Nick Cave wrote another book. It’s called The Sick Bag Song, and tonight at The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, he read selections from the book to a live audience. I was there, of course. I arrived at 5:45pm and stood in line with all the young goths. My younger brother arrived at 6:30pm and bought us each a Schlitz. A security guard came around and asked if we already had tickets. I nodded that yes, we most certainly did.
“Then why are we in this line?” my brother asked, innocently.
“Because the seats are unassigned.”
“And this starts at…8:00pm?”
I smiled. He smiled. I was happy he had agreed to come to something few people would be interested in seeing with me.
I don’t yet own a copy of The Sick Bag Song, but based on what I witnessed tonight, I can confidently describe it as poetic exploration colliding with memoir. Nick Cave wrote the book during his tour of the United States last year, and, as he said tonight, the narrator is, “A guy who also happens to be on a tour of the U.S. and looks a lot like me.” Each chapter is titled after a different city visited on the tour, although the chapters aren’t telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. At least I don’t think they are.
The selections I heard were mostly depictions of actual events told with Nick Cave’s signature fantastical doom. In a story about meeting Bob Dylan at Glastonbury, for instance, Nick Cave writes that the torrential rain had formed a lake that separated his trailer from Bob Dylan’s. Naturally, Bob Dylan climbed into a boat powered by a bag of wind to cross the lake — or as Nick Cave said, “moat” — and say “hello.” The boat bit may not have happened, but I have read about Nick Cave meeting Bob Dylan in the rain at Glastonbury. The chapter titled “Los Angeles,” however, is more of a fever dream about a woman on a bed in a hotel in West Hollywood. The narrator calls himself a “small God,” and then, after the woman raises her “gash” to the sky, the narrator becomes an “erect God.” Those are the only details I can recall of the writing. Jim Morrison would have loved it.
(To change things up a bit during the live reading tonight, we were shown a film of Nick Cave reading this chapter. I admire and adore this man, but there are times where I find him downright hilarious, regardless of whether or not he’s trying to be. This film was one of those times.)
Nick Cave himself was in a comparatively pleasant mood. He smiled more than once, and didn’t even get too cross when his headset was having technical difficulties. “It works for Madonna,” he cracked. He also seemed very excited to read from his book. An interviewer sat on the stage with him and asked him questions to keep things moving, and Nick Cave always went back to asking, “Shall I read some more?”
Finally, we reached the Q&A section of the show. I was at a different Nick Cave Q&A last July, during which he seemed horrified to be the star of the evening. That night, I managed to summon every bit of courage I had and ever will have, and asked him a question using complete sentences. He answered it, but I only remember my question and not his answer. I remember speaking clearly into the microphone and thinking, “Holy shit, I’m not fucking this up!” When I was finished talking, I steadied myself on the seat in front of me. My heart was racing and I was sweating underneath my new Free People dress. “Nick Cave is addressing me,” I thought, as I concentrated on my breath. According to my dad, who witnessed the entire thing, Nick Cave gave me a very thoughtful answer.
“I think he really appreciated your question,” my dad whispered. “No one else has asked him anything good.”
I didn’t feel like putting myself through that kind of stress again. Besides, I still haven’t read The Sick Bag Song.
No one in the audience asked a truly great question this evening either, but Nick Cave did a truly great job of remaining dry and funny as opposed to dry and dour. Someone asked him about what he said earlier regarding the narrator that “looks a lot like” him, and whether Nick Cave the man is different from Nick Cave the rockstar. He confirmed, “That just becomes who you are.”
Nick Cave wears fierce suits. Nick Cave is married to a model. Nick Cave idolizes Elvis and has not yet quit smoking cigarettes. This is who he presents to the world, and this is who he is. Amanda Palmer once wrote a great blog about meeting Nick Cave in a hotel after he had picked up his dry cleaning. To me, her anecdote authenticates the whole thing. Nick Cave isn’t being handed a rented suit by a stylist before each show — the suits that transform him from Skinny Australian Guy into Nick Cave are his own Goddamn suits that he drops off at the cleaners.
I wonder how he feels about wire hangers.
More questions went by. “What’s a movie you saw recently that you loved?” “I saw that movie ‘Foxcatcher.’ Fucking amazing.” “How do you feel about music streaming and art no longer being tangible?” “I have a manager that handles all that.” “Are there any new bands that you follow?” “No.”
A young man stood up to ask a question. He was wearing a red sweatshirt.
“I drove here all the way from Alaska to see you,” he said. Nick Cave was sweet. He managed a, “thank you.” The young man continued, “What I really want is to ask you about Gladiator Part II, but instead I’ll ask you about what you said about being the man versus the mask. Does that get difficult? I mean, Tom Waits does it and he does fine with it, but it killed Hemingway.”
Dorky, for sure. Not only was he asking a question that had already been answered, he also referenced Nick Cave’s fabled failure of a Gladiator Part II screenplay. I cringed.
Nick Cave didn’t care about any of that. Instead, he immediately became serious and snapped, “I don’t wanna say anything about Tom Waits.” The guy tried repeating the question with greater clarity, but Nick Cave cut him off: “I can’t say anything about Tom Waits. I don’t wanna go there.”
This absolutely fucking alarmed me. “I don’t wanna go there”? Go where? Is Tom Waits a “there” that you cannot go to, Nick Cave? What’s the T? Spill it, Nick Cave!
Earlier in the evening, someone had asked Nick Cave why artists “stop growing.” He said that he didn’t know because things are “different for everyone.” Could it have been that Nick Cave didn’t want to speak about Tom Waits because he felt he’d be speaking for Tom Waits? Or did he want to avoid the subject of Tom Waits at all costs because he was afraid of letting loose and tearing Tom Waits apart?
Nick Cave got quiet again. “Do you wanna ask a different question?” he said to the young man from Alaska, who replied, “What happened to Gladiator Part II?” Nick Cave didn’t crack a smile as he said, “That’s between me, Russell Crow, and a trash bin.”
The Q&A ended. The theater emptied. My brother and I made our way to our cars. We were in separate lots on opposite sides of the street, so we hugged on the sidewalk and parted ways. As I walked toward my car, I spotted the guy from Alaska. I recognized him instantly, thanks to his red sweatshirt. He was fishing something out of the back seat of his car. I decided to talk to a stranger.
“He got really strange at the mention of Tom Waits, didn’t he?”
He looked up at me, startled. A wad of chewing tobacco peaked up from behind his lower lip. His eyes widened as he realized what I was referring to.
“Oh my God!” he yelled, doing his best not to spit his chew in my face. “I’m so glad someone else noticed that!”
“Yeah,” I said, becoming very pleased with myself for deciding to stop and chat, “I wonder if he didn’t wanna talk about Tom Waits out of respect, or because, ya know, he doesn’t like Tom Waits.”
“Exactly!” he shouted. “That would be so weird!”
“Well, you can’t Google search one of them without finding a picture of the other, I said.”
He spat tobacco juice into a cup.
“It’s Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, and Tom Waits,” he said. “I mean, that’s it. It’s them.”
“And Leonard Cohen,” I said.
“Can I hug you?”
Because we live in a fucked up world, I immediately took note of whether or not the back door of his car was still open. I figured that if it were open, he could easily shove me inside and drive me back to Alaska with him. Screw it, I thought. Hug the Nick Cave fan who drove here from motherfucking Alaska and said the words “Gladiator Part II” to Nick Cave’s face. Hug him. Hug a fellow crazy fan who bought a ticket to this random fucking show at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Hug the guy who is just as distraught as you are by the idea that Nick Cave doesn’t like Tom Waits. Do it, Steff. Just do it. You’re safe. Nick Cave fans don’t kill each other. There’s no crying in baseball. Goonies never say ‘die’.
I hugged him. He hugged me back. When we broke our embrace, he repeated, “I’m so glad someone else noticed that.”
We chatted for another minute about the show. He spit more tobacco juice into his cup, but this time he apologized for his “disgusting habit.”
“I would love to ask Nick Cave if he ever hears from Shane MacGowan,” I said.
He chuckled briefly, and added, “I would love to ask him if he would give me Warren Ellis’s phone number.”
Our BFF moment was over. He had changed the subject from Shane MacGowan to Warren Ellis. I wasn’t disappointed, but there was nothing more to be said.
“Have a safe drive back,” I said.
“You have a good night,” he replied.
I turned and began to walk away. Over my shoulder, I heard him yell, “I am so glad you said something!”
I turned my head and smiled at him, then continued to my car and smiled to myself. I do hope he has a safe drive back, and I do hope Nick Cave at least respects Tom Waits, and I do hope that everyone gets to experience the occasional pleasant interaction with a stranger who is only as crazy as they are.