‘St John of the Cross, he did his best stuff imprisoned in a box;

And Johnny Thunders was half alive when he wrote Chinese Rocks.’

Nick Cave

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds do all kinds of songs: weird fables, howling bad dreams, exquisite love songs. Blues straight from the abbatoir; lullabies filled with desire; stir-crazy sermons: my little list represents only part of what the band can do and what Nick Cave, as principal songwriter, can create. But still we find the greedy Cave is hungry to do more. This Elvis-Odysseus is on a mission to ‘move the world.’ He doesn’t stop. ‘There She Goes My Beautiful World’ is the song that tells us of Cave’s greed, but also of his male muses, two of whom are named above. The rest? John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester; Karl Marx; Paul Gauguin; Philip Larkin; Dylan Thomas; Vladimir Nabokov. Grisly lives, grisly deaths: debased, obscene and comic, all of them, even speccy old librarian Larkin, become rockstars the way Cave writes about them. They suffer and endure, but above all they carry on creating as they disintegrate.

‘There She Goes:’ a more joyous and desperate love-song you can’t imagine. A gospel frenzy, a prayer for the muse to ‘send that stuff on down,’ Cave’s song is one of his best. It’s like seeing  some crazy man walking into an open field in a thunderstorm and watching him bear his chest to the lightning–not so much prayer as dare.

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‘You’ve made a blog…Clever boy! Next: flushing.’

Don Paterson

Blog. Such an unattractive word, along with its unlovely sister, blogroll, but perhaps appropriate enough for the secretions that make their way onto many websites. Blogs range from the quirky and literate to the downright loopy– why are so many religious fundamentalists dedicated bloggers? Perhaps the blog offers a kind of virtual pulpit for creationists and other types of religious eejit, a pulpit where crackpot ideas are more often affirmed than challenged.  As a ‘blogger’ (ugh, I wish those scare quotes were a pair of tweezers) I wish that the name for writing one’s thoughts down in the form of an electronic essay, available for the public to read on demand, had been better chosen. The French do it more elegantly, or they are trying to: the boys on the burning deck of  the Académie Française want the French to call blogs ‘jouebs’ whilst their French-Canadian camarades prefer ‘blogue.’ (1) The Canadian option is suave, the French is naughty and intellectual–it sounds as though it was invented by the shade of Roland Barthes, fascinated in the afterlife by le plaisir de la toile, the pleasure of the net–‘joueb’ being short for ‘un journal web.’ At least with with ‘joueb’ there are playful connotations (jouer) rather than scatalogical ones.

‘Joueb’ is a word I’m tempted to adopt here not least because it chimes with the serious play I wanted to be in evidence on The Casket. When I began, I did not imagine that this would be the kind of web log of events and feelings, the boring blogtease in evidence on so many sites. Instead, I wanted a more formal version of a writer’s notebook. The Casket is a room for improvised observations; for ‘working without really doing it,’ as Elizabeth Bishop once described letter-writing; or, for the bonsai or capsule essay. I wanted it to be the sort of place where William Hazlitt, Samuel Johnson and the other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century essayists might want to kick their shoes off and sit down, alongside– in conversation and play with–other modern idlers, punks and thinking wastrels. Guy Garvey has a chinwag with Samuel Taylor Coleridge; John Keats plays pingpong with Nick Cave; that sort of thing.

That’s the Dream bit. The reality of writing here is always tempered by that toile of readers, and the ways in which you suspect you are being read. WordPress provide the blogger with stats, raw data, which give an insight into possible clusters of interest: the fans of Dude Lebowski often stumble here because of my Clive James piece, which happens to mention him; college kids, I guess, writing about F Scott Fitzgerald, stop by to read my comments on Tender is the Night. Nick Cave fans, Leonard Cohen fans drop in for some duende. But most readers are text-tourists, looking for something else. Search terms tell me that what they are looking for is often information about ‘people in caskets’ or ‘dreams of dead people in caskets’ or ‘images of virile beautiful men’ (that will be the Rufus Sewell essay I wrote when I first started). Occasionally, I now get searches directed at ‘Casket of Dreams’ itself, which is flattering, but generally, most Casketeers arrive here in some kind of hurry; possibly bewildered, but always wanting the answer to a question.

On the whole, I’m glad they do show up. This despite the fact that the feedback they leave is seldom edifying. Comments by readers are usually pretty useless:  the flatterers  usually want you to visit their joueb in return; the nitpickers are equally self-important (‘How dare you assert that The Arctic Monkeys are talented self-publicists?’  with best wishes from their manager, etc). Yet how long do my visitors stay, and what do they flick through, what consider? My stats cannot, thankfully, tell me that. Still, whether you are looking for images of the dead in caskets, or whether you want to think about saudade or negative capability, you’re welcome. F. Scott Fitzgerald is sobering up next door in in time for the final of scriptwriters’ pingpong, where he meets William Faulkner in the Hollywood grudge match of the century. Mark Rothko is talking primitivism and abstraction with Elizabeth Bishop over a glass of grog by the fire. So stop awhile. Put your feet up. The weather is drawing in, and in any case, there is plenty we have to catch up on.

(1)http://www.petiteanglaise.com/archives/2004/11/08/french-blogging-vocab/

The Boatman's Call cover

At my first Nick Cave gig in 2005, I happened to be standing behind two very drunk fans who began to heckle even before the band had walked on stage. I can’t remember exactly how they phrased it, but their humorous banter went something like ‘get your Bible out Nick, have a good pray. Hallelujah!’ Refraining, but only just, from kneeing them in the bollocks, I contented myself with the thought that Cave must be used to, and even thrive on,  taunts like this. Cave’s unbelieving religious fervour is nowhere better exemplified than in his passion for ‘Amazing Grace.’ On the tourbus, years back, he was known to become physically violent if anyone so much as whispered during the playing of this hymn. He might not ‘believe in an interventionist God’ but he knows his Bible, and to such an extent that his lyrics are saturated in its language: he worships the Bible’s drama whilst rejecting its consolations. Exactly the quality, of the passionate agnostic, that makes him my kinda guy.

Passion, suffering and sexual, hedonistic and holy, is his subject, and there are many examples of songs in the Bad Seeds’ repertoire that have received considerable critical attention for their fusion of depravity and grace. But there is one unassuming song, a ‘stone the builders neglected,’ that is worthy of considerably more attention than it has yet received: ‘Brompton Oratory,’ a quiet wonder nestling at the core of a near-perfect album, The Boatman’s Call (1997).

*

‘The reading is from Luke 24

Where Christ returns to his loved ones’         Nick Cave

‘But they constrained him,’ Luke tells us in Chapter 24, ‘they’ being the disciples. They are speaking to the risen Christ, whom they still do not recognise, ‘saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent’ (Luke 24: 29). After the vast sorrow of the crucifixion comes this meeting and the King James makes it unbearably sweet. Look at the disciples’ tenderness to Christ: ‘abide’ has to count as one of the most lovely verbs in the English language, deriving from the Anglo Saxon ‘bidan,’ meaning ‘live with,’ ‘remain,’ ‘endure without yielding’ and which is ‘akin to the Latin fidere (trust) and the Greek peithestai (believe).’ (1) ‘Abide’ has more than the force of prayer here because the supplicant is praying without knowing it  and praying to an unknown god at that: the desire is greater than the man who desires. A spontaneous prayer that is both with and without the object of its adoration, it is coupled with the weary beauty of ‘the day is far spent.’ The King James can often catch at the reader’s breath with its poetry, but this phrase ‘the day is far spent’  feels like championship free-diving, like the longest, slowest held breath you have ever taken. In the space of that breath are the distances, the desire for rest, the need to hold the others, hold them and uphold them.

Biblical exegesis isn’t normally my thing, but when looking back at ‘Brompton Oratory,’ it does the song more than justice to read the passage from Luke alongside the erotic lesson delivered by the lyrics. Cave wants his audience to get the references, although he doesn’t demand that they do—even if you do not know and appreciate the poetry of the King James version of Luke 24, Cave does enough in the lyrics to suggest it. But the precise chapter reference indicates that he wouldn’t mind attracting an audience who respond to the Bible as he does because he wants the eroticism of the song amplified as much as possible. Understand the emotional force of the sacrament and the flitting sweetness of Christ’s return and you understand the thirst in the lines that follow on from the reference to Luke:

I look at the stone apostles,

think that it’s alright for some.

And I wish that I was made of stone

so that I would not have to see

beauty impossible to define

beauty impossible to believe.

A beauty impossible to endure:

the blood imparted in little sips,

the smell of you still on my hands

as I bring the cup up to my lips.

Two sacraments fuse here, two Eucharists. Suddenly, the absent ones are present; one in the chalice, one on the uplifted, scented fingers. A prayer has conjured both these presences, a negative prayer: Cave wishes he was ‘made of stone’ and could avoid seeing ‘beauty impossible to believe.’ The force of his longing is such that he asks for it to stop, but it does not, cannot, because it has gained such momentum that it is completely beyond his control. Saviour and the woman’s sex are equivalent sources of desire and desolation. Both return but do not, ultimately, abide.

(1)  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bide

[Below are two versions of ‘Brompton Oratory,’ the first being a slightly tongue-in-cheek MTV recording (Cave plays a Casio keyboard on his knees and it all looks a bit wobbly). The second is the album version, set to a fan’s photomontage of stone Christs, angels and apostles, and mercifully complete with the sigh of the original ending: ‘forlorn and exhausted baby/by the absence of you.’   You can also clearly hear the ecclesiastical-sounding organ on the album version, something that Warren Ellis swamps with his violin on the MTV clip.]

And The Boys Next Door begat The Birthday Party; The Birthday Party begat Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; The Bad Seeds begat Grinderman…(1)

With some embarrassment, I realise I am about to write yet another public love letter to Cave–my ‘erotographomania’ appears to know no bounds. Like Mr Sandman in ‘Today’s Lesson,’ Cave appears to be stalking my thoughts, even my dreams. Here’s the latest dream I’ve had which he steals and conducts.

***

I can’t help but think of Nick Cave’s musical history in terms of some kind of biblical genealogy, a geneaology of the kind found in Genesis (1) and some of the Gospels. In these long lists of who begat whom, the writer weaves together generations, each generation being part of one giant organism; protean and yet always retaining its distinctive identity. What’s impressive about Cave’s genealogy is his ability to turn himself inside out, riding time like a river. He hasn’t, like Orpheus or Lot’s wife, turned back to try and recapture what has been lost. Instead his music remains strong because he wrestles with what is.

Most rock stars struggle with the present tense once they’ve hit forty. Rock, as any damn fool can tell you, is about youth. Once that ‘fair flower’ is gone, the rock musician’s raison d’etre easily withers and dies unless that musician’s talent is exceptional. Take R.E.M., for example. I was once the most passionate of R.E.M. fans: I was in the fan club; I read ‘Remarks,’ a band biography, about 15 times; I bought every album, every dodgy bootleg I could find. I can still tell you the name of the street (Oconee Street) in Athens GA where they played their first gig in a derelict church–such was my pathological adoration. Then, finally, after an epiphany over ‘Crush with Eyeliner’ some years ago, I realised with huge sadness that everything after Green (1989) was merely a competent travesty. Now, each time they release a record, I hear reporters reiterate that terrible kiss-of-death phrase, ‘return to form.’ In fact, it is ‘returning’ that is really R.E.M.’s problem. 

Stipe and co always seem to be trying to return to what they once were, as if they don’t want to evolve but retreat. They haven’t realised that they can’t ‘get back’ because they’ve blanded themselves into stadium-rock nonentities. The wellspring that fed great albums like Murmur and Reckoning has run dry. They are chained to the lovesong (a genre in which Stipe becomes horribly saccharine; he can’t write decent lovesongs to save his life). They make political statements (off and sometimes on record) but they have stopped being political storytellers, connected to everyday America (can you imagine Stipe being able to write anything as good or as lucidly particular as ‘Old Man Kensey’ or ‘Driver 8’ now?)(2). Their money and fame grease everything they do. In interviews Stipe reeks of self-importance and the once fine flick-knife wit of Peter Buck seems addled and hopelessly jaded.

Perhaps someone is now going to write and tell me that I’m wrong and I haven’t done my research, as Geoff Barradale did over my Hawley piece some months back. If this is the case, I’d be glad to be convinced that I’m mistaken, such was my love for the band. But I doubt anyone can provide the evidence I need: for a start, I can hardly bear to listen to recent R.E.M. interviews or new tracks these days because to me everything they do rings hollow. They’ve long since ceased to create their own system, but instead are ‘enslav’d’ by Time Warner’s. Their moral independence is zero.

The fate of R.E.M. should act as a warning to all artists (musicians, poets, painters etc). Their descent into the anodyne demonstrates what happens to those who don’t know how to be true to their gift. Think of The Arctic Monkeys as a test case. They have such a distinctive sound: breakneck yet sometimes tender, it’s a tremendous thing: so few artists escape pastiche. But this very blessing becomes a curse if they remain trapped in that sound, if they don’t at once know themselves and know to burn, break and bend themselves into something new. Alex Turner has already attempted this with his latest project The Last Shadow Puppets,(3) where the sound is genetically related to The Arctic Monkeys’ but yet changed–utterly.  I hope Turner ignores any flak he gets for this or any other act of creative daring, because if he can eventually navigate his way out of the young dude rapids in which he currently finds himself, very interesting and even greater things will emerge.

But if the fate of R.E.M. helps us to think about gifted people like the Arctic Monkeys, it also holds up a mirror to something else that’s important about Cave’s gift. R.E.M.’s failings emphasise how rare is the genius for change. Cave is extraordinary because he won’t solidify; he refuses to cool to room temperature. How beautiful to burn as he so defiantly does. Perhaps at some point he will fizzle out,  relishing, as few have the courage to do, his infirmity and disintegration. Or perhaps he will continue to burn until the end: as the cold stars burn, as burns the ineffable rose.

(1) See Genesis 4:18: ‘And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and
           Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.’

(2) Compare these two clips, ‘Old Man Kensey'(1985) vs ‘Supernatural Superserious’ (2008).  I rest my case.

(3) a small but delicious sample:

 

‘I am gone though I am here.’ (Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing).

Yesterday, as normal, I woke ‘with the sparrows’ and ‘[hurried] off to work.’  I taught some kids. I fretted about GCSE coursework folders. I felt sick when I jotted down my ‘to do’ list for the next few days. I ate a banana . I talked about the weekend just gone. But when I taught, fretted, jotted, ate, talked, although I was polite and professional, I was not there at all. Yesterday, much more than is the case on most days, my heart was lost and my soul was elsewhere. I wanted validation, I wanted Love (not love), I just wanted.

All day the experience of the previous evening raced and ached through me like a second pulse. One face, one voice ghosted through the childrens’ and teachers’ faces and voices (picture those Victorian photos of ‘spectres’ where the effect is achieved by two photographic plates being superimposed on each other). The ‘presence’ causing my absent presence yesterday was, of course, Nick Cave, whose Birmingham Academy gig I attended on Monday.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, the intro to this piece is a little overblown. Perhaps it seems that here the violins are just a little too loud in the mix. It’s only a bloody gig, in a sweaty dive at that, with a band of hirsute Australians playing eccentric-sounding musical instruments. Only a gig. But, you see, a gig is never just a gig. It’s a doorway, a fire-starter for the soul. These rock gods, what they do is light the touchpaper and stand back, and most of the time, the flames fizzle out in a day, two days. Or maybe, if the audience-member (or rather communicant) is up to it, is all ears, a different, consuming blaze takes hold.

The opening of the set was certainly explosive. Cave, Ellis et al walked on stage and began with ‘Night of the Lotus Eaters,’ and as they did so it felt like I was under the spell of a crazed preacher as Cave sang ‘get ready to shield yourself’ over and over; an apocalyptic beginning if ever there was one. Unlike the previous gig I had been to (Alexandra Palace, 25 Aug 05), where the venue was lofty and cathedral-like, here the size of the place allowed me to get to within 10 feet of Cave. This meant that, as the band went on to do a suitably ferocious version of ‘Tupelo,’ I found myself able to gaze at Cave’s face and body rather in the way you are supposed to look at Pietas by Michelangelo; with a curiously still and open eye. It’s odd but accurate to speak of stillness here, given Cave’s frenetic movement; during the entire evening, he was only anchored when he briefly sat at the keyboard during the encore, and even then his energy seemed barely contained. But as he raged through his repertoire I drank him in, despite the fact I was dancing at the same time. At all points on Monday night I jumped and wiggled, waved and reached up my hands towards the stage. But at all points I was still. The Bad Seeds’ storm exorcised the storminess in me.

Songs rained down on us in a hurricane. Most of Lazarus got an airing (or rather a thundering) and the tracks I heard are even better (and weirder) live than they are on record. ‘Dig Lazarus Dig,’ for example, is rump-shakingly sexy, and the desire expressed in ‘Lie Down Here’ is alluring but terrifying (oh, the snarl when he sang ‘I’ll build a million of y/ baby/ & every one of them will be mine’). What I’ve heard Cave call Bad Seeds ‘Standards’ were drenching us too: ‘Deanna’, ‘Red Right Hand,’ ‘Get Ready for Love,’ and at every turn that ‘enormous yes’ of the crowd got fatter, sweeter, more abandoned. I was reminded with each tune of the astonishing variety of very very beautiful work this man has produced. Although various punters kept crying out for this song or that, increasingly, I did not care what the band played. Each song had the same manna in it, the same grace.

And as the set stepped up and up in intensity, I also became aware of the face behind Nick Cave’s face: his physiognomy’s weariness and sadness. Yes, as he says, he just wants to move the world, but there’s a paradox in this. The more songs he creates of this quality, and the more people love him, the more they feel they own him. Then, when he doesn’t make a record that sounds like these fans feel he should sound, they’re incredibly let down; ‘moving the world’ also involves such ‘low down bummers.’  They want him to play songs from another band of his — The Birthday Party–(someone asked for ‘Release the Bats’ on Monday and at one point, when there was a glitch with the keyboard, there were so many requests bombarding him that he commented ‘will somebody start the fucking song.’) They want him to be smacked up, rootless, dead. They want him to wreck his life because they haven’t the imagination to wreck their own.  They want him to be immortal, immutable, and, of course, he’s not. He must know that as much as he delights, he must inevitably disappoint. Like every other rock god he’s bound for glory and disintegration. Hence the solitariness that glows in his face, as if his gaze is arriving from light years away. It’s the loneliness of the long-distance singer, one who now has over a quarter-century’s worth of music under his belt, and whose songs are forever slipping out of his fingers and into the souls of his fans. Cave, as he must well know, is inexorably ‘becoming his admirers.’

So much for the state of Cave’s soul. But what might he want in return from those admirers? I’ll hazard a guess that what Cave might need from his audience is the response to art that Rilke said ‘The Archaic Torso of Apollo’ demanded:

 

We cannot know the legendary head

With eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark centre where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of his shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

 

Rilke describes the aliveness of a statue. Its beauty is so powerful that it sees into you, it knows you. It doesn’t judge you, but the work of art makes you judge yourself and know yourself. And in knowing yourself you also feel the work of art’s power to ‘change your life,’ –to change it by loving (‘where procreation flared’) and by creating —something. Rilke’s poem seems to say Cave’s desire too. It’s not so much that Cave seems to want you to ruin your life –but that he wants you to move, to Love (not love), to want, to actually live.

href=’https://nicholadeane.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/normal_bw_38.jpg’>complete with nimbus

 ‘Built from nothing but high hopes and thin air’: the line from the song ‘Dig Lazarus Dig’ sums ups the way that at least one fan seems to have felt about Nick Cave’s new album of the same name. Tim Russell argued on Facebook that Cave had made a flimsy album, the worst of his career, and that Cave should ‘dump the wife, give Blixa a call, move back to Berlin & buy a big bag of smack’ (Feb 28, 2008 at 4:59 PM). The album stinks, Russell has it, because the Bad Seeds have produced some unsingable melodies and have been ’emasculated’ (he accuses them of weedy instrumentation without the benefit of Blixa Bargeld). Russell also contends that Cave’s lyrics have gone all unfunny and banal (he quotes the line ‘We’re gonna have a real good time’ as an example). Russell’s piece is passionate enough but wrong on a number of counts.

Wrong, first of all, is the idea that this is somehow an upbeat album. It’s not sorrowful like No More Shall We Part or The Boatman’s Call but it is grimy, deliciously sordid, full of terrible jokes (my personal favourite is ‘I feel like a vacuum cleaner, a complete sucker’), crazed, desperate. ‘Shiny Happy People’ it ain’t. Russell claims it’s not fucked up enough. Not fucked up?

This is an album that has as its beating heart the ghost of John Berryman (1914-71), the US poet who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge and missing the water (1). Berryman’s subject-matter is all the kinds of things Cave revels in on Lazarus. This is from the first of Berryman’s Dream Songs:

What he has to now to say is a long

wonder the world can bear & be.

Once in a sycamore I was glad

all at the top, and I sang.

Hard on the land wears the strong sea

and empty grows every bed.

Berryman’s alter ego, Henry, is lascivious, drunk, violent…in other words, a bit like Lazarus in Cave’s song (‘Larry grew increasingly neurotic and obscene’).  In the lyric booklet which Cave publishes with the album, Cave’s words have the same manic intensity as Berryman’s, and reveal a similar penchant for the ampersand. Berryman uses the ‘&’ to abbreviate, to suggest speed of thought, jokiness, nervous exhaustion (incomplete ideas, jumpy intensities). If anything Cave’s ampersands are even more manic. Take this sample from ‘Moonland’ where

in moonl&

under the stars

 

under the snow

I followed this car

 

& I followed that car

through the s&

Berryman ‘s poetry and his biography are attractive to Cave for a number of reasons. There is the suicide (2):

                            Berryman was best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

he wrote like wet papier mache/went the Hemming-way/weirdly

on wings & with MAXIMUM PAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!

But what’s also attractive to Cave is Berryman’s descent into madness and alcoholic indignities, and the lens which this creates, a lens through which Berryman sees America: ‘Seedy Henry rose up shy in de world/& shaved & swung his barbells, duded Henry up,’ writes Berryman in Dream Song 77. Macho, hopelessly pathetic, with a ‘ruin-prone proud national mind,’ Berryman’s antihero journeys restlessly through dirty America, ‘making ready to move on.’

But there are more layers yet to Cave’s album. If Berryman is its beating heart, the roadmap of Dig, Lazarus, Dig is Homer’s epic poem The OdysseyThe last track on the record,  ‘More News from Nowhere’, tells the story of Homer’s epic in miniature. In it appear Cave’s versions of  Circe, the Cyclops and the Sirens. In fact, it seems that Cave’s former lover PJ Harvey is the Siren he has in mind when he sings ‘I saw Miss Polly!!!singing with some girls/I cried,–strap me to the mast!!!!’. Other songs take on aspects of The Odyssey. The song ‘Night of the Lotus Eaters’ fishhooks an episode in book nine of Homer’s poem into a howl of junked up political frustration at our ‘catastrophic leaders.'(3) ‘Midnight Man’ retells the story of what happens to Odysseus’s wife when Odysseus is on his travels -Penelope’s suitors are forever ‘comin’ round’ to Odysseus and Penelope’s ‘place’, vying for the chance to be her ‘midnight man’.

If I’ve made Lazarus sound like a poem rather than a record, so much the better. Cave surely intends this to be a poem, a poem not set to music, but married to it. But to neglect the melodies here would be to do Lazarus a grave injustice. Heavenly murk characterises the sound of this badass Bad Seed musical journey through the land of the dead. Tim Russell asserts this isn’t singable record. Yet I find myself utterly possessed by snatches of melody–oh strap me to the mast Mr Cave, if you would. ‘Lotus Eaters,’ for example, has a very trippy sound, in keeping with the narcotic undertow of the lyrics; Warren Ellis on ‘mandocaster’ and ‘loops’ appears to be responsible for part of the effect here, but the vocal, too, is a siren-song on Cave’s part. Yes, we might miss Blixa on this or on any Bad Seeds production. But hell’s bells, Ellis is extraordinary. He and his merry chums conjure up a whole legion of exotic instruments, even the names of which sound like they’re capable of summoning up a few spectres: ‘mandocaster,’ ‘cuica’, ‘loops,’ ‘vibra slap.’ The viola on ‘We Call Upon the Author’ sounds like it’s been ectoplasmically rearranged; the flute on ‘Jesus of the Moon’ levitates, man.

I could go on. But I won’t, at least until I’ve seen the live show in May. Suffice it to say that this is a record with ‘eat me’ written on it. Be sure, however, to take repeated doses. Overdose if at all possible. If you do, I guarantee you’ll find much more Homeric (and other) dark matter in Lazarus‘s beguiling murk. Get out your Homer and your headphones and dig.

 

(1) go to this page for a biog/bibliography: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/berryman/life.htm

(2) The reference to ‘went the Hemming-way’ refers to the fact that the novelist Ernest Hemingway killed himself at the point where he felt he could no longer write. See http://www.ernest.hemingway.com/marywelsh.htm for more details.

(3)For the poetry anoraks amongst us, go to this blog which supports Barack Obama, and look at the use the blogger makes of Lowell’s poem ‘For the Union Dead’ which takes the idea of  the US state as an aquarium and compare with Cave’s lyric ‘they fishbowled me and toured me round the old aquariums’. Has Cave been reading Lowell too? –Lowell and Berryman were contemporaries and friends.  http://progressiveerupts.blogspot.com/2008/03/for-union-dead-robert-lowell.html

The Dirty Three are an unholy and a holy trinity: Warren Ellis, Mick Turner, Jim White have played together under this name since the mid nineties. Ellis is also a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and all three have played with an impressive number of highly respected artists such as PJ Harvey, Cat Power and Bonny Prince Billy. What’s in The Dirty Three’s rather splendid name? Are they a band of outlaws ? Musically, yes. Are they dirty like the Dubliners and the Pogues were dirty? Well, in a way: the Three’s dirt and that of their folk cousins is the dirt of raw emotion, whatever that may be–eighty percent proof, musical poteen. Their dirt is also the dirt of sex. Most music is designed to seduce, to lead up to sex. The Dirty Three, however, create music which is sex itself–sex and the post-coital come-down; abandon and melancholy, orgasm and after.

But what of this ‘after’ state, this melancholy? In actual fact, the Three also give us not just dirt but dust. There is a sense when you listen to an extraordinary album like Cinder that you are hearing a dissolve into death. The melodies (for the most part the band do not use words) hardly seem to be there at all. Their music doesn’t beat you into submission but soaks into you, patterned like ocean currents. As someone who loves singing to herself but who doesn’t perform and who has little or no technical knowledge of music, I can at least get a sense of how daring and experimental, how difficult and extraordinary these melodies are, by trying to sing them. As soon as I think I have understood a tune, I realise it slips away from me. The Dity Three’s music controls you, you do not control it.

And this is where the deity bit comes in–Orpheus to be exact. When you hear Ellis on violin or mandolin you realise the truth of those Greek myths in which Orpheus charms and spellbinds the humans, the plants, the animals into a kind of ecstatic sadness. Sadness (Saudade) here is medicinal. The frenzy of human activity, what Wordsworth called ‘getting and spending,’ is suspended as you listen.

Byron thought of Robert Burns as a rare combination of ‘half dirt, half deity.’ Rare indeed is the ability of musicians to be both of these things at once: outlaw and angel, fugitive and present.