From Drugs to God

I always liked the Birthday Party:

And so I bought Nick Cave’s debut solo album in Spring 1984, and, with all my few bits of vinyl, it’s still a treasured possession (Einstürzende Neubauten*‘s Blixa Bargeld (whom Cave met when living in a squat in Berlin) looking suitably wasted too):

[*Another fav band. My favourite Einstürzende Neubauten story was the time, presumably through promoter ignorance, they somehow ended up supporting the Irish rocking squares, U2. Predictably, given how conservative U2’s fan-base was, it didn’t go well:

They lasted just one night as tour support for U2 before being thrown off. The outraged and hostile audience threw bottles of urine. The band responded by throwing iron bars back at them.” See article.]

I remember carrying the album home from school on the bus. Outwardly, ostentatiously faux-casual, inwardly as pleased as Punch.  Signifiers made vinyl. 

Unlike what kids do today, I hadn’t merely bought something to listen to. 

The music you liked was a badge of tribal identity. 

Nowadays, as in the early 70s prior to punk, servile modern kids put pop stars on pedestals.

We didn’t.

Past a certain point, the cultural is political.  The bands I liked as a kid – for those of us misfit kids, they weren’t just bands or singers.  You recognised yourself in them.  They were of our misfit tribe, and were our representatives, our diplomats if you like, representing our cultural (and indeed political) interests.  You knew that, when they walked down a  street, they attracted the same incomprehension (and occasional hostility) as you did. 

Far from pedestalling, you’d in fact be highly critical of them, forever on the alert in case they might have “sold out” artistically. 

At the time, it would have been common enough for folks to say (of the bands and artists I liked) something like: “those guys look silly and their music sounds awful”.     

But I knew their surface whimsy was the flip side of a questioning attitude, and a spiritual striving.    

Decades later, I see “my” old bands and artists interviewed.  Typically, I am vindicated.  Many pop-stars, and especially in this century, are shallow fucking idiots. 

But “mine” had integrity. 

Nick Cave has an occasional newsletter, the “Red Hand Files”.  Sounds like a Tyrone GAA fanzine, but it’s just Nick musing on random existential queries from members of the public. 

Well written of course, but what really shines through is his wisdom and compassion.  In his most recent question, he responds to a questioner who considers that drink and drugs help you make good art.

Of course, Nick is a man who has lived life to excess.  And his response to that question doesn’t sit on any fences:   

What I myself did not understand at that time was that true suffering, or rather, meaningful suffering, only begins when we stop taking drugs. It is then that we are forced to live life on life’s terms, without the insulating effects of alcohol or drugs. We learn, in sobriety, our true and complex relationship to the world, and the profound nature of suffering. We also find, to our surprise, that happiness is possible as life broadens into something intricate and nuanced and interesting and strange, and potentially deeply creative. Life in sobriety becomes, as the greatly missed comic genius, Barry Humphries, once said, ‘funny’. The cossetted, flattened, self-obsessed life of the alcoholic or drug addict knows little of these things.”

There’s something of the life trajectory of St. Augustine here.  Recommended. 

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