Nick Cave Monday #41: “Momma’s Boy”


Nick Cave was a singer named Freak Storm in the 1991 film Johnny Suede. Tom DiCillo wrote and directed the film. It was his directorial debut. Before this film he paid his dues as cinematographer for Jim Jarmusch.

One day, Nick was at DiCillo’s friend’s place in London and saw the script for Johnny Suede on the table. Nick read the script and then called DiCillo to let him know he wanted to play the part of Freak Storm. But Nick wanted the lyrics of the song that Freak Storm sings in the scene below to be switched around.

Nick Cave’s big scene, acting and singing to Brad Pitt:

When I finally was able to interview Tom DiCillo, years after Johnny Suede, I let him know how much I loved the film and Nick Cave. DiCillo told me he got a phone call and couldn’t believe it was Nick Cave actually calling him and asking if he could play the part. DiCillo immediately said yes. Freak Storm cast himself.

But Nick thought the lyrics were too stupid. DiCillo wrote the song that way because he wanted the lyrics to be over the top, but he told Nick, Go ahead and write what you’d like to sing.

DiCillo said that it kills him to this day that he doesn’t have the tape Nick sent him of different songs that Freak Storm would sing to Brad Pitt. The tape had a bunch of starts and stops on other lyrics and after about forty minutes, Nick finally said that his songs were shittier than “Momma’s Boy” so he agreed to do it as DiCillo wrote it.

When they cast Brad Pitt as Johnny Suede, DiCillo didn’t even want to meet with him. He said they had been through hundreds of actors and nobody was nailing it. The casting process was brutal.

The casting director finally talked DiCillo into meeting with Pitt and said that Pitt had just finished shooting a small part in a film call Thelma and Louise that was getting a lot of pre-release buzz—Pitt was about to break out.

The minute Pitt walked into the room to meet DiCillo, he knew that they had Johnny Suede. DiCillo said that every actor they had in there tried to play the character like Fonzie and didn’t get the nuances. Johnny Suede was simple, a guy who just wanted love and to start a band, but who was a bit clueless at both.

Freak Storm was the main man in the film, what Johnny Suede wanted to become. Yet, Freak Storm was a bit of a slimy guy. The chicken in the above scene is indeed found, and Johnny Suede gets violently ill later in the film.

Fast forward about sixteen years, and Brad and Nick come together again in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford:

Our Bad Seed Nick Cave is truly timeless. Nick and Warren Ellis composed the soundtrack for the film, and that was Nick’s cameo.

When I told Nick during one of our interviews that DiCillo loved his role as Freak Storm, Nick grinned and said, “Really? I thought I was a bit of a disaster in that film.”

Speaking of film, Nick Cave was screenwriter for Ghosts…. of the Civil Dead, The Proposition, and Lawless. All three films were directed by John Hillcoat, who has directed many music videos for The Bad Seeds. Also interesting is that Ray Winstone, who starred in Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, was also cast in The Proposition and in the music video for “Jubilee Street.”

Here’s Nick talking about Grinderman 2 and working with John Hillcoat on the “Heathen Child” video. Funny thing is, John Hillcoat is behind the camera on this interview:

We can all thank John Hillcoat for putting Grinderman in gladiator suits.

The lesson we have learned today is that if Nick Cave calls you because he wants to work with you, just say yes. And Brad Pitt gets Bad Seeder credibility for his fun scene with Freak Storm.

“You gotta split? I start your fucking career for you and you gotta split? That’s why your life’s gone fucking nowhere, Johnny, because you don’t know how to show a little bit of goddamn gratitude.”

Or, the lesson we really learn today is not to eat the chicken if you don’t know where it’s from.

Thanks for reading, and come back next week for another edition of Nick Cave Monday.

Tony DuShane is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk. His writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Penthouse, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer. And, if you’re a Nick Cave fan, check out Nick Cave Monday. More from this author →