Black Eyes

The Cave man's two-fisted culture romp dredges the depths

There's a marketing strategy currently faddish among manufacturers of pop detritus that advocates slipping to an unsuspecting public something new, odd, or unexpected during the slow, sweat-drenched summer months, when the brain cells are less alert but more susceptible to manipulation. And while this tactic is usually reserved for debut wanna-be icons with little chance of a look or a listen during traditional mega-act-dominated releasing seasons (Christmas, Spring Break, first of summer), it's now being employed to boost the careers of "name" cult figures who may or may not be selling steadily, but either way have yet to reach the wallets of the mall rats.

Now they've tried the scam with noted obscurist Nick Cave. But (thankfully) you won't be hearing him croon anytime soon on Power 96, and (criminally) he'll most likely elude the best-seller lists as well.

Consider that our little blessing.
Nick Cave. He of the growl, the scowl, the scorn, and the menace. The rebel by default, armed only with "brass knuckles and a bolo knife" -- and a pointed wit. The skinny Outback-bred offspring of early Eighties anger and excitability. The dark star of whiskey nights, bar fights, fire, and brimstone. The patron saint of fugitives the world over. Nick Cave -- the man, the myth, the near legend -- is back, bigger and badder and better than ever, with two fists through the door.

Unless you've been cocooning for the past dozen years, you've undoubtedly heard of Nick Cave. If you need a refresher course, here are the vital stats:

It began, as insinuated above, in Australia, the land of convicts and their keepers, in a more innocently volatile time, when an angry young man (and his cohorts) still had a chance to make noise in this world without the fear of gag orders and parental advisory stickers hanging over their heads like cleavers. Cave's band of merry pranksters, the Boys Next Door, were managing to raise quite a ruckus but, this being the end of the Earth and all, were receiving scant recognition for their extended efforts. A mutated version of the band, the Birthday Party, kicked in the requisite heads and headed for the U.K., land of state-sponsored pop opportunity -- where one had merely to be loud to be famous -- and jumped into the post-punk fray.

That move was a fortuitous one. The Birthday Party's kick-ass brand of grunge was a likely successor to the safety-pin set's shenanigans, and the group's reputation etched its way onto the ever trend-starved Brit press's lips. The B.P.'s boozing and brawling only made matters that much better, feeding the piranhas more and more dirt to scoop and dish, until they became what is erroneously known in the biz as overnight sensations. Global domination appeared imminent.

But as is so often the case in the cruel world, the yellow brick road was marked with conflicting signs and pocked by an array of potholes. The press's frenzy quickly became a field day for tiresome naysayers, the fights became more and more frequent, the damage increasingly irreparable. By 1983 the Party was over.

One year later Cave and B.P. alumnus Mick Harvey re-emerged with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a bitter, more literate pill to swallow, with a different, unmentionable drug's side effects. Their debut, From Her to Eternity, took the members' pedigree to its logical conclusion, making the Bad Seeds certifiably "cult."

A slew of long-players followed, at turns raucous and somber, highlighted by 1986's Kicking Against the Pricks, a collection of choice renditions of modern classics (the version of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" alone is worth the price of admission), keeping the Bad Seeds well in the public's "alternative" eye, and giving their leader the ability to let his mind wander.

Cave came all over the cultural map. With Lydia Lunch, Jim Thirwell (a.k.a. Feotus), and Marc Almond, he toured Europe and the U.S. as the Immaculate Conception. For director John Millcoat and producer Evan English he scripted and scored Ghosts of the Civil Dead, a disturbing flick based on the life of Norman Mailer's ex-pet murderer Jack Henry Abbott (of In the Belly of the Beast infamy). And for pan-ultimate slo-mo German cinemaniac Wim Wenders, Cave conjured up the title song to the much-acclaimed Until the End of the World, and appeared fronting his beloved Bad Seeds in the lensman's spooky-cool Wings of Desire. Throughout this Cave managed to publish the first tangible evidence of his literability, King Ink, a hodgepodge of lyrics and ruminations, and to document the Bad Seeds' 1989 American Tour with the definitive The Road to God Knows Where.

Which brings us to this summer's double whammy.
Henry's Dream, which follows 1990's harrowingly quiet The Good Son, finds Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds back in fighting form. It's violent, bloody to a fault, mythic, mad (in the best sense of the word), cryptic, and cold-souled. Cave croons like never before, coming off as a sort of Leonard Cohen with a chain-gang sentence, a Faulkner of the airwaves, a Bible-Belting rabble-rouser of unspeakable dimension. It's head music for plain folks: swampy, gory, tragic, and brutally painful.

And the Bad Seeds' latest can be taken in tandem, as a sort of spiritually if not narratively linked soundtrack to the paperback version of Cave's bog-breaking novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, a Gothic slab of inbreddedness that'll leave you aching with bewonderment.

A broken-nose first cousin to Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, And the Ass Saw the Angel is hyperrealism a la Gabriel Garcia Marquez as seen by Sam Peckinpah and voiced by the master of the loser's angle, Jim Thompson. It's loaded with what Faulkner deems the eternal verities of fiction -- "love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice, without which a story is doomed" -- and peppered with betrayal and mayhem and injustice of the first degree. A dime novel of epic proportion, with a twang and a might all its own.

With the impending release of the latest Brad Pitt vehicle, Johnny Suede (Cave plays an "albino alcoholic" named Freak Storm), and the double dose of book and record, one should have little problem making this a long, hot summer of Nick Cave-produced malcontents. Sure, his wild world may be one devoid of blue skies, where the rainbowless rains wash away any trace of hope and dream and glory, except of the most profane nature. But it's an indelibly chronic cosmos, mined with sinister creations and stark equations, where love really is just another four-letter word. And it's not as if you have to sell your soul to journey down that endless road. You merely have to lease it out for a piece. The choice is yours.

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