Monday, June 28, 2010

Nick Cave, Dundee Literary Festival, 25th June

Nick Cave was in Dundee on Friday, reading from The Death of Bunny Munro (out now in paperback – and look, Canongate have finally arrived at a good cover), and being interviewed by his publisher, Jamie Byng. The readings were excellent, as you’d expect – the cruising in the Brighton sun soaking up the sex one seems to have become a set piece, and is absolutely prime Cave, as in-your-face hilarious / horrific as ‘Stagger Lee’ or ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’. Then there was an extract introducing Bunny Junior, and his habit of collecting things – which gave me a start, because I’d forgotten he did that, but it chimes with And the Ass Saw the Angel’s ‘Mah Sanctum’ bit (Euchrid in his bird’s nest of a hideout, stacked with shoeboxes filled with his disgusting accumulations), and also Cave’s collection of unusual words for the earlier novel. Not to mention ‘Nick Cave: The Exhibition’, which I was kindly directed to a while ago by a chap called Rafiq who said that it contained:
a copy of a hand written dictionary that Cave kept for the years he was in Berlin (where he wrote his first book). A whole note book of words that he had read or heard and liked enough to write down and define.
If I’d asked a question after the readings it would have been about this: collecting and cataloguing mundane objects. The questions which were actually asked were about writing practices (‘No, I don’t keep a checklist!’), the theme of redemption (‘I’m not sure that comes into it...’), and the humdrum ‘when you get an idea, how do you know if it is going to be a song, a screenplay or a book?’ To which the answer was, ‘The idea doesn’t come first, that’s the thing.’ The questions were all so damn awestruck. And you couldn’t blame the questioners, confronted after all with Nick Cave. You could maybe blame Jamie Byng for his uniformly bland, overly verbose non-interrogation, but then he wants to keep his author onside for a follow up book, which is fair enough. But what they were all getting wrong, I thought, was to see Cave as this untouchable rock ’n’ roll deity, spilling over in all directions, across boundaries and genres, cool because he is transgressive, larger than life and impossible to pin down, even as a seer with a hotline to God. Some of this may be true, but it is also pretty unhelpful. Cave himself always tries to turn the conversation around to practicalities, to his 9-to-5 approach to writing, and to the inspiration he takes from collected objects and observations (see the ‘Stories’ section of the exhibition site). I like the idea that at some level he is a train spotter, a bug collecter.

Actually there was a great question, right at the end. On the subject of abusive and / or neglectful fathers (i.e. Bunny and his own, even more grotesque father), someone asked, ‘Is there anyone by whom you feel demonised? And are you grateful?’ Nick Cave was in Dundee on Friday. How on earth did that happen?

There is a similar reading / interview available on iTunes’ ‘Meet the Author’ podcast.


john serpico said...

I like your blog, I'm just reading through it now. And what was Nick Cave's reply to that last question?

Chris said...

Thanks John - no idea about his answer unfortunately! Really should have written that down.

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