Well hello there, ghosties and ghoulies! Are you feeling creepy crawly? Me too! All I need is a big cup of our World Famous Pumpkin Punch and I’ll be ready to lunge into an audience of hand-waving disciples and kick them in their eager faces with my pointy-toed patent leather shoes, shrieking about reading diaries on sheets, spelling out L-O-V-E-R-M-A-N, hollering about transforming and vibrating (look at me now!), or just strutting around claiming to be Stagger Lee with a proclivity for fat boys assholes. YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!
*shakes head* Whew. Sorry, I lost myself there. What’s that? Oh right. I’ve been on a whirlwind Nick Cave bent after seeing The Bad Seeds two days in a row last week, traveling to the mouth of hell–Washington D.C. (way too close to comfort to a certain orange monster)–and back, to Brooklyn via another cursed creation, the subway. How is obsessing about anything Nick Cave-related any different from a normal day for me? Good point. But now, I’m letting you in on this frenzy. While I’ve always planned on doing a more long-form investigation into my unhinged fanaticism, that’s a journey for another day(s). Instead, today, on this All Hallow’s Eve, I’m taking a spin around the YouTubes to bring you the most frightening of Cave.
Sure, Nick’s extensive creative output isn’t all scary–he gets shoved into the goth label because he wears black, has black hair and an intimidating stature and had the misfortune of coming out with a song called “Release The Bats” in peak Goth London in the 1980s. I mean, he’s done enough to assure us that he isn’t, in fact, the devil or a vampire. See?
And fine, he may have at one time twirled around guns and threatened reporters, but who hasn’t? That was just called the 1980s.
However, for our purposes, this HALLOWREEN, we’re going to avoid the piano ballad-playing, love song-writing (and theorizing) romantic Nick. We can sail those ships and walk through those lime tree arbors another day. Instead, we’re going take a demented look into the spookier side of Cave’s creative output. So rather than going out with the other costumed dullards, find your best three-piece suit to slouch around the house in, slick back your hair, annoy your neighbors by chain-smoking and run to your city of refuge.
1. The Birthday Party “Release The Bats”
“You win–you got the stick,” garbles a slurring Nick Cave, fronting the next to unlistenable and always notorious The Birthday Party, after whacking audience members over the head with a drumstick when not wailing back on a singular drum for one beat of the song. Well, what were they supposed to do? Endure the abuse? (yes) Certainly every HALLOWREEN listicle needs to include “Release the Bats,” though almost any Birthday Party song would do. Whether bragging about sticking a 6-inch gold blade in the head of a girl or just screeching about driving a trash can, The Birthday Party was the height of startling chaos with shows that sometimes included Nick jumping into the audience to scream at people, inadvertently choking others with his microphone cord, audience members pissing on bassist Tracey Pew’s leg and Rowland S. Howard looking on in stoned immaculate boredom. So really, any live video would suffice, but this one has always been a favorite of mine considering Nick reels back and kicks someone in the face within the first 30 seconds of the song. You wanted to stand in the kick zone, lady.
2. Nick Cave: Stranger In a Strange Land Documentary
There are a couple documentaries about Nick floating around the Interwebz, ranging from more official ones like 20,000 Days on Earth and One More Time With Feeling to an older doc Straight To You on YouTube that documents his creative journey up to his years in Brazil, which I love just for the dapper outfits alone. However, my personal favorite is an earlier, lesser known one: Stranger In A Strange Land, which showcases Nick at the height of his years in Berlin waging the war against sleep. Witness as Nick chain-smokes with enormous dark circles under his eyes and mumbles into the camera. While, of course, any glimpse at this integral time in the Cave mythology is worth a watch, the real kicker for me is seeing Nick’s alarming interior design sensibilities–a combination of German Gothic paintings pasted above his tiny twin bed and a deeply disturbing erotic painting of a succubus. I’m thinking of retooling my entire apartment in its image.
3. And The Ass Saw The Angel reading
Coming out of that same drug mania-fueled Berlin era was Nick’s first novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. Have you ever tried to read it? I’d cautiously recommend it especially if you want to feel like you’re taking a speedball, while reading Faulkner filtered through an Australian living in Berlin. Simply put, it’s a lot. The plot is neatly summed up on Wikipedia as: “the story of Euchrid Eucrow, a mute born to an abusive drunken mother and a father obsessed with animal torture and the building of dangerous traps. The family live in a valley of fanatically religious Ukulites, where they are shunned. Euchrid’s mental breakdown includes horrific angelic visions, and the story builds towards Euchrid exacting terrible vengeance on the people who have made him suffer.” So, you know, perfect for light beach reading. Actually when I saw Nick do a Q&A earlier this year, some psycho got up proclaiming it was her favorite book. Is there some way to monitor her? Anyway, on the flip side, I’ve never read a book that is so infused with the experience of its author’s monomaniacal focus on its words or that is so unsettling when read aloud as in this above clip.
4. Nick Cave interviewed by Malga Kubiak
“My life?…you’re not going to ask me about my life…My life is an unmitigated disaster, from beginning to end.” “Is it?” “Yeah…” Nick has never been the easiest interview–unforthcoming at best, downright aggressive at worst. I mean, he wrote a whole song about how much he hated specific journalists entitled “Scum.” And even Marc Maron has cited Nick as one of his most difficult WTF subjects–a designation I would take with honor. Though he’s certainly become kinder in more recent years, I always love watching surly interviews. Why? Because I’m not the one conducting them! More than unwelcoming ghosts or ax-murderers, a no good, very bad interview is my worst nightmare as a writer and I confront this phobia by laughing at the pain of others. While there are many excruciating interviews to choose from, this one with poor suffering Malga Kubiak is particularly memorable as Nick begins by saltily reading her questions off her paper before she even starts. And it doesn’t get better from there.
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do You Love Me?”
If there’s one thing that’s notable about the Bad Seeds’s music videos, it’s that they very clearly hate every second of making them. However, the video for “Do You Love Me?” is one of the best, for sleaze value alone. “Do You Love Me”‘s video is a neon-tinged descent into the hell of São Paulo’s red light district. I wanna go! While not necessarily scary per se, the cheesy dance break could certainly be understood as frightening. Even more terrifying? See if you can catch the sudden glimpse of what I’ve always interpreted as Nick in drag (hint: look for the blond wig). Yikes.
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “The Curse of Millhaven” Live
And finally, what would a HALLOWREEN Nick Cave listicle be without a track off of Murder Ballads? Rather than go by the old standbys like “Stagger Lee” or “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” I thought I’d introduce the live version of “The Curse of Millhaven” from the Bad Seeds’s 2001 No More Shall We Part tour. Because the song is so goddamn long with a mouthful of lyrics, they’ve got stagehands holding giant cue cards and yet, there are still classic moments like: “You must have heard about the curse of Millhaven–how last Christmas…fucking…little Bill Blake’s little boy…whatever” as the band plows on. So enjoy close to nine minutes of teen feminist icon Lottie murdering her entire town because (la-la-la-la) all god’s children, they have to die.