Saturday, September 13, 2014

Song of the day

"Higgs Boson Blues", by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

The best blues songs start off like this: "Well I woke up this morning."

The best of the best blues songs follow that with: "That was my first mistake."

So here goes.

Well, I woke up this morning. That was my first mistake. I walked out to the living room, whereupon I was unfairly and irrationally attacked by the cat. (To be honest, this is not such an unusual occurrence.) Then I opened the blinds and found myself face to face with a spider the size of a dinner plate. (You think I am exaggerating.) Then I got an eyelash trapped in my eye, and had to spend several uncomfortable minutes sticking my finger in my eye trying to extract it. And then the Internet was down.

But then things got better. Specifically, I went to Canberra's newest cinema, the Palace, to see the new Nick Cave film, "20000 Days on Earth". I'm not even going to attempt to make any critical observations about it. You should see it (obviously) if you have an interest in Nick Cave. Or if you have an interest in the creative process. Or if you have an interest in The Song. Or if you have an interest in Ed Kuepper (who makes an appearance with the Bad Seeds at the end of the film, when they are at the Opera House performing "Jubilee Street"). Does it feed the mythology? Or debunk it? Or lift the veil on it? Possibly some combination of the three; but, like most of the things Cave himself says, I suspect it is inherently untrustworthy. Untrustworthy but fascinating. My favourite part of the film, which contained a few potential favourite parts, was probably Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in Ellis's kitchen, with Ellis cooking up some eels for Cave (who leaves his plate to one side, seemingly untouched) while they talk about Nina Simone's performance at Meltdown.

After the film, I walked into Civic via London Circuit, which is kind of like the St Kilda Road of Canberra. It's a nice part of town, low-rise sixties/seventies office buildings with plenty of open space. Completely dead on a Saturday afternoon, of course, except for the hipster sanctuary that is The Cupping Room, which was doing very lively business. But I had a bus to catch (plus I'm no way a hipster) so I walked on past. A brief stop at JB Hi-Fi revealed a copy of Jim Jarmusch's Neil Young movie, "Year of the Horse", which I have been looking for for ages, at an irresistible price. Another win.

A couple of things I did take away from the Cave film: first, a renewed sense of how precious songs are. In the beginning there is nothing, then there is a spark of an idea, and then, perhaps much later, there is a song. We are inclined to take them for granted. That is wrong. The second thing was a realisation of how far the last Bad Seeds album, "Push The Sky Away", has seeped into my pores. It's a sneaky record, that one: many of its songs are masquerading as unformed ideas, still in the process of being teased out. But with familiarity, the album proves to be a brave (and successful) attempt to loosen up the process, to try out an idea, run with it for a while, and leave it like that. They may be songs (and this is something Cave talks about in the film) that haven't yet resolved into a comfortable form, but it is a sign of the band's confidence that the ideas, half-formed or not, were perceived to be strong enough to be let loose into the wild before they had reached a mature form. This may or may not be borne out by consideration of "Jubilee Street", which, by the time it reached the Opera House, had revealed itself to be a song with such a solid foundation that it was able to withstand the full might and power of the Bad Seeds, a children's choir, and an orchestral string section. Boom.

But, in keeping with the blues theme, here is the last song on the album, itself destined to become a Bad Seeds classic: with some songs, you can just tell.