Snap Shot #34: Mr. Cave I Presume?

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I settle into my seat at Sydney’s newest venue, impressed by it’s steep row arrangement. I am excited about seeing an artist who’s been a constant creative mainstay throughout my adult life. I am barely legal age when I first see him perform with The Birthday Party at the Red Parrot in Perth circa 1981/82. I’m getting a drink before the gig starts, already quite out of it. This guy comes up to me, smiles and asks, “Mr. Cave, I presume?” He must be even more out of it than me. Yes, my hair is teased in a similar wild child manner and I suppose I’m pretty pale and skinny boned. But the likeness ends there. Nick Cave’s face is freckle free. And he’s not very likely to be at the public bar grabbing a drink before he hits the stage. I manage a one syllable: “Nah.” The Birthday Party are loud chaotic and contemptuous. I end up taking it all in perched somewhere I shouldn’t be (appropriately enough at the Red Parrot). A few years later, I’m in the green room of the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney, about to meet the man himself. The Party is over and he’s now gone to Seed. A girl at uni knows someone who knows someone who manages to get Nick to agree to let us record an interview for our video magazine, ‘Off Air’. The first thing he asks me: “I’m not getting paid for this, right?” He looks elegantly wasted, long cocktail glass in hand, who knows what in his veins. The uni girl who set it up is not a natural interviewer. And Nick, though at times drily amusing, can also turn nasty, especially when the subject of Elvis is brought up. I notice that every few words are punctuated by a long “uhhh” or “ummm”. I will later play with this in the edit suite, making a montage of his ums and uhs. I also show him at his funniest, when he gives the novice interviewer a lesson in ‘noddies’. “You have to go like this..” He does a big nod, “like – that’s very interesting Nick.” As an added bonus, our crew scores freebies to the gig that night. After witnessing Screaming Jay Hawkins do everything an old man can to attempt to steal the limelight, we see Nick and his original Bad Seeds rip into “Tupelo” and “From Her to Eternity”. Fucking fantastic. Through the Nineties, Cave provides the soundtrack to my life. Like playing pool at the Kirribilli Hotel, “Deanna” and “Red Right Hand” on the jukebox. Always the master of the macabre, such as singing about getting fried in an electric chair, he slowly becomes adept at love songs, with the “Ship Song” and “Into My Arms” being played at weddings. Years later he even makes an appearance at my wedding, with my best man reading the lyrics to “Rock of Gibraltar” (though not all the lyrics – what starts as a testament to matrimonial commitment takes a turn towards the end – we left that bit out). He seems to delight in countering expectations – like doing a duet with Kylie or claiming to have found God, despite having once sung: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” And the creative output not only steadily flows, it also branches out: writing a novel and movies, composing various soundtracks and even fronting another band. We both grow older, both flirt with facial hair, both become fathers. My heart sinks after the loss of his teenage son. But the music still comes. And so, for the first time in decades, I’m watching him perform. And he’s magnificent – once the Prince of Darkness, now so much more. As the songs play on, the years roll back. For both of us.

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