Nick Cave is rock star and writer and composer and poet and one dark soul. The Sick Bag Song is his epic chronicle of one long tour, tripping into his youth and hallucinations and creative process and fantasy. It started as a tour diary – scribbles on airline sick bags as he traversed across the United States – and ended as an epic poem, a memoir, a treatise on the business of performance. It is frazzling and funny and a bit silly and at times quite deep. I love Nick Cave and I loved this book.
The collection is organised into short little chapters, titled with where this particular sick bag is from – Manchester Tennessee; Detroit Michigan. It is a mishmash of whatever inspiration has hit in that moment – reminiscence, travel, despair, monsters, music, gods. He is wild and wise, it is a real challenge to spend time in this fragmented, smart mind.
There is a lot of darkness and struggles and madness. Some of this is embodied in a monster, in hallucinations, in crazy hard moments alone in a hotel room. But all of it is so well constructed, so well articulated and thought-out and passionate that it all has meaning. You can tell each tremble and fault has a a larger part in his processing; it is all rolling into this creative sight, a fragmentation of how he sees the world.
“As I stand on the edge of the king-sized bed
At the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood,
Like a small erect god,
My heart is tied to the tracks of a shrieking train.
To my left, a shadowy concrete pylon, to my right,
The lethal branches of a half-felled tree.
You lie naked and partially submerged
In the muddy water below, thumbing nonchalantly
Through a motivational manual.”
Form is fluid through all this madcapness. This is not necessarily indulgent stream-of-consciousness but a sharp tapping in of moments of perception, expertly engineered for that time, calling on whatever structure is appropriate: prose, lyric, poem. There are regular themes here too, the repetition of their presence creating little markers along the pretty trippy journey: gods small and large, train tracks, the river, a hooker with a g-string that matches her mini skirt.
It is not all sadness and mystery either; our elusive rockstar’s reflections on his own self almost accidentally turn into appropriate little salves for others too:
“Everything is happening and has happened and will happen again. Everything that exists has always existed and will continue to exist. Memory is imagined; it is not real. Don’t be ashamed of of its need to create; it is the loveliest part of your heart. Myth is the true history. Don’t let them tell you there are no monsters. Don’t let them make you feel stupid, just because you are happy to play in the dark with your flashlight. The mystical world depends on you and your tolerance for the absurd.”
And then, so suddenly, in this slim little volume of the rockstar’s thoughts end. It feels like a precious collection, a witty and crazy insight, a pretty hallucinatory journey. Nick Cave is an elusive, tripping artist, making something out of everything he sees. Like everything else he creates, The Sick Bag Song is a fascinating, little discomforting, wondrous trip through a beautiful mind.