Tag Archives: rock documentary

Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth

5 Nov

For those of us who long to be artistic hyphenates, Nick Cave is inspirational. The singer-songwriter-film composer-screenwriter-poet-actor is still going strong decades after dropping out of art school to join a band in Melbourne.

Now in his late fifties, CaveNick Cave 2012 looks like Johnny Cash as designed by Tim Burton: long legs, pointy shoes, jet-black suit and matching hair. He’s known for his literate, sexy and occasionally violent imagery, delivered in a mesmerizing baritone. Being a sucker for Greek mythology, I first started paying close attention to his work when I figured out “More News from Nowhere” from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was a retelling of The Odyssey.

Until recently, I had no idea I’d seen him on screen back in 1988. Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds, were the punk musicians at the Berlin club in a pivotal scene in Wings of Desire:

 

I came this close to seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when they came to town a couple of months back but, lacking a concert buddy as well as the funds after spending umpteen zillion dollars on concerts this year, I took a pass. Thankfully,  I took the opportunity to see Cave’s “autobiographical documentary,” 20,000 Days on Earth, at the Detroit Film Theatre. The quotes are there because this is far from the usual chronological tour through a rock musician’s life story.

 

The film follows Cave on a surreal “typical” day, his 20,000th: from waking up next to his wife to writing threads of lyrics in notebooks and on a manual typewriter, on to therapy and rehearsal and a meal with his longtime musical collaborator Warren Ellis, and eventually onstage both in a club and at the Sydney Opera House, performing the song that began on the page at the beginning of the film. As he drives from appointment to appointment, friends and collaborators (Blixa Bargeld, Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue) appear as passengers to chat about their work, then disappear. At times, his internal narrative sparks a collage of images from his career and/or artistic perspective; his description of the impact of seeing his wife for the first time is illustrated by images ranging from Jacqueline Kennedy in mourning to explosions in space.

The directors – visual artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard – won World Cinema Documentary awards at Cannes for directing and editing the film. They certainly deserve the praise, for no one could do a better job of chronicling what it’s like to live in an artist’s head as he shifts from husband to musician to father to star.

It’s an extraordinary film because, of course, Cave is extraordinary. He’ll never be on pop radio but he could create the soundtrack for your dreams, be they terrifying or rapturous. As he sings in “Jubilee Street” on his most recent album, Push the Sky Away:

I am transforming

I am vibrating

I am glowing

I am flying

Look at me now

See you on the flip side …

P.S. I’ll be guest blogging soon on Laura Lee’s The Power of Narrative. We met at the Leon & Lulu Books and Authors event a few weeks ago and I’m grateful to her for reaching out to me for the chance to meet her readers. In the meantime, check out her site and her many published works – and tell her I sent you!

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Cold Fact

6 Nov

If you saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man or his interview on 60 Minutes, you know the story of Rodriguez. If you haven’t, consider this a spoiler alert:

Sixto Rodriguez, a promising Mexican-American singer/songwriter, recorded two albums in the early 1970 yet his career went nowhere and he had to make his living cleaning out abandoned houses. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his music became hugely popular with white, liberal anti-apartheid South Africans, who considered him on par with Bob Dylan. After years of obscurity, Rodriguez connected with his Afrikaans fans for the first time in 1998. Now at age 70, he is reaping the rewards of being a world-famous musician while staying humble enough to remain in downtown Detroit.

Rodriguez played at the Crofoot Ballroom on Friday night to a sold-out crowd, many of whom (judging by their age and attire) probably hadn’t been to a rock concert since Three Dog Night only had two dogs. Venue management knew they were in for an influx of elder newbies because I received an email like none I have never received before in my whole history of concert-going: a step-by-step guide on how to better enjoy the show if you’re one of “our older friends”:

“The Crofoot is a ‘general admission’ venue. We have standing room for 1000 guests. For our older friends who are coming to see Rodriguez, there are lots of spaces to stretch your feet, walk on the patio, talk to your friends, and then – step anywhere into the ballroom. The Crofoot sound system is one of the best sound systems in the Midwest. It will provide great listening – instruments and vocals — everywhere in the ballroom. You do not have to stand in front… guard your place…or worry about getting a special place… it’s all special.”   

Would that I could have received a similar guide for some of my past concerts:

For our truly middle-aged fans (come on, you’re not fooling anyone into thinking you’re 28) coming to see Wilco, please note that others seated behind you would like to view and enjoy the show as much as you do. Please dance – if that’s what you call it – only in designated areas. It’s all special.

For our more mature friends coming to enjoy The Hives  (and we will refrain from asking why you are coming in the first place), please wear beer-proof, steel-toe footwear and attire that can withstand the perspiration of others. You do not have to stand in mosh pit territory in order to see the show, although it does afford the best view of the stage if those sweaty, tattooed meat heads would get out of the way. It’s all special.

And so on.

Rodriguez at the Crofoot

Right on time at 10:00 p.m., Rodriguez was guided to the stage for a 90-minute solo set. The crowd was adoring and the performer … well, he did his best. He doesn’t do a tight show: his vaguely philosophical/ political commentary rambled, and he repeated his best one-liners more than once. His musicianship has been hampered by time and personal health history: while his guitar-playing was essentially strong, his voice was not. By musical standards it was not a compelling evening of rock music. (His albums are a bit of an acquired taste in 2012, too, with the production a bit dated and dusty and the songs hewing a little too closely to Bob Dylan’s meandering style for my taste.)

And yet I heard someone standing behind me telling his companion, “This is the best concert I’ve ever been to … except maybe Sting.”

The experience overruled the music. The thousand of us were there to pay tribute to a man who’s been through a great deal and whose rock-and-roll Cinderella story resonates with many of us of a certain age and artistic sensibility. His current fame taps into our deep well of desire to be discovered. It gives us a subliminal sense of hope that fate might someday smile on us, making us the stars we know we could be if given the chance.

Next up for Rodriguez? Perhaps a trip to the Academy Awards. Only in America.

See you on the flip side …

 

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