|BOOK REVIEW: Bad Seed  by David Cavanagh (Q)|
|Sunday, 13 August 2006|
"Three things. I'm Nick Cave. I love you. And I want to tell you about a girl."
This was Nick Cave on stage in Philadelphia in February 1989, announcing himself in booming tones to the audience as The Bad Seeds struck up. The moment is captured on Uli M. Schuppel's entertaining Bad Seeds tour film The Road To God Knows Where -- as is the scene backstage, minutes before, as cave humorously runs through the introduction with his band: "Three things. I'm Nick Cave...um..." (Prompt: "I Love You") "I Love You..." Gifted and prolific, Nick Cave has been much lampooned (gloomy, goth, junkie, etc) but in the period 1981-95 no stronger body of work exists -- not Morrissey, not R.E.M.
Recording first with The Birthday Party, then, since 1984, with The Bad Seeds, Cave's words and music have been compelling, unusual and vivid, yet his life, even to his fans, has been somewhat mysterious: Australia, big blues fan, Berlin, um... (Prompt: drugs) ...drugs...
Although unauthorised by Cave himself, Ian Johnston's book has his grudging support. Several Birthday Party and Bad Seeds members offer quotes and reminiscences (including the very droll Mick Harvey, Cave's musical henchman for two decades), along with producers, friends and contemporaries. Indeed, Johnston's own brother, James, although not qouted here, was himself briefly a member of The Bad Seeds.
The gripping and well-written biography fills in many gaps relating to Cave's childhood, work and lifestyle. A cynical, extremely bright young Australian, Cave arrived in London in 1980 with the outrageous, surrealist-confrontational Birthday Party, detesting the band's appalling living conditions and vociferously opposing the UK's feeble post-New Wave music scene. Accepted by intrigued fans and critics as The Genuine Article, he became semi-legendary: a crazed, violent self immolator in the Iggy Pop tradition.
Except of course, that it wasn't in any way a put-on. It was Cave's real personality, and it would eventually go dangerously off the rails -- to self destruction, to near-death, to serious drug dependencies, to absolute penury. His extraordinary novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel -- hailed as a masterpiece on it's publication -- was written amid shocking scenes of chaos and turmoil. Although absent, Cave himself comes out of Bad Seed with both his art and his dry humour intact and admirably defiant. The only shame is that Johnston's book was written too early to include the "murder duet" with Kylie.
Reviewed by David Cavanagh