4 Feb


I guess I first saw the guy play about the time The Ship Song came out. Fresh off the smack I recall. An enormous man so he seemed and scary, in his black suit and his red silk shirt. His vitiated, inky hair sprayed out in Weimar darts. One black-clad, pointed patent boot on the foldback wedge. Since then I’ve seen him, I don’t know, four… five times. Those days are fuzzed over now. A blur of indistinct and wild colour against the sky of a night that lasted three years.

The Ship Song came out and then other things. The last time I paid attention was “Stagger Lee” from the Murder Ballads LP. I didn’t go off him, I just went on to other things. Things that involved synthesizers and drum machines.

One of the pleasures that come of being older than once one was is the experience of musical rediscovery. To find again that which once you loved and realize that you still do. And, because time has intervened and yet the love endures, you reach down and feel the depth. The catalyst for my rediscovery of Nick Cave was The Boatman’s Call.

What a fresh and open wound of a record this is. The Australian Blood On The Tracks. It’s almost indecent to listen. His personal History of Love, his Confessions. Dig it:

Seasons came, seasons went
The winter stripped the blossoms bare
A different tree now lines the streets
Shaking it’s fists in the air
The winter slammed us like a fist
The windows rattling in the gales
To which she drew the curtains
Made out of her wedding veils

“People Just Ain’t No Good”

The story of a marriage grown old and waxed cold by the ill-favours of Fortuna. “To our love,” goes the B-part, “send a dozen white lillies, to our love send a coffin of wood.” Love is buried and mourned on The Boatman’s Call. It’s a requiem for exploded affairs of which nothing remains save ashes:

There’s nothing to learn from that vacant voice
That sails to me across the line
From the ridiculous to the sublime
It’s good to hear you’re doing so well
But really can’t you find somebody else that you can ring and tell

“So Far From Me”

Who did he write it for? Anita Lane perchance? Is that why she now publicly expresses the wish that she’d never met the man? Other women feature. There are songs that anticipate. The following, by example, apparently to woo Polly Harvey:

Her widow’s peak, her lips I’ve kissed
Her glove of bones at her wrist
That I have held in my hand
Her Spanish fly and her monkey gland
Her Godly body and its fourteen stations
That I have embraced, her palpitations
Her unborn baby crying, “Mummy”
Amongst the rubble of her body

“West Country Girl”

And with its scene set in a colonial hotel overlooking the carnival, “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere” obviously recalls the bitter loss of his Brazilian love Viviane Carneiro:

You come for me now with a cake that you’ve made
Ravaged avenger with a clip in your hair
Full of glass and bleach and my old razorblades
O where do we go now but nowhere

This circle poem traces the rise of love where we ‘fuck up the sun and fuck it down again’ and its destructive fall to Earth. The one true love that ends with shattered hearts in a hospital “where the bones of our child crumble like chalk”. Where do you go from there but nowhere?

Is there a song about Susie Bick? I’m not sure. He married her after the Polly Harvey whirlwind and the Carneiro super-nova. Despite its proximity to nihilism, despite its bruises and battered bones this is a profoundly Christian album, an epilogue to hope from the misguided survivor of a million ship-wrecks featuring possibly the only hymn composed in the late 20th century. Enough. Listen to this Dostoevskian ballad.


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