiliar: “Don’t look at the carpet / I [drew] something awful on it.”) Now, I always thought it was “threw”, which to me makes more sense. Unfortunately, I cannot go back to listen to the album because Low was lost in the Superstorm Sandy flood, along with the rest of my Bowie LP collection. I had every album on vinyl up to Outside (which was my first Bowie CD), including this really great import anthology of his rudimentary yet surprisingly sophisticated early songs – gems like “Let Me Sleep Beside You”, “In the Heat of the Morning”, “Boy Blue”, “London Boys”, “Rubber Band” and my all-time favorite novelty song, “The Laughing Gnome” – collected on two LPs, in a double-sided sleeve with a cartoon depiction of each song. What I wouldn’t give to have that album again! (Well, there are limits, but I’d probably pay more than I should just to have it.)

I kept waiting for Bowie to issue a back-to-birth album collection like the Beatles did (the Beatles anthology is magnificent, by the way, and was the first thing I replaced immediately after the storm with my SBA loan money). But instead he came out this past November with Nothing Has Changed, which is a perfectly serviceable three-disk retrospective and a good representative sampling of his body of work, but it’s a little light on the early songs and weirdly organized in reverse order (new stuff first, oldest stuff last). I would have rather had all the albums, even if it meant duplication of records that I already had in CD format.

At the end of Mr. Yakas’ article, there was a link to another of his Gothamist articles (“Every Bowie Album, Ranked”, 1/8/15; I have shared this article on my Facebook page), which ranked Bowie’s 25 studio albums and was illustrated by some excellent embedded videos. I don’t agree with his ranking assessment, necessarily – I unquestionably favor his older work, perhaps because I listened to it the most – but it’s still an excellent article and a great reference. In fact, he named Low and Heroes as Bowie’s best albums. On the contrary, I wish I could somehow combine the first side of Low with the first side of Heroes. I believe that’s what Bowie should have done, and then release the Eno-collaborated ambient music from both records as a stand-alone album. But that album wouldn’t have moved as many units as splitting it up into two marketable records, and Bowie was (is) nothing if not a shrewd marketer.

This past summer I went through a phase (which felt very decadent and I’d love to do it again next summer) where I treated myself to a weekly film. Not only did I discover the art house Malverne Cinema here on Long Island and attend a couple of Wednesday night 9:30 p.m. screenings in which I had the distinct privilege of being literally the only person in the theater, but in September I went to the Film Forum in NYC to see Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth, a sort of imagined “day-in-the-life” of Nick Cave loosely based on the daily life of Nick Cave (who is another of my favorite multi-media artistic geniuses and personal heroes). I had missed out on getting tickets for the showing when Nick Cave was actually going to be there in person to answer questions, but I was pleasantly surprised when the directors of the film, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, fighting jetlag, appeared before and after the film the night I was there to answer questions and talk about their experience working with Nick Cave. They mentioned (and Nick Cave himself often addresses this, most recently in an interview on UK VICE) how Nick has this duality of self, where he has become the person he’s been “performing” all these years, but he’s also just the person, with his sense of humor and guarded brilliance and almost-obsessive work ethic. Nick’s former friend and bandmate Blixa Bargeld (and another personal favorite performer – check out “The Weeping Song” for a classic Cave/Bargeld collaboration) actually appeared in the film, in a scene where he and Nick are in Nick’s car (but the conversation is really only happening in Nick’s mind) and they’re discussing why Blixa left the Bad Seeds. Ms. Pollard said that was a real unscripted conversation, where they had no idea how it would go and if they’d even go there. But they did, and it was one of those moments that transcend the art – two old (genius) friends talking about why they had a falling out and hoping that they can move on from it.

A week or so after the Nick Cave movie, I made my way to the one of those mega-monster-plexes on Long Island, which seemed an odd location for a one-night-only showing (on a Tuesday, no less) of “Bowie Is . . . “, a film about an amazing Bowie exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (which later traveled to Chicago but not NYC, for some inexplicable reason, especially given that Mr. Bowie actually lives in NYC). I had gotten confused on the way to the theater – I thought it was at another location because when I arrived at the mega-monster-plex the parking lot was nearly empty (it was a Tuesday night, after all) – so I missed the first five minutes, but for the rest of the film I was entranced. Of course the music was perfect, and there were all these obscure video clips with Bowie’s early experiments in mime and dance and even the fledgling medium of video itself. What a gorgeous young man!  And so talented. I loved one of the quotes from from a schoolmate of Bowie’s who said that he had given all working-class kids the hope that they could live a creative life. (Me, too.) I especially loved a fantastic piece of art created for the exhibit called the “Periodic Table of Bowie”, which contained colored squares representing all the artists and writers and thinkers who influenced Bowie and who Bowie in turn influenced . I’d love to have a poster of that.

It is amazing to me what Bowie has been able to achieve over his remarkable lifetime, to which he is now adding a new medium in which to display his genius. He is a perfect melding of creative talent – songwriter, singer, performer – and salesmanship, yet Bowie has done nothing that is not genuine. Watching young Bowie in his earliest performances , aged around 18, one is struck by what a confident, polished artist he has seemingly always been, with a clear vision of the image he wanted to portray even though – or maybe because – that vision often changed, simultaneously mirroring the present and projecting the future.