A boy stands terrified at a great height–this is a recurring theme in The Sick Bag Song. It is also a tragedy that Nick Cave and his family are still dealing with.* In the book it is Nick Cave remembering an instance that he may or may not have experienced as a child–nothing is clear in Mr. Cave’s third published work of fiction. The book is like a dream world layered on the reality of a collection of middle-aged rock stars touring the United States. “Nick Cave” gets food poisoning, jerks off in hotels, and lacquers his hair. I read this book in exactly seventy-three minutes, veering between engrossed and just skimming. Nick Cave could bind his soiled toilet paper and fans would line up to buy it: He is a fascinating, talented man–a gothic stick figure with a thundering voice and sparks coming off him. With his biblical imagery and stubborn “old timey” use of language, he is like a figure crossing the Great Plains in a salesman’s wagon drawn by a single horse. Instead of selling the promise of rain or miracle elixirs, he is selling us songs of either great beauty or bottomless damnation**–and now The Sick Bag Song.
Pushing sixty now and still reeling from personal tragedy, Cave is clearly preoccupied with mortality. The Sick Bag Song is often formless but it may also be the best book of the three he has written. With And the Ass Saw the Angel and The Death of Bunny Munro one got the sense of Nick Cave hunched over a typewriter with a furrowed brow making this pronounced effort to be a serious writer. With The Sick Bag Song he seems to be a human being–albeit one who writes in an occasionally formless and pretentious manner. Is it because of armor? Is he afraid of letting people too close to the Nicolas Edward Cave that his family knows? A man who carefully lacquers his hair in hotel suites clearly understands about keeping up an image. He knows it would spoil our view of the man who wrote Stagger Lee and Red Right Hand if we heard him moaning about the holes in his socks or roaming the aisles of the local Tesco*** with coupons in hand. There are glimpses of that man in The Sick Bag Song and I kept skimming for more flashes of the real Nick Cave. Was I really seeing him or simply the Nick Cave the author wants us to see? I cannot answer that question.
*Nick Cave’s son fell off a cliff and perished last year.
** With the occasional reference to Elvis Presley thrown in
*** Popular English grocery store