Nick Cave Monday #53: The Sick Bag Song


Welcome to a special edition of Nick Cave Monday.

In 2013 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds toured North America on the legs of the release of Push The Sky Away. It was a bit of a polarizing album; some think it’s weak and I think it’s an amazing answer to the Grinderman records and Dig Lazarus Dig!!!.

On the 2013 tour the songs from that record were played with more intensity than on the album itself. And we got the Bad Seeds’ greatest hits.

Then, Cave toured the record again in 2014 in North America. Something changed. Nick’s stage presence became fiercer. The band performed the songs like a semi-consensual, violent sex act. It was a new record.

Touring has its ups and downs. Most of touring is down. Waiting. Soundcheck. More waiting, then exploding on stage for 90 minutes or so. Meet and greet. Wait for the bus, the plane, the cab.

During the 22-day North American 2014 tour, Nick scribbled notes on barf bags he found on airplanes. He calls them sick bags. These notes for a song that never really manifested grew into a book-length project, The Sick Bag Song.

Twenty-two sick bags, twenty-two flights, twenty-two live dates.

The book comes in a hard blue case. The white book on the inside has a replica of a sick bag on the cover. Inside the book are photos of the actual sick bags,sickbagsong early notes scribbled in flight, followed by the end product of the narrative for the book.

I’m a major fan of seeing people’s handwriting, especially Nick Cave’s.

To launch the book, Nick did three events worldwide in Los Angeles, New York City, and London. I attended the event in Los Angeles.

The Egyptian Theater is on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Blvd. I climbed over tourists gawking at Diana Ross’s star to get to the box office window to grab my comp ticket. The event was about $70 with service fees. Ouch. And that’s before purchasing the book that Canongate graciously sent me.

The venue seats about 600 people and it was sold out. The crowd was a mix of people, 20-somethings to 60-somethings. The lights came down and Nick strutted out of a corridor and through the audience to the front of the auditorium while reading a segment of the book.

Everyone clapped, but nobody could hear him. He had one of those TED talk-type microphones around his ear and it wasn’t working. The sound guy came running over and tried to fix the pack attached to his belt.

“Can you hear me now?”

His mic was hot and he walked back to the corridor like nothing happened. Then he entered as he had a couple of minutes before to even louder applause.

He started to read, and then the microphone went out again. He berated the sound guy, in his signature charming way, with a smile that says fuck you.

The sound didn’t work. Fuck it; use an old school microphone and hold it in your hand.

Nick goes back to the corridor like nothing happened with microphone in hand and milks a third Nick Cave strut as the crowd’s applause turns into an uproar. We’re all in on the joke, and the show is on.

The opening to the reading and talk couldn’t have been better. If they were smart they would have staged the microphone mishap in New York and London.

He reads a few chapters from the book.

The New York chapter:

The Portland chapter:

The Denver chapter:

Between chapters, Nick sat down to discuss the book and his career with Tom Perrotta. Perrotta is the author of many books, including Election and The Leftovers.

Throughout the conversation they talked about how tedious it is to tour as well as the fun of performing live. They chatted about Nick’s heroes, his childhood, and a lot of things that we saw in the film 20,000 Days on Earth, which Nick refers to as 20,000 Days.

After the discussion and readings the audience got about 30 minutes or so to ask questions. This was the best performance of the night.

The shaky voices of fans talking directly to their hero was endearing. One woman drove down from San Francisco. One guy drove in from Alaska.

“I’m a visual artist,” an audience member said, “and I want to know what visual artists inspire you?”

It’s another one of those audience members trying really hard to sound smart where we just all hold our head down.

Nick was evasive. Sure. Yeah. I don’t know.

Then a light bulb went off in his head.

“I’m inspired by the other Nick Cave, has anyone seen his work? That guy is a genius.”

He’s serious. There is another Nick Cave in America who is pretty impressive.

The crowd laughed.

The microphone goes to another fan.

“Hi Nick, I have my favorite singers write a lyric to one of their songs on my back and I get it tattooed. Can I ask you to write one of your lyrics on my back?”

“Sure,” and Nick motions him over.

The fan starts to take his shirt off and the theater staff announces that he should wait until after the talk to keep the questions going.

Nick reads a part of the book that refers to Bryan Ferry. Ferry is one of his heroes. Someone asks what Ferry thought of the chapter about him. Nick doesn’t know. He says it’s better not to meet your heroes.

A fan asks what being a father has done to change how he works.

“I’m all of a sudden very aware that my kids are in the audience.”

His wife and kids were in attendance. Then he continued to answer that the book was essentially a way for him to document the tour and that it’s during those long trips from home that he doesn’t feel like a father and it’s hard for him. When he gets back home, he’s a father again.

No one asked what he’s working on now, about the next Bad Seeds record, or other questions I would have asked. Not that I cared enough to wrestle for a spot near the microphone. The night moved towards its end. There was another question.

Next fan: “If you could tell your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?”

Nick is stumped. “I don’t know.” Then he thought about it.

“You know, if I tried to tell my younger self a piece of advice he wouldn’t listen to me anyway, as he shouldn’t.”


Thanks for reading this special edition of Nick Cave Monday. Between 2012–2013, I wrote 52 Nick Cave Mondays over the course of 52 weeks. Stay tuned to The Rumpus for the possibility of another Nick Cave Monday this century.


Feature photo © Cat Stevens.

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 →