For Nick Cave, sick bags chart a rock star's odyssey
Airplane sick bags may be the ultimate symbol of travel discomfort, with a journey interrupted by an outpouring that is both sudden and disgusting. For Nick Cave, the image seems intended.
The Australian rock icon has authored a quasi-memoir in the form of a collection of sick bags, on which he jotted down ideas as he flew across North America on a 2014 tour.
In a storyline with hints of Homer's Odyssey, the 57-year-old rocker on "The Sick Bag Song" seeks his way home and reminisces about his past as he, symbolically, vomits out his inner thoughts.
In entries that drift between poetry and journal entries, Cave describes the haze of his life as a performer. He writes of walking on stage at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee to "become an object of great fascination to almost no one" and, after the show, "I will sit outside on the steps of our trailer and smoke."
The book reproduces images of the sick bags on which Cave scribbled his observations, which range from seeing rock legend Lou Reed's face appearing on the napkin of a New York bar to, simply, "Masturbated at the W Hotel, Austin."
The outlook -- bleak, but with strong religious undertones and sexual fixations -- is no surprise considering the music of Cave, one of the darker figures to emerge from the 1970s punk scene and whose most famous song, "The Mercy Seat," he narrates from the perspective of a man facing execution.
Cave, who earlier published two novels, suggested that "The Sick Bag Song" was the closest he would come to a memoir, other than a film on his life released last year, "20,000 Days on Earth."
"It's kind of, for me, a work of fiction about an aging rock star who looks a lot like me," Cave said Wednesday evening as he launched the book at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles.
A taciturn man with an at times ghostly gaze, Cave declined to offer opinions to questions from fans on everything from his literary influences to his views on music streaming.
Cave, who will conduct similar readings in New York and London, said that the book was an attempt at self-expression, as so often his mind goes into a blur as he travels.
"Performing is something that is ecstatic on one hand and unbelievably forgettable as well," he said.
- Experimental approach -
In an unusual move, "The Sick Bag Song" is being sold exclusively through a specially designed website and not in bookstores or through online retailers such as Amazon.
"The Sick Bag Song" also has 10 limited editions for each of the 22 cities in the book. The £750 ($1,100) versions will be personally customized by Cave with unique additions along with two vinyl records in which he reads the book.
Jamie Byng, chief executive officer of Cave's Edinburgh-based publisher Canongate, said that "The Sick Bag Song" offered an opportunity to experiment on how to produce and sell a book.
With Cave commanding a strong fan base, Canongate hoped to avoid the discounts that publishers generally must pass on bookstores.
"We felt confident that this was the right project to do something really innovative with in how it reaches the readers," Byng told AFP.
The move also allowed Canongate to focus on the quality of the book, which has 44 color pages of sick bags and comes in its own case, he said.
Byng said Canongate, whose authors include Monty Python comedian Terry Gilliam and Russian feminist punk activists Pussy Riot, would not rule out similar sales techniques in the future.
But he said the publisher planned generally to work with bookstores and will later sell through traditional vendors a simpler paperback of "The Sick Bag Song."
© 2015 AFP