Canongate Books; Main edition
Nobody walks the line between hi-brow and gutter-punk, between deeply moving and utterly pretentious quite like Nick Cave. You get the feeling – here – and elsewhere across his canon of songs, movie-scripts, soundtracks, plays and lectures that he knows that too. Knew it first, even.
The Sick Bag Song – available in a variety of formats now, ebook, paperback and the flash limited edition with replica aeroplane vomit bags – is part journal/tour-diary, part memoir and all at once it’s an epic poem. It’s as stupendously absurd as the Cave that stalks the stage and proudly sings lyrics such as “You asked an electrician/If he’d seen me round his place/He touched you with his fingers/Sent sparks zapping out your face”. And as deeply meditative as the Cave that croons, “A wicked wind whips up the hill/A handful of hopeful words/I love her and I always will/The sky is ready to burst”.
Just as he’ll include those two versions of himself in any concert, here on the pages of his latest book we get charming stories about the influence of Leonard Cohen and Bryan Ferry, we get moments of honesty that include grooming-as-cover-up: “I carefully concoct a paste in a bowl and I paint my hair black…So that it sits like a sleek, inky raven’s wing on top of my multistorey forehead. There is a liver spot on my left temple. A spider-vein on my right nostril. The bathroom light is brutal. I reposition my face so that I stop looking like Kim Jong-un and start looking more like Johnny Cash”.
He loves to play with his legacy, with his image – and with himself apparently (“…masturbated in the Bowery hotel in New York City and the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood”).
Mostly it’s an elegiac ode to missing his wife, to digging into the road – rather than always digging the road; to doing the work.
The influence of Cohen looms large – what Cave took from him, clearly, was the idea that you could be more than just a writer on the page, more than just a singer on the stage. You could be both. And neither. And something other. Something that combines aspects of all and any art, that exists to please others but also to amuse the self.
Here Cave’s passage of time – jotting down little bits of himself on aeroplane sick-bags – isn’t a waste of time. Nor is it often anything profound. But it’s funny. It’s interesting. It’s thoughtful – and sometimes silly. And it’s a lovely little read – one to return to. One to enjoy. As with the recent film – it’s another version of Cave pretending to unravel, pretending to reveal himself, to unveil. He’s doing no such thing – really. And that’s precisely where and why and how this is quite clever.