One look at how fast the tickets for the screening of Nick Cave’s recent movie are selling is enough to say that at least part of Berlin adores this guy. And although the kind of love sadly prevailing in the Bear City is probably the unrequited one, the proof of Cave’s devotion to the Hauptstadt is an indubitable part of its history.
After the screening of last year’s music documentary “B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin 1979 – 1989” at the Mobile Kino over at Grießmühle, people actually started to applaud as the lights went on. It seemed like the film could provide anyone with a reason to shed a tear or two; it caused some to reflect on their youth, and others to wonder how the fuck did techno eventually prevail.
What I found most moving though is a short footage of Nick Cave doing a little room tour, almost as if he anticipated Youtube and its current vlog trends. “This is my bedroom”, he says, sliding off a black thick curtain separating his bed from the rest of the room, which is today a standard design for many a dwelling of a Berlin artist.
Nick, along with his Melbourne pals Rowland S. Howard, Mick Harvey, Tracey Pew and Phil Calvert, relocated to West Berlin in the early 80s after their initial failed attempt at settling down in London to take the British music scene by storm. Their German exile is far less glorified in the popular culture than the joint venture of David and Iggy, but nevertheless (or maybe even more so!) worth mentioning.
“We were received with open arms into this community who reminded us of Melbourne,” Cave says in Autoluminescent, a biographical documentary of guitarist Rowland S. Howard. “It was frenetic and anarchic and really creative. It didn’t have the same prejudices in the superior way that the British had about our band…”
Following the demise of the aforementioned band, The Birthday Party, young Cave was ready to take up new artistic challenges. And the German capital was to supply him with one particular partner in crime. The Australian musician first heard Blixa Bargeld being mentioned on TV while he was still touring with the original Melbourne team. Quoted as describing Bargeld’s scream as “a sound you would expect to hear from strangled cats or dying children”, he went on to work with him for the next 20 years.
Blixa Bargeld, photo: Ilsa Ruppert
Why those two would collaborate becomes pretty clear when you see some footage of Cave’s initial performances. He remains an extremely charismatic artist up to this day, but some wild moves including shrieking, bellowing and throwing himself about the stage were notably characteristic for his early years.
Some of that action we can marvel at while watching the 1987 film by Wim Wenders, “Wings of Desire”, where Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have a cameo appearance. The romantic fantasy with the original title “Himmel über Berlin” (“Sky over Berlin”) is a must-see for any Berlin aficionado, regardless of how little regard for Cave himself they may have. It presents the wistful existence of angels accompanying ordinary people in Berlin divided by the ever present wall.
Last but not least, during his time in Berlin Cave started to work on his debut novel. “And the Ass saw the Angel” is an intricate web of poetry, fantastic fiction and quotations from the Bible, which impresses one as such that could only be woven with the help of certain bedazzling substances Berlin’s nightlife is famous for.
During my handing-out-flyers days last year, I used to think of Nick Cave’s ingenious Berlin adventure with a subtle pang of bitterness. But as time went by, it turned out that I did live in the same enlivening city of eccentric artists and invisible but sympathetic angels that he left all those years ago.