Nick Cave’s Song

A companion to 20,000 Days on Earth

Oct. 28, 2016
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An award winner at the Sundance festival, 20,000 Days on Earth is a documentary but also a work of imagination. It explores punk-poet-performer Nick Cave at midlife and meditates on the inspiration of memory and efficacy of storytelling.

Cave’s latest book can be seen as a companion to the film. The Sick Bag Song takes its name from the surfaces Cave inscribed during his 2014 North American tour—an array of sick bags filched from various airlines. Each of the 22 short chapters reflects on a particular stop on his cross-continental trek. It’s a diary in the form of a sequence of poems.

Memory is threaded through the free verse and the ostensibly prosaic interludes. Cave probably was the 12-year old on a railroad bridge who suddenly hears a train coming. He recalls visiting the well-appointed home of one of his heroes, Bryan Ferry (on stage, Cave is a fusion of Ferry and Iggy Pop). He remembers first hearing Leonard Cohen (Cave is punk rock’s Cohen).

Milwaukee receives two pages in Sick Bag Song, including a conversation with a waiter at Mader’s who claimed that in this burg, “if you are not a German then you’re a Pole” and served Cave “a pretzel big as a severed head.” More mordant still are his observations on aging as he stares into the hotel room mirror.

Cave brilliantly compares the sensation of being on stage to that of “a small god” made of “terra cotta trembling on a pedestal, interred in a maelstrom of sound.” The Sick Bag Song is a reminder of the power of language when condensed into poetry.


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