Review: Nick Cave's Sick Bag Song

The Sick Bag Song, Nick Cave
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The Sick Bag Song, Nick Cave

The Sick Bag Song
Nick Cave

Text, $30

Although Allen Ginsberg howled in verse for the best minds of his jazz generation 60 years ago, most angel-headed hipsters would nowadays baulk at mixing music and poetry. But elegant indie-rock oddity Nick Cave has woven his 2014 North American tour diary with strands of memories, song lyrics, mystical symbolism and dream-scenes and spun an epic, modern poem which brings the Beat bang up to date.

Because Cave – best known as the lithe, Mephistophelian frontman for the Birthday Party, the Bad Seeds and Grinderman but also responsible for screenwriting, acting and a couple of novels – compiled this chronicle from jottings on the back of airline sick bags while jetting around the US and Canada, he's queasily christened it The Sick Bag Song.

But despite the unsettling references to inspirational characters living in his virtual sick bag – a metaphorical mixture of poets like Philip Larkin and WH Auden, and rockers like Elvis, John Lee Hooker and James Brown, even a tiny dragon – the way Cave meanders between fantasy and reality during the 22-city tour gives his writing real weight.

He dyes his hair (Milwaukee), gets sick off seafood (Minneapolis), masturbates (New York City and West Hollywood) and steals the bathrobes from the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia; he remembers meeting Bob Dylan (and blames him for stealing his muse) at Glastonbury and a becalmed Bryan Ferry at his hedged swimming pool in West Sussex; he compiles lists (The Nine Secondary Bedevilments of Creativity, the nine Muses, the nine choruses of angels, the "nine known qualities" of a "pulsating, living artery" river, the effectiveness of nine airline sick bags); he writes songs (The Beekeeper's Wife, The Recruitment Office); and he worries about having to phone his wife.

Cave's lyrics and music have often collided the mystic with the mundane while maintaining humour, style and honest storytelling – The Sick Bag Song is one of his more adventurous and successful offerings.

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