Monday, November 24, 2008

And We Call Upon The Author To Explain

Taylor Parkes wrote quite possibly the best review of Nick Cave I ever read.* In it he pondered the question of how to grow old in rock music. Written at a time when Cave seemed to be freeing himself of his youthful demons and settling into something approaching middle age, the question was what could he still legitimately sing about? Alternative rock music's primary narrative is one of maladjustment, fuelled by an inability to find happiness or fulfillment. As a genre it is based around a search for the authentic personal voice of anguish or desire. If the despair (or priapic desperation) dries up then what?

Most rock musicians turn eventually into karaoke turns, literally unable to move on, stuck forever playing out a version of their youthful selves. Morrisey's return, occasionally compelling, is really only a pointless rerun of his former dazzling glory. The site of the recently reformed New York Dolls dressed up in their androgynous 1970's finery, all skinny hips and wet look leggings but with heavily lined faces and post-rhumatic moves, was both comical and sad.

In order to answer this Cave seems to have long since abandoned rock music's default setting of first person narrative - singing from the heart - and turned himself into a storyteller. Almost uniquely he sings about subjects other than himself. And he looks fabulous too, somehow both dignified and dangerous. As do the Bad Seeds. They have the look of some deranged East Berlin cabaret band descending into discordant chaos. Mick Harvey even looks a bit like Erick Hoenecker, dressed in a cheap tuxedo and playing some mix of mutant blues and white noise at the top of the Fernsehturm, while its revolving restaurant starts spinning ever faster....

As it turns out they're in the thoroughly miserable Brighton Centre on a wet Sunday night, transforming its convention hall atmosphere into something utterly and briefly fabulous.

* I think it must have been about 1994 and inevitably in the sadly defunct Melody Maker.

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