My book is a memoir that takes a juvenile look at clinical depression using fart jokes
and literary references; essentially, I can't keep a straight face even when I'm thinking about killing myself. The project has the working title "A Bunch of Stupid Shit That Saved My Life." Its chapter titles are a list of things your doctor probably wouldn't prescribe for depression, such as Being in a Shitty Band, Wanting to Be More Like A Fennel Plant, and Talking to Myself. They are all somewhat misleading excuses for me to tell some other tangentially related story, especially this one.
I listened to Nick Cave's Record "Let Love In" record over and over again when I was very ill, and I liked it. Actually I loved it, even though I hated everything. Why this record? Why a record at all? Even way back in 2003 no one listened to records. And gee Hiya, couldn't you have chosen something a tiny bit more cheerful to listen to since you're all depressed and shit? Let Love In is not Mr. Cave's best or coolest album, and I don't have much memory of the act of hearing it. I can't even tell you what songs are on it, not off the top of my head. I remember the cover, though; it's scary, and features the emaciated torso of the artist surrounded by smeary red (blood?) I remember flipping the glossy black disc, and placing the needle on it, again and again, when I was pretty sure no one else was in the warehouse. Don't get the wrong idea though: The scene was not Goth-romantic, and I did not look cool; I had on a parka and sweatpants, my hair was greasy, and my face looked like a puff pastry because I had to be crying most of the time in those days.
Nick Cave's voice, in case you haven't heard it, and in spite of the fact I'm vaguely embarrassed to even try to describe it, resonates like a pipe organ thrown to the bottom of a well. It's the growl of a terrible animal who secretly reads French poetry. It's furious and threatening, but very much in love with its own skinny silver vein of unkillable tenderness, and I don't know why I need that but I do. I need it in the exact same way in which I don't need something a tiny bit more cheerful to listen to.
All of which must be why, years later but still intensely depressed, I agreed to interview Nick Cave in person. Working at a weekly newspaper, I often had access to famous people as well as talented ones; interview opportunities came my way regularly. "Call up James Franco," whined my editors. "He's a total attention whore, it'll be easy!" But I wasn't paid to do interviews -- they would essentially be volunteer work, and a lot of it. The results would be extremely public, would not be controlled by me, yet would bear my name, linked forever to the name of someone I hopefully admired. So mostly, I was content to let other people get the "privilege" and "prestige" of dealing with famous people.
To tell the truth, I hate fame. I hate what it does to art, I hate its form of money-laundering, I hate what it does to ordinary citizens. The effect of promotional efforts on journalism makes me sad and worried, and I especially hate what fame does to the famous. So normally, I don't want any fame near me. I've worked very hard to make sure that I have talent, intellect, glamour, and surprises in my life -- but not fame. This way, I get all the perks and none of the bullshit.
However: When our music editor sent around a message reading "Does anyone want to interview Nick Cave? He'll be here in San Francisco doing in-persons," it took me exactly five seconds to respond in the freaking-out affirmative. For the first second, I was elated. During the second second, my fame-hate kicked in. My horrible, evil depressed brain took the third second, with "You're too stupid to interview anyone, let alone Nick Cave. You are unprofessional and cray cray, and will only embarrass yourself." Seconds four and five were entirely composed of "I will never ever forgive myself if I don't do this. Never."
Interviewing Nick Cave was as suspected hard work. I was not well in the head, and in addition, had zero experience interviewing serious and accomplished musicians of international renown. Usually I just hung out in bars with my beloved locals, who fawned all over me even though I always yelled at them that they didn't have to. "I write about you because you're good, not because I like you," I'd say, and mean. They were still overly nice to me, even if they were super cool. I was too stupid to interview anyone, let alone Nick Cave. I was unprofessional and cray cray, and I would only embarrass myself. But oh well -- the date was set. So I read everything I could get my hands on, listened to all his records, and got a haircut. I practiced using the recording device.
And because I was not well in the head, I spent a lot of that same chunk of time worrying about Galveston. A very big hurricane was headed for that city, which is built on a three-foot-tall island six inches off the coast of Texas. A lot of the people in Galveston are very poor and sometimes have been told untrue things about the effect of God on the weather, so a lot of them didn't want to evacuate the island the way the government was recommending they do. A lot of them probably also didn't think they'd get their trailers back from the government afterwards, and if they thought that, they'd have some good reasons. Possession is nine-tenths of that particular set of laws; ask New Orleans. So they stayed. The island flooded spectacularly when the hurricane came, power was out for days, and then the weather turned hot. The storm kicked downtown Houston's ass to the tune of an awful lot of broken highrise windows; it left boats tilted on the the highway and animals cooking alive on rooftops. Mobile homes had chest-high rivers of snake-infested yellow mud running through them and people still wouldn't leave. They angrily wanted ice, but they wouldn't leave.
"At 8:19 p.m. (CDT), the National Weather Service in Houston/Galveston, Texas issued a strongly worded bulletin, regarding storm surge along the shoreline of Galveston Bay. The bulletin advised that residents living in single-family homes in some parts of coastal Texas faced "certain death" if they did not heed orders to evacuate. Reports said as many as 40 percent of Galveston's citizens may have not paid attention to the warnings."
"Ike made U.S. landfall at Galveston, Texas, on September 13 at 2:10am CDT, as a high Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph. "
Nick Cave in person was exactly as you would imagine him to be: magnetically terrifying and one hundred percent magnificent. His jewelry was delicate yet masculine and I had never been that close to hand-tailored clothing before; he looked like a manicured beast and viewed me with the unwavering forward focus of a predator. He was gorgeous, patient, honest, funny, looked capable of roaring, and the air flowed around him like a transparent cloak. I'm not kidding; the air flowed around him like a transparent cloak.
What you can't see in the resulting published interview is that the first thing I did is, I told Nick Cave all about Galveston, and God, and the snakes in the mud, and furthermore that I'd been thinking about him and thinking maybe Galveston was a job for a poet, and that's why I was so glad he was here in San Francisco. Some people would have thrown me out right then.
What you also can't see is that Nick Cave and I had some kind of meaningful connection that day. That sounds funny, or like a joke, but it isn't. I still don't get it, I still don't know what he was seeing when he looked at me, or what he thought I was up to. Actually I kind of do -- I have a thing where I'm nice to famous people, because I appreciate the work they've done, but as previously stated have zero respect for their fame, and it makes them love me. It's not sexual! It's just that they're not used to anyone being nice to them without wanting some fame juice.
So Nick Cave appreciated my insane story, or something. Perhaps his heightened senses correctly told him I was really, really not out to get him, or even impress him, yet that I was also not a complete idiot, that I was maybe even six-tenths of a decent human being who genuinely liked art and thinking. Something like that. Because the facts are these: At the afterparty of his show at the Warfield theater the next night, Nick Cave saw me coming and immediately used his whole arm to get Jello Biafra out of his way so he could greet me with a warm hug and kiss. My husband, displeased, continues to this day in a wilful misinterpretation of the whole following conversation about the meaning of local music and the ensuing second hug and kiss goodbye. On the cheek, come on.
And having done it, imperfectly and scared, and wrong, and maybe irresponsibly, the published interview was actually excellent, and people loved it and said nice things, and my horrible evil depressed brain was never able to find a way around the fact that I had done a good job at something difficult. Eventually my regular brain started to develop the idea that although I could easily be classified as disabled, it didn't maybe mean that I couldn't do my job or other things. The idea that just because I can't do everything, doesn't mean I can't do anything. Let this be a lesson to anyone who says "Oh, her? Yeah, she's just, she's just fucking crazy." and then proceeds to not befriend, not hire, not smile at, not look at, not invite, and not respect her. She may be fucking crazy, but she may also be fucking cool. She may be someone who charmed the starch out of a manicured beast.
is a San Francisco based writer. She was born in Moffitt Hospital at the UCSF Medical Center, but grew up in a mobile home on a farm in hippie country, now called wine country. Some people think this makes her a San Francisco native, and some don't.