While waiting for Mercy On Me*, a new comic book inspired by Nick Cave, I picked up The SICK BAG Song* to get a fresh dose of my favourite artist. I remember the moment I learnt about Nick Cave like it was yesterday. A friend from work was hopping on a bus and just uttered: “You should check out Nick Cave. I think you’d like him.” Off he went and my life was changed, the spider-like shadow of Nick Cave following me around, inspiring my creations, perfectly describing my emotions in all their contradictions, leading me towards some crazy life choices and never leaving me for long.
Apparently, this book began as notes jotted on airline sick bags during a tour of North America in 2014. It’s dedicated to the boy on the bridge which immediately reminded me of the fictionalised documentary 20,000 Days on Earth where he describes his childhood in Wangaratta, Australia.
The theme on the bridge runs through the book together with a thread of other real, adopted or created memories that are perfectly blended together regardless of time and space. The boy starts to run along the tracks. He arrives in the middle of the bridge. He stands on the edge and looks down at the muddy river below.
He stares at the dark, muddy water, his heart pounding. He is the memory of a boy running through the mind of a man … who is being injected in the thigh with a steroid shot that will transform the jet-lagged, flu-ridden singer into a deity.
The whole book is a mixture of real and surreal, it’s like a tour diary, poem and prose together, adorned with angels, muses, songs, autobiographical details and interesting characters, including a little female dragon. It’s also a love song full of longing for home, disturbed by lack of sleep and phone connection. He constantly tries to reach his wife and she’s present in memories of a more distant past. I put my ear against her distended stomach, her knapsack, and listened. I could hear little trapped people swimming around within.
There are passages that reveal Nick Cave’s influences, including Leonard Cohen, which was the main reason why my friend recommended Cave to me. It’s weird how these two often come up together in conversation.
She will hand the boy a record cover, and the boy will see the mad face of a laughing man, a big block letters that say Songs of Love and Hate and he’ll know before she puts the needle on the record that he has something of untold value in his hands.
Parts of the book reveal a very human side to Cave, like when he’s in the bathroom dying his hair, or pleasuring himself in a hotel in New York City.
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 multi-storey forehead.
He’s noticing signs of aging and repositioning himself to get a better view in the unflattering bathroom light, to feel “more like Johny Cash”. I remember a similar scene in the opening of the documentary I mentioned earlier.
Then you get the poetic side of him mixed with a generous serving of darkness.
I am a nervous system that runs on rhyme and ghosts. The ghosts howl through the words making them chime.
Under the sheet, I place the sick bag to my ear and shake it. I hear the rattle of the nine Muses’ emblems… I hear bloodless people, whispering, commiserating and plotting.
You can see the critical side of him, when he describes types of procrastination and periods without producing decent work, when he includes a song that he describes as “pale, anorexic and half digested….shaped like a turd”. There are song lyrics scattered throughout the whole book in fact, and with one snippet I leave you wanting more.
In the morning I attach my king-sized shadow to my heels.
Without my shadow I don’t know how the other half feels.
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