The whiskey was poured and the blues were gently meandering around my loungeroom. I almost didn’t answer the phone. I had liquor, I had Odetta, I had cheese. What more could a woman ask for?
“Are you in your underwear on the couch?”
“I am indeed. And nothing short of Nina Hagen covered in honey will get me out of here.”
“How about free tickets to Nick Cave at the Forum with backstage passes?”
“Oh…well, that too.”
In ruby red lipstick and joyous spirits, I stood in front of him two hours later. The man is MAGICAL. He strode centre stage, dark suit and great focus, picked up the maracas, and let fly. I didn’t know any of his Grinderman songs and it didn’t matter, watching the demonic musicians pound a manic beat as colours flew and Nick punctuated the songs with high kicks. As soon as a song seduced me with its achingly beautiful blues heart, it would turn tail and explode into a frenetic rockabillly beat that had my head spinning and my feet moving.
It’s surprising to admit that I’m attracted to a middleaged man with a thick porno moustache and balding locks – can’t say that’s happened before – except for that one time in Germany, but that’s a whole different story – yet I don’t see Nick Cave’s magnetism fading anytime soon. A gifted storyteller, an evocative poet, he wound darkly rich words around each other until I had no choice but to reach for my pen and try to capture them.
This has haunted me ever since:
And then you threw yourself into the abyss
Only to find it was knee deep.
And with that, I had a memory that swamped me. I can become nostalgic buying cat food (ah, remember that tin I bought in Rotterdam in 2002? Those were the days…), but this memory took me immediately to a time I thought I’d trained myself never to revisit.
The last time I stood before Nick Cave, I was 18 years old. I was fresh off the plane from a year in Europe, where I learned to swear in Flemish, eat mayonnaise with my chips, and smoke acrid Gauloise cigarettes. Jet black hair and a furious scowl, I’d like to tell you that I didn’t have black lipstick, but it’s entirely possible. It was 1990, and I was a Cave fan.
And I was sick, body and soul.
Jet lag and the flu had me running on empty as I stood in front of him. He spun the mesmerising “Mercy Seat” around us, and as he towered over me with arms outstretched, fire and brimstone bellowing forth like thunder, I began to see sparks shoot out from his arms. I recall gasping in wonder to my friends “Jesus, he puts on a good show!” before the fever took hold and knocked my legs out from under me.
The body took ten days to heal, but the soul so much longer.
I’d thought that I could outrun my demons. I had a lot to learn. They caught me soon after, as demons do, and curled me on a ball on my hospital bed for so long I lost track. I remember Mellaril and morphine duelling in my bloodstream. I remember the demons dancing at the corners of my eyes, always waiting to taunt me, always knowing how. I remember it all. Many people have a story like this; it’s no longer special. But I will always sit at their feet and draw forth the lessons they learned from their madness.
Seventeen years between Nick Cave gigs. I always, always shut my teenager out of my mind when she drifts across, hating her for letting me break like that, for taking so fucking long to heal. Last week though, I listened to him wail and I pictured her standing there, chubby little punker chick with her fierce makeup and sullen face, and I laughed. Not in derision – for once – but in affection, and delight, and admiration for her resilience and her music taste and her stubborn little heart. Not sure what she would have thought of the 35 year old woman in four inch heels and Chanel perfume standing in her place, at home and in health and almost healed and so fucking happy that breath still fills her lungs….but I’m sure she’d approve of the lipstick.
And damn, that man still puts on an amazing show.
I did go backstage, careful not to trip over the thick cables in my stilettos and catapault myself at his feet (an entrance I would be entirely capable of, I must admit). I sat on a red vinyl chair and watched the sycophants and stars circle around him all night, too proud to become one of them. I drank with his son, a skinny livewire with a rock star haircut and a truly filthy laugh that charmed me totally and rang in my ears for days. And feeling my telltale short temper warning me of the desire for imminent sleep, I took a detour to his rider room, and swiped a bottle of merlot, at his stage manager’s insistence.
Falling in the door at 3am, I summed up the night to my sister, who’d taken my place on the couch and picked my cheese plate dry.
“Well, I didn’t meet him…..but I DID eat his sandwiches.”
© bellmusker 2007
An unexpected night at the Forum…..