I WENT TO A SHOW: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

                                            Nick Cave in Wings of Desire, 1987

There is a photograph of Nick Cave in which he is a young man hunched over halfway to standing in the small room his occupancy overwhelms, the ceiling too low or his body too long for him to stand upright; the length of him unwieldy in this space cants forward, one hand where the white wall bends into the whiteness of ceiling, the other hand presses against his knee to hold crooked the weight of the bony plate of his chest, his concave abdomen, as if he were midway through lurching an exit from this room now invaded by another, whoever has come to take his picture. This room is windowless; in place of windows pages of text are taped to the walls, handwritten scrawl on sheets of typewriter paper and pages torn from books, busy with underlining; in one corner a stack of books towers precariously; a chaos of strewn books and papers covers the floor. Three cuts of long black hair hang in coils from an exposed pipe. This room that contains the young man is not like a room in which a human being is meant to live; it is a diorama, a tableau, like a habitat someone built to house a taxidermied animal in a museum. The animal is Nick Cave. His limbs the longest possible and all sinew, his nocturnal pallor, his mass of dark hair disheveled and spidering greasy over eyes shadow-rimmed beneath the black slashed arches of his brows, something primal in the thick-boned extremity of that browline, the jut of his jaw, the nightmare lushness of his mouth, wet and sullen and jarring, how his lips parted the surrounding gauntness. This man an animal like Death born in boy-form, brutish and dissolute and dressed in black jeans, ripped denim iest, white wife-beater like the freak runaway son of some disintegrated blue collar home, a suburb lost to the desert now ruins the dust will bury: I saw his photograph when I was young, I saw him as the brooding tenant of a white crypt of a room crowded with words, he lived holed up with heaps of books but he was not bookish, as in incorporeal: he was physical intensity’s limit realized in bone and hair, smoldering with the silken night-black currents of ash I imagined must be his body’s substance. I thought the books he read must radiate the scent of sweat. Pages stained by bloodied fingertips. I saw this photograph of this man when I was young and my heart slammed hard into my mouth and stayed there, fattening on my tongue, unshakeable; I gagged on it. This was the man I wanted to become, but I was not a man. I could not be him. This was the man I would permit to devour me.

Nick Cave is a man I have loved.

I loved him, his beauty was violence. I was destroyed by it: in the video for his cover of Elvis’s “In the Ghetto,” he staggers, listing towards collapse, in his jacket with its sequined lapels, he is taller than anyone, how could he be human and be as tall as that, with his eyes glowing like that, pale bluish, tinged greenish, glassy, unfocused in the bright light like something unfamiliar, he runs his hand through his black hair framed in a halo of blue smoke, avoids eye contact—I watched this video and I felt sick with wanting, clamped my thighs together more tightly to quell the sickness that shuddered through them. The most conspicuous piece of décor in my bedroom when I was a 15-year-old child was an enormous poster of Nick Cave. His eyes turned heavenwards. From whence he had descended: Milton’s Satan, or an Evil Angel, stumbled out of Baudelaire. He who haunted the lakes of my blood. And I was a loser girl in the dregs of black stockings, more holes than nylon, determined to get myself killed one way or another, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Tender Prey playing loud in the car, my mother frowning as the man snarled, “I come a death’s-head in your frock” while I grinned inwardly at the idea of this flawless display of affection, or what I counted for affection then. My harshest longing went to Nick Cave as he was during the Birthday Party era, squawking “BITE!” in the voice of heavy thrash, the song’s tachycardic din assaultive, the man inhuman, and I was undone.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds played the Wang Theatre in Boston on Saturday, June 10. I was there; I could not stop myself from going, hard as I tried to convince myself that my conscious resolve to renounce the Nick Cave imaginary – a universe of murdered women, murderous men, romanticized carnal cruelty, and desolate, tortured, hopeless eroticism – was enough to dissipate an adoration endured for over a decade. I told myself, you are not who you once were, you do not wallow in men’s violence against you now, you do not want this, you cannot go see Nick Cave, he is bad for you. It was not enough. I wanted to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, badly. I bought my ticket, I went; as if I were a teenager desiring attention again I even dressed up: black silk kimono, black satin slip, bone baubles and the bat earring, black hair braided, lips blood-claret. I felt my choice to go to the show and my preparations for it as symptomatic of reversion, as if I were betraying myself, so mortifying, like the shock of guilt that stabbed into me when I admitted to my friend I was going to see Nick Cave and they exclaimed, “Oh, no…”, inciting an angry eagerness in me to explain away such an obvious transgression of my principles, but I couldn’t. There was no justifying my undying love for this egoistic man with his celebrated oeuvre of alternately thuggishly misogynist and reverentially misogynist sex-murder ballads. I thought of my friend’s “Oh, no…” again when the Bad Seeds came on stage, a bunch of middle-aged white men, self-satisfied, men in expensive shoes, expensive jackets, confident of their place in this world, which is theirs, which is not mine. I was also reminded of a profile of Nick Cave I read in the New York Times several years ago, wherein the male NYT writer, Nick Cave, and Bad Seeds’ member Warren Ellis were reflecting on how Cave writes for women, with a woman’s voice at heart—an awe-inspiring exhibition of bullshit. I sat back in my seat in the opulent gold-and-coral theatre and wondered how I had allowed myself to pay to see these Men. Then Nick Cave came out.  Continue reading “I WENT TO A SHOW: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds”