Inside Nick Cave’s ‘Sick’ Book Reading in Hollywood
I knew this fucking thing wouldn’t work,” grumbled Nick Cave as he grappled with a headset mic on Wednesday night. “It always works for Madonna!”
Malfunctioning microphones (and a pervasive air of mild disorganization) aside, Cave’s appearance at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood thrilled the fans who packed the venue; some had driven from as far as Alaska to see their hero at one of the two U.S. promotional appearances he’s making on behalf of his new book, The Sick Bag Song. (The musician and author will also be appearing at the Florence Gould Theatre in New York City on Friday, April 10.)
Resplendent in a black suit and blacker hair, Cave treated the assembled to several passages from Sick — a surreal account of a North American tour with his band, the Bad Seeds — stalking the stage in sync with the rhythmic cadences of his words while lit only by a small white spotlight. The book, which was released this week in both limited and “unlimited” editions by the independent publisher Canongate, is far from your typical diary; snapshots of mundane reality (traffic jams, reading in a park) melt into disturbing visions peppered with flashbacks from his childhood. There are heated exchanges between Cave and his muses, and unsettling encounters with a few of his musical heroes (Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan) that cause Cave to ponder the “vampiric” nature of creativity.
But as with 20,000 Days on Earth, the 2014 Cave semi-documentary directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, The Sick Bag Song is only partly based in reality. “I feel I’m a fiction writer,” Cave told the audience. “For me, [the book] is a work of fiction about an aging rock star who looks a lot like me, on tour in America last year.”
Another unusual aspect of Cave’s life-on-the-road recounting is that it contains little mention of actually making music or performing onstage; just about everything in the book takes place in its creator’s head during the ample pre- and post-show downtime. “There’s not much you can really write about performing,” he explained. “[It’s] something that’s ecstatic on one hand, and unbelievably forgettable, as well. I don’t ever really have that much recollection of my performances; all I remember is the kind dread of sitting around waiting to go on, and then coming off and something’s sort of lifted off you in a way…