I had had some bourbon. Good bourbon. Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The menu of the restaurant where I ordered the bourbon boasted that the spirit featured complex aromas of toffee, hints of orange peel, herbs, honey, leather and oak.
I was out drinking bourbon with dad. Rather, I was drinking bourbon, and he was drinking Scotch. After discussing how things were at his office and how thorough the TurboTax overlords were being about my refund, we changed the topic of conversation to music.
“I was telling mom,” I said, after a sip of Eagle Rare, “I enjoyed that Rolling Stones documentary we all watched together last weekend, but it didn’t really teach me anything.”
This led to some substantial pontificating about whether it was necessary for the documentary makers to devote so much time to what happened at Altamont when, in reality, its safe to assume that anyone voluntarily watching a Rolling Stones documentary on a Saturday night has probably seen Gimme Shelter.
“You can’t really gloss over that stuff, though” said dad.
“Of course not,” I said.
It’s true. I spent the first part of my evening drinking neat bourbon — Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon — and dissecting the legacy of a group of Englishmen born in the 1940′s with a Scotch enthusiast born in the 1950′s. I have no qualms about this, for I have been precocious since the late 1980′s, and I’m still lovin’ it.
The conversation eventually turned to Tom Waits, as conversations are want to do when bourbon is involved. Dad told me that he recently heard a brilliant cover of “Step Right Up” by The Violent Femmes. He said he’d play it for me via Spotify once we got home.
I was in the bathroom when my dad yelled, “NICK CAVE LIVE STREAMING!?!?”
Apparently the Spotify homepage was advertising the live stream of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood that night.
“Why aren’t you there?” asked dad.
My stomach clenched.
“Because the tickets sold out the second they went on sale.”
“Are we streaming it?” asked dad.
“I hadn’t planned on it…”.
The band released two singles from their new album, Push the Sky Away. I wasn’t impressed by the droning “We Know Who UR,” nor was I impressed by the nebulous “Jubilee Street.” I was so unimpressed by the latter, in fact, that I was inspired to post on my friend Alison’s Facebook wall that the song was Nick Cave, “TRYING to write a Nick Cave song [like] a college student TRYING to write a Charles Bukowski poem.”
Despite explaining all of this to dad, he talked me into plugging the laptop into the tv and visiting youtube.com/nickcavelive.
They performed Push the Sky Away in its entirety. Frankly, I’m not sure I want to hear it ever again. Was the evening a total loss? No. I enjoyed myself. Nick Cave is fun to watch no matter what he’s doing, even in the case of this concert, which featured him doing his awkward dances and attempting to harmonize with the children of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.
In his youth, Nick Cave was utterly unhinged. A drunk. A drug addict. A greasy delinquent with a propensity for violence and infidelity. As a middle-aged man, he has kicked the drinking, the drugs, the senseless brutality, and the self-serving love affairs. At one point between songs, a female fan screeched an honest declaration of love. Nick Cave simply held up his left hand, made a fist to display his ring finger, and said, very bluntly and without attitude, “Married.”
Why so much disappointment with the new album, then? Meh. It’s just boring, really. It’s alotta talk about mermaids and alotta motherfucking violins. There’s no murder. Also, none of the lyrics from Push the Sky Away stand out to me, except the last few lines of the song “Higgs Boson Blues,” in which Nick Cave delivers a poignant non sequitur that mentions a former Disney star, and my boyfriend’s current neighborhood:
Oh let the damn day break
The rainy days always make me sad
Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake
And you’re the best girl I’ve ever had
Can’t remember anything at all
Then again, if Nick Cave could sit down and write a song as good as “Straight to You” every time he sat down to write, then what the Hell was Bob Dylan’s excuse for Slow Train Coming?
Bob Dylan. Bob fucking Dylan. I saw him in concert when I was 21, and he absolutely broke my fucking heart. I’m not sure if he was drunk, if he was in a hurry, or if he had simply decided that it was more fun to be a total self-involved asshole than to play “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” the way his loyal fans want to hear it. It’s one thing to re-arrange a few classics every now and then for shits and giggles, but when your performance of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35″ is indistinguishable from “All Along the Watchtower,” you’re not being creative — you’re being a dick.
Thinking about Bob Dylan’s rebellion against his own material got me worried about the future of The Bad Seeds. After developing an appreciation for the band in 2008 with the release of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, I eventually became completely dependent on them at the beginning of 2012 when I found myself jobless, directionless, and loveless at age 25. I was an empty shell of a young woman, completely devoid of feeling. My vitality depended on whether or not I was listening to songs about sex, murder, and God. Let Love In was my driving album. No More Shall We Part was my neighborhood walk album. If I ever felt anxious, I would put on Henry’s Dream and take a few deep breaths to keep the panic attacks at bay.
All that devotion. All those sacrificial tears. All that idolatry. And what do I get? Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool in Toluca fucking Lake. Was Push the Sky Away the Ghost of Bad Seeds Future? Was Nick Cave following the path of Bob fucking Dylan, resolving to abandon his old material and charge $160.00 per ticket?
At the 51 minute mark, the droning stopped. I wondered, “Is that it?”
Someone in the audience yelled, “RELEASE THE BATS!” Yes. The idiot thought this concert would be the time and place to formally request the latter day Bad Seeds perform the hilarious Birthday Party classic. Nick Cave, however, didn’t ignore the request.
“We’re not gonna play that,” he said. “You can shout it all night, we’re not gonna, but we know that you know the song, and that’s beautiful, but it’s not gonna happen.”
And then everything changed.
“I wanna tell you about a girl.”
“WHAT OH MY GOD NO FUCKING WAY.”
My parents looked at me. For the fist time since my adolescence, I apologized to them for cursing.
51 minutes. 51 minutes of flutes and maracas and mermaids, and then there it was: a legitimate performance of “From Her to Eternity” off the very first Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. It didn’t stop there.
They played “O Children” off The Lyre of Orpheus. They played “The Ship Song” off The Good Son, with the adorable kids from the conservatory singing along during the chorus. Nick Cave then excused the kids, and went into a decent rendition of “Jack the Ripper” off Henry’s Dream. They did “Red Right Hand” off Let Love In, followed by “Deanna” off Tender Prey. By then my blood pressure was off the charts and I’m pretty sure I was running a temperature, so Nick Cave kindly sat down at the piano and sang, rather beautifully, “Love Letter” off No More Shall We Part.
I took the slow song as an opportunity to breathe a few deep breaths and settle myself down. As I exhaled, I smelled the remnants of the neat glass of Eagle Rare Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey I had consumed two hours before. Nick Cave. Deep breaths.
It occurred to me that I had done a lot of growing up since I first bought my copy of Let Love In on that fateful day in January of 2012. I thought of the unfulfilled, anxiety-ridden, Vitamin D deficient version of myself; the girl who would put on The Boatman’s Call and cry herself to sleep while earnestly wondering if she would ever again feel anything remotely close to Love. Who was that girl?
Nick Cave sang “The Mercy Seat” off Tender Prey…
I realized I will always love old guys who rock. I will always say “fuck” as often as possible. I will always be angry at Bob Dylan for ruining my evening that night when I saw him in concert and I will always have an opinion about the effectiveness of particular Rolling Stones documentaries. I will always get the chills when I listen to “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” and I will always cry when I listen to “Into My Arms.” I Let Love In will always hold a place in my heart as a work of art that saved my life.
But the truth is, I’m not exceptional. I’m unique, just like everybody else. Nick Cave isn’t singing directly to me, and I’m not a hopeless weirdo who will never be understood by anyone. Bottom line: I don’t need to be alone anymore. I don’t need to be an empty shell of a young woman. I can listen to The Boatman’s Call all I want, but it’s no longer a substitute for life. It’s just a really fucking good album by a fucking genius in his fucking prime.
I thought about the night in July when I met my boyfriend for the first time. We met at a bar. I was drinking bourbon. He introduced himself.
“I’m Nick,” he said.
We got to talking. I reached over and took his necklace in my hand to get a closer look at it. He did the same.
“What’s that say?” he asked.
“It says, ‘I Let Love In…’”
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds closed with “Stagger Lee” off Murder Ballads. When they finished and left the stage, I, too, was ready to call it a night. I went upstairs to my room, climbed into bed, and turned off the light. In the darkness, I thought about Nick Cave and Bob Dylan and albums that rock versus albums that suck. The truth was, I thought, that Push The Sky Away doesn’t suck. I just don’t like it. And Nick Cave can croon about mermaids all he wants — he still knows how to sing the shit out of “Deanna.” Maybe he hasn’t lost his edge. Maybe he just wanted to write an experimental album with weird ass lyrics and questionable flute solos because it’s his right to do so. Maybe he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Maybe he, too, has done some growing up.