Monday, March 14, 2016

The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave / Text Publishing / or

Despite its queasy title, this is not a poem about illness.  It’s an epic, if rambling poem chronicling Cave's 2014 tour of North America with The Bad Seeds - an account of a 22-city journey began life scribbled on airline barf bags that grew into a restless full-length narrative epic poem that goes looking for the roots of inspiration, of love and of meaning.  Coleridge woulda been proud.  
Cave started working on the book last year, during a flight to Nashville   Originally, it was a song, albeit a long one but it exploded into something else entirely.  There are snippets of life imagined and real.  There are a mix of stylistic name checks – Philip Larking and WH Auden, especially.  Plus deep analysis of the tour van’s soundtrack, the tour’s soundtrack really: Elvis, John Lee Hooker, James Brown.  Plenty of roots references as they travel through the Deep South.  Oh, and a tiny dragon makes an appearance (No, I won’t explain that one.  It’s a surprise).
Now 57 Cave’s got a fair body of work under his belt.  Aside from the Birthday Party, Bad Seeds and Grinderman projects he’s also published two novels, “And the Ass Saw the Angel,” a Southern Gothic tragedy about a town full of religious fanatics, and “The Death of Bunny Munro,” a dark comic novel about a sex addict who sells beauty products door to door.  Both are gritty and challenge the reader to the extreme.

With “The Sick Bag Song,” Cave has a crack at is experimenting with a new literary form to make a sort of jumbo of prose, poetry, song lyrics and some elements of autobiography.  His ‘poetry’ traverses the imagined child, on a railway bridge, leaping into the muddy Mississippi – juxtaposed by the icon rock singer heading off to the venue to become a one night deity in the eyes of fans and critics.  “And I will walk onstage at Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn., and become an object of great fascination to almost no one,” he said, reading from the book. “The dazed crowd will drift back and forth across the fields and the sinking sun will flood the site with orange fire. After the show, I will sit outside on the steps of our trailer and smoke.”

Of course, Sharon Olds and her fellatio poems get a look in, Cave always adds a little perversion to unsettle you.  It's part of the journey through the exploration of muses in famous hotels like the NY Bowery.  Places where music came to writers like Cohen, without warning.  In Cave's case it's Dylan that steals the muse, not the hotel.  But that's another story.

It moves from childhood memories to more intimate moments from his marriage to unvarnished behind-the-scenes episodes from the life of a rock musician.  Some will make you blush a little.  Some are more about tedium, like waiting in heavy traffic for 2 hours. 

Always there’s procrastination, loneliness, creativity, and more prosaic things like throwing up on bad seafood or dying his black hair in a Milwaukee hotel bathroom - “I carefully concoct a paste in a bowl and I paint my hair black,/So that it sits like a sleek, inky raven’s wing/On top of my multi-story forehead / The bathroom light is brutal./ I reposition my face so that I stop looking/Like Kim Jong-un and start looking more like Johnny Cash/Or someone.”

His lists are some of the most intriguing moments, possibly written in the early hours of a flight, with scotch in hand and wit on fire: "The Nine Secondary Bedevilments of Creativity", The Nine Muses, "the Choruses of the Angels"....they are all reminders of Cave's extraordinary fascination with literature and the Classical world as it lives today.

His stuff has been compared to ‘the unhinged lyricism’ of Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman and Mr. Berryman.  I’d agree there.  It’s more deft than, say, Jim Morrison and I think should be taken seriously by those that look down on musicians.  After all, lyrics are poetry, too.  And more accessible sometimes.  As a stand alone, I don't think it would work.  But removing Cave from the work would be very hard even if the reader were a Martian.  It is very much a work of Cave's and a great tour diary, too. 

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