The whole third floor of the hotel gutted by the blast

11 01 2014

I had a Nick Cave phase because: of course I had a Nick Cave phase!

I mean, can you listen to Nick Cave and—key caveat: providing you didn’t leap out of your chair to turn off that sound from the roiling deep—not keep listening to Nick Cave?

It was his track on the Until the End of the World soundtrack that got me, that bass drawl going on about blind pencil-sellers and dogs leaping under wheels and it was horrifying and amazing and who the fuck was the guy and why didn’t anyone tell me about him before?!

(I had that same reaction to finally listening to Patti Smith: Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me about her before? Kiddies, life before cable and the internet was a vast radio wasteland for those of us out of reach of college stations.)

My first cd of his was Henry’s Dream, which contained the terrifying Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry. Oh, the narrator may be “reassuring” his son that amidst all sorts of mayhem (shots in necks, arterial blood spraying, etc.) that “Papa won’t leave you, boy”, but ain’t nothin’ reassuring about any of it:

Run Henry! Run!

I did learn about his previous life as singer in Birthday Party, but beyond that BATS! BATS! song, I didn’t really know much about them: my intensity for Cave burned out before I could trawl his backstory.

As an aside: Nick Cave seemed to be one of those working that masculine brutal/tender trope for which I am an endless sucker. I don’t really know if there’s any feminine equivalent: Patti Smith was never brutal. Chrissy Hynde, maybe? Tho’ she was more contemptuous than anything. Maybe some of the stuff coming out of the Riot Grrls scene, but even if that comes close, I don’t know that it’s the same.

In any case, it’s damned difficult to maintain: it seems you either move beyond it—Nick Cave, Elvis Costello—or you just age into weirdness (if you’re talented enough) or staleness (if you’re not. I don’t know that it’s always-only a young man’s game, but at some point it rends itself apart.

Anyway, what brought all of this on? A trippy Belle Waring thread at Crooked Timber, in which Saul posted this vid of a young Nick Cave, heroin-thin, prancing around in a loincloth fronting Birthday Party:

Holy mother of Jesus.

Yes, for those of you who might see this as pretentious or boring or melodramatic or repellent: I get it, I really do. There are all kinds of things which others’ find fascinatin’ that I think, Huh.

This ain’t one of them.

Repellent, I’ll give you. But mesmerizing, well goddamn, mesmerizing I’m taking for my own.





Sing! Sing! Sing!

11 01 2009

I got sucked  into the speakers yesterday.

I don’t remember the song (something about heartbreak) and was surprised when Jonathan Schwartz credited Betty Buckley as the singer (it didn’t sound like her). But I was caught by all that she gave to the song—that’s what caught me. Yes, she has a lovely voice, but it was the. . . I don’t know, that sense that she scraped away herself and in so doing scraped away the skin of that sad and pretty melody to lay bare nerve and bone.

How could she do that? Where does that come from? When I was (way) younger I wanted nothing more than to sing, to be a singer. That didn’t happen. I have a competent voice—a ‘chorus’ voice—but my lack comes less from technical faults than the inability to inhabit the song with my voice. Oh, I might feel moved, but that feeling doesn’t come through. It’s posing.

Was Buckley posing? I’ll never know, but man, it doesn’t sound like it. Does Patti Smith sound like she’s posing? I remember when I first listened, really listened to Patti Smith—it wasn’t until grad school. Where the fuck was she when I was in high school?! Of course, I had Janis Joplin back then, but Janis was already dead, and Patti was, is, blazingly alive.

Neither Janis nor Patti has classically trained ‘great’ voices, but man, can they sing! Dive into that song and pull off all their clothes and dare us to dive in with them. This is it, they’re telling us. this is all a song can be. Can you follow? Are you brave enough to care?

In my responses to Ainadamar I noted my marvel at Dawn Upshaw and Kelley O’Connor’s passion. Did I mention it was almost as hard to witness as it was wondrous? I was embarrassed, fearful for them. Oh no, I thought, what are you doing? You’re so naked on that stage; you’ll be caught out, alone and exposed!

What could compel them to take such risks?

Perhaps it is because I ask such questions that I get in my own way. Do they see what they do as risky? Perhaps the danger is in not singing, in not throwing oneself into the music; perhaps it is only the embrace of the music which carries them. Perhaps the question is How could they not?

I don’t have it in me—the singing, I mean. Perhaps had I had the Voice (be it Joplin’s or Upshaw’s), I would have lain all other concerns aside to tend to that gift.

Or not. What do I do now with my modest talents? Tend to them, fitfully. Take them seriously, kind of; treat them warily. I protect them. I do not risk them. I do not risk              anything.