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December 11, 2002
Wangaratta, where there is no statue of Nick Cave
But I couldn't remember which country town that was. It was either Warracknabeal or Wangaratta, and as I happened to be in Wangaratta, I thought I'd make some enquiries. I asked at the library, at the tourist information bureau, at several shops. Eventually I resorted to accosting random strangers on the street. I asked the same question over and over: "is there a statue of Nick Cave here?"
Everyone in Wangaratta gave me exactly the same answer: "who's Nick Cave?"
To be honest, this wasn't the answer I was expecting. And it's certainly not the answer I got when I was in Berlin. A few years ago, while walking around that astonishing city, I stumbled across an artists' warehouse, which was filled to the rafters with works for sale. The artists themselves were on the premises, at work and ignoring the customers. It made for a great atmosphere: you could walk around for hours totally undisturbed by insistent sales people. The single most striking thing in this densely packed room was an enormous painting of Nick Cave. It was in the most visible place in the room, and nothing else there was as good. And it wasn't for sale: the artists were keeping it for themselves.
It's an image that's haunted me ever since. My first reaction was: "this guy's from Wangaratta, or maybe from Warracknabeal. And now he's an icon in Berlin." And I stood and looked at it some more, and thought about how far Nick Cave had come, and in every sense.
Last year he released his tenth solo album. The last song on it is "Darker With The Day." It's one of the greatest songs ever written. Not long after I first heard it I went back and listened to everything else he'd ever done. I wanted to know how he'd got to that song, what direction he'd arrived from, and what price he'd paid to get there. It starts with these lines:
As so with that, I thought I'd take a final walk
The music which accompanies these words is magnificently appropriate. It's a soft, slow ballad, played on a tinkering piano, and shot through with echoes and shadows and ghosts. It's the kind of song that captures a point of view, a lifetime, a world.
The man who wrote it grew up in Wangaratta, and they've completely forgotten him.
So here's a suggestion for Wangaratta: commission a statue of your own. Get a local artist to do it, and put the result where people will see it. At the bottom put a plaque, and write something like this on it:
Nick Cave, born 1957. Lived in Wangaratta as a boy. Wrote "Where The Wild Roses Grow," "The Ship Song," and many other brilliant songs, but not here.
And then watch as a trickle of people start coming. Tourists, of a kind, in search of something. Once they start coming, they'll keep coming. Long after we're all dead, they'll still keep coming.
Many will be from cold European countries, wearing black, squinting and blinking in the light, staring in disbelief at the barren landscape, stunned by the heat. When they arrive, they'll be shocked. They'll look around and recognise nothing, for nothing of this town is in the songs. And they'll ask themselves: how could the man who wrote them have started here?
And then another kind of understanding will arrive, and they'll smile. In a perverse kind of way, they'll be glad they came. And then, in homage to their idol, they'll do what he did. They'll leave Wangaratta. And almost certainly, they'll never return.
These streets are frozen now. I come and goPosted by Sean Hegarty at 02:23 AM in the Musical category | Comments (5)
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