Tag Archives: Push the Sky Away

All Apologies

I’m worried about an intimate friend of mine who doesn’t know I exist.  We’ve met before, but there’s no reason for him to remember.  I remember, though.  It was brilliant.

It’s Nick Cave.  I’m worried about Nick Cave.

I was thinking about him this morning during my drive to work.  I was in a real crap mood.  Everything just seemed so bleak and blah and I was being a total brat.  I’ll put it this way: I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana lately.  A lot of Nirvana.   I need it.  I’m living off it.  In the morning, when I’m grumpy and groggy and stuck on a crowded, winding freeway, all I want to hear is the MTV Unplugged in New York album.  I’m usually turning onto Melrose Avenue by the time Kurt Cobain starts telling the story about Lead Belly’s guitar.  “I even asked David Geffen personally if he’d buy it for me.”  Kurt, you little punk.

Courtesy of papermag.com

I was feeling very thankful for Kurt this morning as I drove along in my solitary angst — he was making me feel less solitary.  This feeling of gratitude made me think of a different time in my life where I relied on an artist to get me through the day — it was 2012, and I was on my first Nick Cave Bender.  I was unemployed, I was living with my parents, and I had just gotten my hands on a copy of Let Love In.  Something shifted.  I lost and found myself again and again in images of the devil crawling along my floor.

Yes, I realize I sound like an emo kid straight out of 2003 when I say that kinda shit, but I suppose that’s appropriate — I was, after all, depressed and living with my parents.  Nick Cave gave me something to do.  It became imperative to go out and find all of the Bad Seeds albums.  I absolutely had to get my hands on all of the concert DVDs.  I needed to read all the old interviews and watch all the behind the scenes footage I could possibly scrounge from the depths of the information superhighway.  Nick Cave was my comfort and my company.  Creepy?  I dunno.  Maybe?  Not really.  I was just lonely and bored and sad and filling out job applications seemed a lot less meaningless whilst listening to “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry.”

When Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds announced in November 2013 that they would be coming to Los Angeles the following summer for a show at The Shrine, I immediately set my alarm for 5am so that I could get pre-sale tickets the following day.  Months later, they announced a second show.  It sold out within minutes, but I managed to find a pair of tickets on StubHub for a sum of money I’m not proud of paying.  (I am proud, though.  Secretly.)  A third show was added — a solo one with limited seating — and I busted out my debit card one final time.  In July of 2014, I saw Nick Cave three nights in-a-row, and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever, ever done.

I did talk to him.  Twice, actually.  The first time was during the Q&A that followed the solo show, and the second time was in the parking lot of The Shrine after the second show.  He had changed out of his sleek black sport jacket and into a blue velour zip-up sweater.  He was busy taking a picture with someone, and when he finished, he turned to face me.  I didn’t do or say anything weird — I just asked if he’d sign my friend’s copy of King Ink.  He instinctively knew to spell her name with one “L.”

I shouldn’t have been looking at my phone this morning, but I was.  I was at a stoplight and I picked up my phone and looked at my Facebook and saw that my friend had sent me an article.  The headline sealed the fate of my day: “Nick Cave’s Teenage Son Arthur Dies After Cliff Fall.”

I threw my phone onto the floor of my car and unleashed a guttural, primal, “NOOOOOOO.”  The light turned green.

“Never look at your fucking phone while driving, Steff,” I thought.  “Never do that again.”

“I know, I know, I shouldn’t,” I answered.  “At least I was at a stoplight.”

“I know.  But don’t do it again.  Ever.”

“I won’t,” I said to myself.  “I promise.”

I meant it.  I do mean it.  Because life is fragile.  How we manage to forget that for such long stretches of time is truly amazing.

When I arrived at the office and parked my car and turned off the engine, I picked up my phone from the floor.  My cousin had also sent me the article.  I read it.  It pretty much repeated what the headline had already summarized.  A cliff.  A fucking cliff.  A 15-year-old boy had died after falling off a cliff.

A few months ago, my younger brother and I saw Nick Cave in Hollywood.  He was there to read excerpts of his new book.  He didn’t sing anything — just talked and read.  We were in the second row and I was ecstatic to just be in the same room as my hero, my caretaker, my girly obsession.  The first thing he read was an excerpt about a little boy walking across a treacherous bridge.  The little boy was him — this was a memory.

Nick Cave’s family was in the audience that night.

https://vimeo.com/122744455

With eerily appropriate timing, my younger brother sent me a message that just said, “Nick Cave’s son  😦 “  Before I could respond, he added, “It’s even sadder thinking back on what Nick was saying at that book reading, about being a kid in Australia walking on bridges and the wives tales about the boys that had fallen off.”

I exited the car.  When I got to my desk and opened up Facebook again, I saw that another one of my cousins had sent me an article about Arthur Cave.

A co-worker appeared in my doorway.  He said, “Hey.”  I turned to face him, and I guess my face said everything — the next words out of his mouth were, “I know.  I read the sad news.  Terrible.”

I sat with the sad news.  I thought about Nick Cave, the dad behind the fierce suit and the sexy, bloody love songs.  I thought about his wife, Susie, the stunning model who gave birth to twin boys 15 years ago.  I thought about Arthur’s twin brother, Earl, and wondered how he must be feeling right now.

Nick Cave, the dad.

I only know Nick Cave’s music.  I don’t know Nick Cave, the dad.  I’m a superfan, not a stalker.  However, being a superfan of another human being’s art is kind of a complicated thing.  How do you give back to an artist whose music has helped you through so much?  Is it even possible?  Perhaps the most efficient and affective way to show respect is by leaving the artist alone — remaining a superfan instead of a stalker.  I suppose a letter is always an option, but, unfortunately, a letter isn’t gonna solve shit.  Not in this case.

I’ll just continue being a superfan.  If he releases another album, I’ll get it.  If he goes on tour again, I’ll see him.  If he makes another movie, I’ll watch it.  If he decides to retire, I’ll support his decision.

I’ll also give my parents huge hugs when I see them tonight.  I suggest you all do the same.  And stop looking at your phones while you’re in the car.  If driving makes you feel anxious or bored or angry, you can always just put on some tunes.  I have a few recommendations.

I’m so, so sorry Nick.

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Someone Else Noticed

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.

“Right!”

He paused.

“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.

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