Nick Cave Reads ‘The Sick Bag Song’ At The Egyptian Theater, Wednesday April 8th 2015
Just after the trailer of ‘The Sick Bag Song’ ended, Nick Cave arrived on stage, hastily walking next to where I was sitting, just when I was leaning down to pick up my iPhone on the floor. He looked as tall, elegant and dark as usual, but he also was very funny all-evening long, especially during the somewhat disorganized Q&A with the audience, that followed the interview.
After a few microphone problems – whereas ‘It always works for Madonna!’ – and a few false entrances, Nick Cave read an excerpt of his book with his usual theatrical presence, then sat down for an hour or so to discuss ‘The Sick Bag Song’. He entirely wrote his new book (or at least this is what he wants us to believe) on airline sick bags he used as letter pad during his numerous flights, while on tour through 22 cities of North America last year. So this is totally possible, I thought, Nick Cave can fill the 600 seats of the Grauman’s Egyptian theater, and just discuss his new book while not singing a single song? The evening was priced as high as a musical performance and the performance part was limited to him reciting a few of his incredible texts, but at this point many people (me included) would pay to see him just reading the phone book… This is part of the myth. Some people had even driven for 6 hours to see him, as this appearance is one of the two he will make to promote the book, which will only be available on the Sick Bag Song website, and not in book shops, ‘a publishing coup’ explains Cave at one point, even though he is not sure whether it is a good idea or not.
The interviewer seemed a bit nervous to be in presence of the great man, but Cave showed once again how social and accessible he was, although revealing very little about his personal life and tastes, and not even letting us a chance to be able to sort out the myth from the real person.
The Sick Bag Song is a long piece of writing, and people who had a huge influence on him (Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison, Patti Smith and many more), make an apparition throughout the pages, ‘as a way to say thank you to all these people’, says Cave. And a ‘tiny Bryan Ferry’ appears in the next excerpt he reads…. ‘I’m a fucking vampire!’, he reads. Nick Cave is in the business of writing but he also believe that all artists are vampires: ‘Everybody is sucking everybody else, everybody is feeding on everybody else’.
The book is certainly not a diary of a musician on tour, ‘I am a fiction writer,’ says Nick Cave, ‘this is a book of fiction about an aging rock star who looks a lot like me’. The book is structured by the tour, it is not just a series of poetry as it has a narrative, but apparently there is almost nothing about performing. ‘There’s nothing to write about performing,’ he says, it’s ecstatic but there’s no recollection, it’s unbelievably forgettable.’ The book is rather about what is happening inside the mind of a musician on tour.
On tour, there is a ‘cult of yourself’, explains Cave, ‘You are constantly looking at the mirror, you are constantly being examined, and you just want to go back home,’… ‘Touring is incredibly tedious, it’s kind of ritualistic,’ he continues, ‘it has moments of ecstasy, and you are getting into a rhythm but you are getting into a bizarre frame of mind’. But Cave wanted to know if he could do something else, he attempted to write songs, and this book while on tour.
Cave also has a fascinating conception of memories, he says to be interested in memories in a certain way: ‘we build our memories’, ‘we create some mythology about our life’. He talks about crafting, perfecting the particular memory of a boy on the bridge, the one featured in the trailer for the book. I find his idea of ‘crafting a memory’ so artistically interesting but also so intelligent — neurobiologists think that every time we remember about something, we unconsciously alter the memory of the event.
We got to see another promotional clip of the book, directed by Forsyth and Pollard, based on his last visit to Los Angeles, then, the Q&A opened to the audience, which had a million questions to ask, not always very challenging, ‘It’s the most difficult Q&A I have ever done’, he said while teasing us about the inquiries. What were the surprising parts of all this? Nick Cave doesn’t listen to music, only when he is driving, ‘but my wife just got her license, so I don’t even get to do that!’ People don’t even get a name of a young band he would like – although he pays homage to the memory of his late Birthday party partner, Rowland Howard, ‘he was a great friend’. He doesn’t even name a visual artist who may have inspired him, actually he mentions one, the other Nick Cave – what? Who is that guy? Cave is playing around and finally reveals the title of a movie he has liked recently, ‘Foxcatcher’. The rest will always stay a mystery. If he could go back in time, what kind of advise he would give to the young Cave? ‘I don’t know, I don’t know…. ‘I think my younger self probably wouldn’t listen!’ he adds after a little moment. If I have had the chance to ask him anything, I would have loved to ask him about this photo posted by Courtney Love the day before on her Instagram (they were both participating to an Allen Ginsberg homage at the Ace Hotel). Yeah, what does Nick Cave think about the controversial Hole front girl? But I never had the chance.
Some of the texts in ‘The Sick Bag Song’ could actually become songs with the help of gifted musician Warren Ellis, and at this point of his career, Cave doesn’t need any promotion, ‘Why do you subject yourself to this?’ asks a woman referring to the on-going Q&A. Nick Cave likes doing this, he likes talking to people in an intimate situation, and he ends up the whole evening with another passage of his book, a recollection of Bob Dylan backstage at Glastonbury in 1998: ‘A cold, white, satin hand took mine,’ Cave reads. ‘Hey, I like what you do, he said to me. I like what you do, too, I replied. I nearly died. So emptied out I could fade away.’ At this moment, lit only by a small white spotlight above his book, Nick Cave is not funny, self-critical or humble anymore, he looks like this mythic character ‘who is being injected in the thigh with a steroid shot that will transform the jet-lagged, flu-ridden singer into a deity’. And this happens every time he gets on stage.