“I wake. I write. I eat. I watch tv. “ – Nick Cave
It is possible that Nick Cave is the devil. He is certainly an endangered species – a rock god.
I became aware of Nick Cave while in Australia, introduced to him by my colleague, Brin Hinchcliffe, as we sold funeral insurance over the phone: “Have you ever thought about your death? Well you should,” went our pitch. Cave would have approved of the morbidity.
Brin is the only friend I know who truly lives a rock & roll lifestyle. He drinks Glenfiddich Scotch, wears blue velvet blazers and rages against his drum kit onstage with a Sydney band called Cabins. They have been on the brink of nationwide tours only to be thwarted by accidents and themselves. Once their lead singer was sideswiped by a taxi days before a tour that would have seen them opening up for the Manchester Orchestra across Australia. Their luck will change and when it does their songs and atmospheric ‘desert rock’ will capture an audience – they’ve a second album currently in production.
In the recently released 20,000 Days on Earth the energetic enigma Nick Cave is captured in majestic motion by filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Much like on stage, what makes him so intriguing and captivating is his sheer presence on screen. Cameras are there to capture his creative process and the Bad Seeds band dynamic – particularly his relationship with band mate Warren Ellis. The documentary initially started as promotional footage for their 2013 studio album Push The Sky Away – one of the best albums of that year – but it was soon clear to the directors that it was much more than that as evidenced by this feature length documentary.
The “day” the audience spend with Cave is carefully choreographed as he visits an archive to examine photos and has a session with psychoanalyst Darian Leader. He also drives around his adopted seaside home of Brighton in his Jaguar XJ with his wipers batting the incessant rain off while he has staged chats with actor Ray Winstone; ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld and Kylie Minogue. All are devices cleverly used by the directors to examine critical moments in the development of the artist and illuminate the parts of his past that tell his story.
When introducing me to Cave Brin sent me straight for the ballads Stagger Lee and Red Right Hand. He had Cave’s back catalogue on his iPod and lent me a live concert dvd which I hope I returned…
“Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive is tied up in memory.”
I was a fan from then on. Soon I realised that Cave was much more than just a musician, he was a writer too. The Proposition (2005) is one of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen. Similar to an earlier album of his called Murder Ballads (1996), The Proposition is a macabre style western that would leave even Tarantino shook. I’ve yet to read his novels but undoubtedly there’s a dark world waiting for me in The Death of Bunny Munro (1989).
At Body & Soul last year I saw him live for the first time. The amphitheatre of the main stage on Saturday night was a magic place to catch him. The Brighton weather, which he wrote journal entries about in order to help him cope with the change from Australian weather, followed him over as a drizzle and mist enveloped Ballinlough Castle for his set. His tour truck pulled up to the stage with ‘Rock & Roll Trucking’ emblazoned on the side and he emerged tall, lithe and imposing delivering a virtuoso performance surpassing the talk of mythic shows I’d heard and read about. I’ve seen nothing like it.
“I live for performance. There is something that happens on stage where you are transported.”
The documentary 20,000 Days is a must for fans and a way in for the uninitiated. However, one must be aware that it is a celebration of Cave instead of a critique. It serves to further enhance the myths surrounding the musician rather than challenge or add anything entirely new to them. Presented as a single day in the life of a rockstar the film is a meditation on the creative process through the eyes of one of the most prolific performing artists around today. 20,000 Days is a wonderful script co-written by Cave coupled with hours of fascinating footage which has been artfully cut into a feature film. It has already won documentary awards for directing and editing at Sundance Film Festival and it’s easy to see why; go see it in The Lighthouse Cinema.
“This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.”
I saw the documentary followed by a recording of the premiere. At the premiere itself the directors Iain Forysth and Jane Pollard were afterwards joined on stage by Nick Cave for a Q&A and a live six-song piano set – this was the first time I heard a live version of ‘Into My Arms’. At Body & Soul after a blistering set Cave returned for an encore. After delivering a few songs he was ready to conclude. He sat down at the piano. The crowd was ready and waiting for ‘Into My Arms‘. But it never came. Whatever happened, whether the sound had gone or he was past curfew or the piano wasn’t quite right, the crowd never found out. He mumbled into the mike ‘Agh, fuck it,’ kicked himself free of the piano stool and got up and left. As I sat there in the comfort of the cinema seat and let ‘Into My Arms‘ wash over me that moment on the hill at Body & Soul came back to me and I smiled. I am unashamedly a fan, they just aren’t making them like Nick Cave these days, so savour him. I went home and listened to Push The Sky Away.