Art / Books / Music

If He Felt He Had To Direct You, Then Direct You Into My Arms: More Items I Would Steal From “Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition”

Detail of Ben Smith’s Ink and Solace, including a reflection of Nick’s library and the exit sign beckoning for a snatch and grab!

In his Last Will and Testament made in 1987, on view in the sprawling exhibition Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition, Nick Cave requested: “…money earned on records, both publishing and record sales, should be used to have and maintain a small but adequate room or rooms that will serve as the “Nick Cave Memorial Museum” to pay homage to my life.” Reading this document in Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 2014 documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, Nick chuckles and points out that at this point in his life, the money of which he speaks was nothing.

No matter! Asked and answered. I have a small but adequate apartment that is two rooms that would be a perfect place for a Nick Cave Museum. And why wait? Let’s set it up now with all the objects I have on my illegal shopping list after visiting Stranger Than Kindness.

If you’re wondering, faithful Filthy Dreams readers: Emily, didn’t you already pen a list of items you wanted to steal from Stranger Than Kindness? Well, yes! However, that was only staring at the then-delayed exhibition catalog in 2020 and using it as a real catalog for looting! But now I traveled across borders to see the show IRL in its Montreal iteration and have an even longer list of potential dream thievery!

This is not to say I left the exhibition empty-handed. I bought, among other things, a Nick Cave-made coloring book. What is a Nick Cave coloring book like you ask? Well:

Yes, this is the second toilet paper

Worth it. But certainly not quite as klepto-worthy as the memorabilia and archival objects in the show. I mean, I don’t believe in an interventionist God either. But if He felt He had to direct any of these objects, He better direct them into my arms!

Nick Cave’s copy of Joan Crawford’s My Way of Life

As I explored in much more obsessive detail in my previous longer essay on Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition, books, all from Nick Cave’s own library, dominate the exhibition. They also dominated my attention within the exhibition. I believe I spent around an hour picking through a section of bookshelves that lined one whole wall, next to Ben Smith’s double portrait of Nick, entitled Ink and Solace. Hidden among the texts one would expect from Nick’s library–religious studies, Southern Gothic, classic literature, books on music history, was the book I needed to snatch. Desperately. The book that has piqued my curiosity, amused me to no end, and sent my klepto urges a-spiraling is a copy of seminal Old Hollywood diva, strong brow pioneer, and wire hanger opinionist Joan Crawford’s 1971 memoir My Way of Life. I’m endlessly ashamed to admit that I’ve never read My Way of Life. I know. I know. And I dare call myself a connoisseur of camp! Take away my title! Talking about camp, just look at that cover! Those pups and their sad eyes. I surely hope they gave Joan the RESPECT she’s entitled to!

But more importantly, what is this doing in Nick’s library?! Who knew Nick was such a Crawford fanatic? And what’s even more significant is that this copy of My Way of Life is noticeably well-worn. It’s been read more than once! At the entrance desk to the exhibition, there is a book that visitors can sign that will be given to Nick at the end of the show’s run. Did I sign it and mention the Crawford book? Yes. Did I, then, follow up with a question about its existence in his library and his opinion on the memoir in Nick’s newsletter The Red Hand Files? Yes. Did I receive an answer? No. Am I furious about that? Yes. Should this book now belong to me as recompense? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Nick’s copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels

Of course, I’m not going to swipe just one book. My second choice would be this beat-up copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s first holy Book of Gonzo, Hell’s Angels, documenting his strange and terrible journey into the heart of that notorious biker gang. Sure, as a writer who has been deeply and, some might argue, unfortunately influenced by the Good Doctor’s weird-turned-pro style of journalism, I have my own much-loved copy. But I’d gladly throw it in the trash to, instead, thumb through Nick’s copy and daydream about Nick also considering The Edge, as Thompson wrote it: “The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”

Nick’s copy of Xaviera Hollander’s Xaviera’s Supersex

Ok ok, just one more from Nick’s library, I promise. I mean, who among us could pass up pinching a book with this blurb:

“Xaviera Hollander proves that practice has made perfect, and she’s gone all the way to make this luscious, ultra-erotic book in the art of lovemaking her crowning achievement. Here is the most intimately knowledgeable tour through the world of sex ever offered by someone who has tried it all and loves to tell about it. Here you will find everything your heart (and other parts of your body) could desire in learning how many sensual possibilities are available to men and women of every sexual taste and level of expertise.”


Early 1980s shopping list by Nick Cave

Nick’s shopping list from the early 1980s

I’m not a list keeper. Or I should say not much of one. Other than lists of things I want to steal, I have, in more recent years, started making grocery lists on my weekly trips to Trader Joe’s, but this is a recent phenomenon inspired by both the pandemic and rising inflation. Yes, this does mean I attempt to keep all my various freelance projects all up in my cluttered, mainly Nick Cave trivia-dedicated skull. Yes, it is eventually going to backfire, but it has kept me going for 37 years. Nick, however, seems to be an avid list keeper if the numerous lists on view in Stranger Than Kindness are any indication. While I’ve previously fantasized about snatching his list of complaints about The Boys Next Door, I’m going to pair that with this shopping list from the early 1980s. What does Nick need? Besides the basics like hair dye and a crucifix, he also includes some books such as a book of mythic gods, schizophrenia, and a “decent dictionary.” I need to know what distinguishes a decent dictionary from an insufficient one.

Lyrics for The Birthday Party Prayers on Fire album art (ghostly skeleton hand by me)

Lyric for the artwork for Prayers on Fire by Nick, c. 1981 

In the last illicit shopping list I wrote for Stranger Than Kindness, I picked out the song lyrics for The Birthday Party’s “Wild World.” Here I would have liked to have had a chance to snatch up lyrics to my favorite titled Birthday Party Song “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can” but they weren’t there. Sad! As some retail therapy, I’ll take this lyric written on The Birthday Party’s 1981 album Prayers on Fire instead, which contains a similarly deranged religiosity.

Helena Glass’s Birthday Party scrapbook

The Birthday Party scrapbook, 1979-1981

The Birthday Party were scary. Abject. Trash. Nick himself described the band in a 1982 Christmas edition of NME as: “in essence a slug, nomadic, and their journey is slow and painful and always forwards, and their trial of slime is their art and so on, and they are barely conscious of its issue which bears little resemblance to anything bar ourselves and we make no excuses for that.” All of which doesn’t exactly say scrapbook material. But here we are with a Birthday Party-focused scrapbook by Helena Glass (if I’m squinting at the label right), which with its dynamic photographs of the band onstage, I’m dying to flip through.

Anita Lane’s portrait of Nick

Anita Lane’s portrait of Nick

“His boots are snapping twigs
He’s got big boots on
I can hear the earth he’s crushing
He’s got big, big boots on”

Portrait of Anita Lane by Nick

Nick’s portrait of Anita Lane

“Well, ah had a gal she was so sweet
Red dress and long red hair hangin down
And heaven just ain’t heaven
Without that lil girl hangin around”

Anita Lane’s Einstürzende Neubauten drawing

Anita Lane’s Einstürzende Neubauten drawing

As I’ve waxed poetic about elsewhere on this site, Anita Lane holds a particular and peculiar fascination for me, which has only heightened after visiting Stranger Than Kindness. The show presents a surprising number of Anita’s drawings. Besides her prior drawing of a young 1980 Nick, which was propped up somewhat hidden between other squat black vitrines, my personal favorite might just be this deranged child-like drawing for Einstürzende Neubauten, featuring what appears to be Anita herself wielding a drill and a hammer. Startling.

Nick’s self-portrait, 1980

Self-portrait by Nick Cave, 1980

While I’m on my shopping spree for emerging art, I’d also like this self-portrait by Nick, which is much more realistic and kinder than the garish often naked homunculus-looking cartoons he likes to make of himself and sometimes pawn off on merch. I’m not wearing THAT.

Journals and drawing from 2014-2018

This drawing

Speaking of.

Nick’s identity papers, 1983-1985

Nick’s identity papers, 1983-1985

I have to renew my passport next year. I know. Annoying. But now, I have some sublime inspiration for the usually dreary passport photo with this uh…unique one that Nick chose in the early 1980s. I’m going to have to pinch it just so I can show those redtape-loving bureaucrats that it is, in fact, okay for me to tease my hair out for the photo.

Tell me more please

This picture of a fluffy white cat from the recreation of Nick’s Kreuzberg hovel

I’m not a confident ladder climber. Once I hit maybe the third step, the knees start knocking, my hands start shaking, even more than they normally do (the tremor is genetic, OK!), and I have to goad myself on to step even higher as I imagine myself tumbling down…down…down…maybe two feet. I know. I’m a pussy. But a pussy was exactly what made me forget about my ladder insecurity as I confidently…ok, not-so-confidently…ascended the ladder that led to the recreation of Nick’s 1980s Kreuzberg bedroom. Once I got past the books, curls of hair, random pictures of Elvis, naked women, and Christ, liquor bottles, and the stinky-looking, unwashed, unmade bed, I spotted a vision. A vision of white fur. A vision of whiskers and a button nose. It was a photograph of a pretty, prissy Persian cat, propped on a ukelele, resting on (yet another) stack of books. Immediately forgetting my ladder fears, I braced myself against the wall and deliriously tried to take picture after picture of it, only for them all to come out fuzzy, like the feline. Yet there she sits in the background of this wider shot, mysterious, curious, fluffy. I have so many questions: What is the story here? Whose cat is this? Where did Nick pick up this puddy glamour shot? Was it at the same flea market where he found his coveted box of human hair? What mystical flea market is this? Are Berlin flea markets still this amazing? How much is a ticket to Berlin right now? Hold on…I have to go submit another series of questions to Red Hand Files.

Fine, I’ll take the ukelele too.

Handmade book by Nick Cave, 1986 with drawing by Anita Lane

This handmade book, 1986

Perhaps the most troubling part of the exhibition is a table-sized vitrine in the room dedicated to Nick’s Berliner lifestyle that contains a series of Nick’s handmade books. These books are a clash of religious imagery, Brigitte Bardot, pin-ups, pornography, hair, blood, and copious barely legible scrawl, some of which are recognizable as song lyrics from the era. Alarming. Fetishistic. I want them all. However, I think my pick of the bunch is this 1986 book that pairs a representation of Christ’s feet on the cross, splattered with blood, with a crucified Kewpie doll in front of a picket fence and flower beds, created by Anita Lane. This is one of her, apparently, many representations of Kewpie dolls, which puts a new spin on The Birthday Party’s song “Kewpie Doll” on 1982’s Junkyard. In fact, I loved it so much that I bought a series of postcards made from these books just so I could have that image in my home.

One Crow, A Stranger, 1985-1987, illustration by Nick Cave for And the Ass Saw the Angel

One Crow, A Stranger, illustration by Nick for And the Ass Saw the Angel

Even as an avowed stan, Nick Cave’s first, obsessively written novel And the Ass Saw the Angel is not, shall we say, an easy read. Written in an impenetrable Faulkner-influenced style, the novel…well, I’ll defer to Nick: “It was about a mad, hermetic mute boy called Euchrid Eucrow, who, having been denied the faculty of speech, eventually explodes in a catharsis of rage and brings to its knees the religious community in which he lives. The story, set in the American South and told through the voice (or non-voice) of Euchrid Eucrow, was written in a kind of hyper-poetic thought-speak not meant to be spoken, a mongrel language that was part Biblical, part Deep South dialect, part gutter slang, at times obscenely reverent and at others reverently obscene. Throughout the story, God fills the mute boy with information, loads him up with bad ideas, ‘hate inspiration straight from God,’ as he puts it. But with no one to talk to, and no way to talk, Euchrid, like a blocked pipe, bursts.” More than anything else I’ve ever read, And the Ass Saw the Angel radiates with the speedball-infused chaos in which it was written. In other words, even reading it makes you feel batshit crazy. I should revisit it…

Anyway, the exhibition displays a significant amount of And the Ass Saw the Angel detritus, including the original Swampland script that Nick co-wrote in 1983, related to the eponymous The Birthday Party song, and pages and pages from drafts of the novel, many of which Nick reportedly carried in a plastic bag around Berlin. But of all the And the Ass Saw the Angel memorabilia, I want this humble yet distressing illustration of crows.

The holy box of VHS’s

This Virgin Mary and baby Jesus artwork

While we’re on the subject of minute details in large chaotic installations, Nick has undeniably influenced my taste in art. When I was younger, all rebellious against religion and the particular dogmatic strain of Christianity represented by then-President George W. Bush and his ilk, I rolled my all-knowing eyes at the thought of caring about–let alone enjoying–art with overt Christian iconography. I mean, yuck–who wants to be associated with anything that may even be a little related to the Religious Right? Well decades later, I find myself gravitating towards any museum wing that includes incredibly gruesome depictions of Jesus on the cross and tortured saints. The more overwrought the better. It just might be the most camp artistic form! My apartment decor has not followed suit, however, unless you include a portrait of Jim Jones and a copy of Sister Janet Mead’s album The Lord’s Prayer displayed next to The Leather Nun’s Force of Habit. This is why I need this gaudily framed blessed print of the Virgin Mary and Jesus stuffed on top of a box of unknown VHS’s. I’m sure Nick won’t miss it.

Nick Cave’s drawing for the Kicking Against the Pricks album cover and Gothic painting reproduction

This perfect pairing of a drawing for the album cover of 1985’s Kicking Against The Pricks and this reproduction

As I’ve argued elsewhere on this site, The Bad Seeds’s 1986 album Kicking Against the Pricks is a phenomenal exercise is camp idol worship as Nick emerged from the Saint-Huck-Blind-Lemon-Jefferson-Tupelo Swampland into a schmaltzy Vegas lounge, covering Tom Jones and Gene Pitney. Yes, of course, he also covered more predictable musicians like his beloved Johnny Cash and The Velvet Underground and Nico’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which was turned into a pub-like sing-along with a group of male musicians. But, that’s not why I love this album. I’m here for the saccharine sap, which was certainly meant to shock the music critics who had slotted him into the Goth post-punk label, but instead, they liked it! The real album cover is also a notable addition to the cheese, on which appears Nick, his hair still back-combed into a black bird’s nest, in a tuxedo against a red curtain. A smoke ring hovers above his head. This was apparently not, however, what Nick originally envisioned as this drawing c. 1985 in the exhibition reveals. It depicts Nick, singing and shirtless, being stabbed and kicked by disembodied arms and boots. Someone was feeling a bit persecuted by the press at this time, huh (The lyrics of Nick’s memorable anti-critic rampage “Scum” are also on view nearby). With his bare chest, this imagined album cover reminds me more of 1994’s Let Love In. With its obvious grievance and saint-like martyrdom, this drawing is perfectly paired next to one of the German Gothic painting reproductions that decorated Nick’s bedroom in 1980s Berlin. So while we’re thinking of home decor, these two would also look perfect above my bed.

Louis Wain drawing

This Louis Wain kitty drawing

Nick has described himself as a “Wain disciple.” For those who aren’t familiar with the unraveling anthropomorphic cat artist, let’s just say Wain’s increasingly unhinged psychedelic kitty-centered art has become best known for illustrating the effect of schizophrenia in psychology textbooks. But Wain’s art is much more than Psych 101. Ecstatic, adorable, terrifying, Wain’s feline fantasies have always been a favorite of mine even before I knew the influence it had on my own filth elder, who was shown a book of Wain’s paintings in the late 1970s by his friend, artist Tony Clark that set him off on a collecting spree later in his life and eventually led to appearing in a bit part as H.G. Wells in the Wain biopic The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. Wain’s artwork litters Nick’s central office installation with artwork hung on the walls, books set on display cases, and even a postcard propped on a piano. All of which is why I cannot leave the show without picking at least one Wain, so I choose this particularly maniacal drawing, which gives form to my compulsive urges bubbling up within the exhibition.

*whispers* And we all hold hands and very quietly shouuuut…Hallelujah

The lyrics to “God Is in the House”

When I lost my mind and bought a ticket to see Nick and Warren Ellis perform at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2021, I expected a few things on the setlist, mainly choices from their collaborative album Carnage, as well as a smattering of the Warren-heavy recent Bad Seeds albums like Ghosteen. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was “God Is in the House,” off of 2001’s No More Shall We Part that includes an extensively drawn-out whispering section that is the bain of most Nick Cave fanatics I know’s existences. Now, I’m not saying I hate “God is in the House.” I’m not even saying I dislike it. In fact, in its critique of an insular community where they “paint all their kittens white so we can see them in the night,” I found the song to be perfect listening for a trip through Indiana. That being said, I do not love the song as much as Nick seems to. He’s very proud of this song. So much so that he’ll drag it into a tour and setlist where it wasn’t even planned to croon about “lesbian counterattacks.” Case in point: a 2018 Bad Seeds show in DC in which he replaced the B-side “Shoot Me Down” with “God is in the House” as some sort of punishment for the Beltway audience. This is all why I need this journal that includes the lyrics to the song, found within a chest of drawers in Nick’s office installation, as a keepsake of all the many times I have had to endure this song and loudly and sarcastically sang along as a coping mechanism. Or as in London, used the song as an excuse to quickly run to the loo.

What is THIS

Whatever Pinnochio is

While we’re sifting through drawers, I’ll also take whatever the hell this mystery document labeled “Pinnochio…Do not touch” is. Frankly, I want it even more than the infamous “Gladiator 2: Christ Killer” script on view in another vitrine across the room, even though I have no idea what Pinnochio contains. Enticing, like those hidden surprises in paper bags sold at Dollar Tree.

To Have & To Hold, 1996 (Photo of Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, and Nick Cave by Jennifer Mitchell)

This photo of Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, and Nick Cave

To Have & To Hold. That’s the curiously romantic title of this photograph that made me giggle in the exhibition. Could they look any happier? It’s hard to capture pure joy in a photograph, which is why I must pinch it.

Love letter loooove letter, go tell her goooooo tell her

Nick Cave’s love letter to PJ Harvey (one of many)

I feel a bit strange swiping someone else’s love letter, but this love-sick drawing from Nick to PJ Harvey, marking one of the biggest doomed romances of the 1990s, is so deeply strange that I must have it. In the drawing, Nick lies on a bed in his underwear, surrounded by publications about agriculture like Complete Guide to Farming and Agriculture Today. His caption as he daydreams about Polly: “I wonder how Polly Jean is getting on, so many miles away. All joy, love, and laughter, I hope. Maybe she’ll fax me or send a card. Maybe I’ll become a farmer…” Huh?

Unhappy letter from Nick’s neighbor, 1997

This pissed-off complaint from Nick’s neighbor

To balance out my discomfort with pocketing a love letter, I’ll also sneak away with this bitchy complaint from Nick’s 1997 neighbor. As the note reads: “As one of your long-suffering neighbors, I find myself yet again—having to complain about the level of noise that emanates from your flat. I know you are a musician-don’t get me wrong, I respect your trade but I also see that you have absolutely none for me or of those around you. I work from home, or at least try to, thanks to you, I cannot use my study (my place of work) due to the disturbance. If your trade means that much to you, get your place soundproofed. No, I’m not joking. I have had to complain to you many times before and indeed, you have become a general force of irritation to us and all around us. If you don’t take serious means to dramatically reduce the level of noise coming from your home, we’ll be forced to take this much further.”

Are you really living if your neighbors aren’t writing you nasty letters?

Letter to GAP

Nick’s billion-dollar demand to GAP

Don’t you love how people who define themselves as activists or “radical” nowadays see no problem with also hocking some sort of corporate retail or posing for ad campaigns? Well, at least some people still have integrity. Or at least a visceral aversion to jeans. While many casual Nick Cave listeners may already be familiar with Nick’s notorious rejection letter of his MTV VMA nomination of Best Male Artist in 1996, a copy of which hangs nearby, this letter to the GAP is also hilarious. When and why did GAP approach NICK CAVE for an ad campaign? What Nick Cave fan ad man tried to slip that proposal by their creative director?

Apologies for the photo, I was bent over in a corner

Subscription renewal from the Elvis Presley Fan Club, c. 2000

Tucked away in a corner of Nick’s office is this letter finger-wagging at Nick’s delinquency of his membership to The Elvis Fan Club. Elvis Fan Club…where do I sign up?! I’m going to have to take this just so I remember to purchase my OWN subscription!

Corin Johnson’s maquette for a statue of Nick Cave on a horse (along with a Nina Simone photo)

This Corin Johnson maquette the unrealized (as of yet) Nick Cave on a horse statue 

Do I really need to explain why I need this model of Nick in a loincloth riding a stallion, which Nick himself has described as “a rather beautiful piece of homo erotic art”? Ok, fine. The story does really augment the desire. As the exhibition’s booklet explains: “When Nick Cave arrived in London in 1980, he saw memorial statues in Hyde Park such as the Wellington Monument and Calvary of the Empire. Inspired by their pomposity and masculinity, Cave began to muse on the irony of a grandiose sculptural tribute to an ‘ordinary’ citizen like himself. Many years later, an idea was hatched with sculptor Corin Johnson and director John Hillcoat to commission an equestrian sculpture of Cave and film its arrival in Cave’s birthplace. It would be seen being spurned by the townsfolk of Warracknabeal, dumped in the desert and used ‘as a perch for the galahs and shade for the kangaroos.'” In mid-2018, it was announced that the sculpture would become a reality, but I haven’t heard anything since. Would I travel all the way across the world to a small country town in Australia to get a glimpse of this? Hell yeah, I would!

Nick’s Devil’s First Love ceramic sculpture

Nick’s Devil’s First Love ceramic sculpture

In Andrew Dominik’s 2022 documentary This Much I Know to Be True, Nick explains that he’s taken the government’s advice during the pandemic and used this time to change careers, becoming a ceramicist, much to everyone around him’s dismay. He then takes Dominik into a ceramic studio where he shows off his series of ceramics based on the life of the devil. Each and every one of them, in an amusingly exhaustive extended sequence that spans a great chunk at the beginning of the film. Neither he nor Dominik seem to care if the audience gets restless every time Nick drags out yet another one, sweetly introducing, “And this is the Devil’s first love…” What’s more shocking than their refusal to care about viewers’ fleeting attention spans is that these ceramics are shockingly good for an amateur ceramicist. I could show you some of my grade school ceramics to get a sense of just why I’m so impressed. God. Is there anything Nick can’t do?!!! (Ok, play guitar…though not really knowing how to play the guitar worked in Grinderman).

Elvis in Tupelo

Obviously, the Elvis bust

Looka yonder! Looka yonder! Looka yonder! A big black cloud come! And while you’re distracted, I’m running away with this Elvis bust. Even before I schlepped to Montreal to see Stranger Than Kindness, I knew there was a risk I’d need to phone a friend to bail me out of a Canadian jail cell after attempting a heist of this particular bust I saw in the exhibition’s promotional materials. I love Elvis. Nick loves Elvis. I love Nick. I love Nick’s love of Elvis. It was all there. In fact, this is not even the first Elvis bust in my life I’ve considered a smash and grab for. The former Great Jones Cafe, now some newer restaurant that I’ve never been to but cannot be as good, contained an Elvis bust peering alluringly out the window, just begging for me to break the glass and rescue him. Lonesome tonight no more! I believe that Elvis is still there. For now. *cough* Anyway, like the Elvis bust in the cafe window, Stranger Than Kindness also put Elvis behind glass as if they knew unhinged fanatics would not be able to contain themselves. They were right, as I fell to my knees in front of HIS glory. This bust sat in front of ominously stormy skies symbolizing the torrential, Biblical flood that heralds the birth of Elvis and his soon-to-be-deceased twin in The Bad Seeds’ song “Tupelo.” “The King will walk on TUPELO!!!!…And into my apartment.

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