Recent posts here at apoplectic.me have evinced my current obsession – mythical sea creatures from the Loch Ness Monster to mermaids to sirens. If one was of an apoplectic bent, one might even see evidence of perseveration.
[It’s even extended into the Apoplexy Tiny Letter distribution – here.]
What mythical creatures are attempts to explain what we don’t understand. I’ve read that mermaids were once an attempt to explain manatees. Or, to “convey the emergent understanding of the ancients that human beings were both one with and different from animals.” As well as having associations with ancient human and horse sacrifices, kelpies warned children of the dangers of the water, and cautioned “adolescent women to be wary of attractive young strangers“.
Selkies, which Friendoftheblogron mentioned in last week’s comments, are explained as having a number of possible origins, ranging from birth abnormalities to encounters with Inuit people to black-haired shipwrecked Spaniards washed ashore. The rather awesome branding and marketing of a new American black spiced rum has had me thinking about kraken. They’re variously associated with giant squid, octopuses (or octopodes), and crabs. The word is kraken “is the definite form of krake, a word designating an unhealthy animal or something twisted.”
Then last week, I stumbled into writing about 20,000 Days on Earth, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s documentary-musical-drama-biopic about Nick Cave. Of course, I hadn’t seen it at that point. But in the wake of writing about the movie, and further to my long-running interest in Cave, I sat down to watch it.
Befitting a film that needs three hyphens for its genre – I was always kind of an ostentatious bastard, Cave admits – 20,000 Days on Earth is pretty self-indulgent. But this is roughly post #180 of a personal blog, so I’ll let that go.
The introductory scene features Nick talking about how he ceased to be a human being some time in the late twentieth century. This is no doubt an acknowledgement that he is perceived as the character “Nick Cave”, but he tells us more. That he is like a cartoon cannibal, always looking for something for the pot. And and his wife is usually the one getting cooked.
Because there is an understanding whereby every secret, sacred moment is cannibalised and spat our as a song – inflated and distorted and monstrous.
What a strange position to be in. To be at once a muse and kind of repository for the creative imagination, while at the same time a life partner in what should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Interestingly, Susie Bick is hardly seen in the movie, only asleep under a sheet and then later in a large blurred photograph in the background. Maybe this ability to step away and, for example, concentrate on her new womenswear line, is part of the understanding. I hope so. I can’t imagine being a muse to the artistically-inclined is all poems and roses. There’s gotta be a bunch of death and nightingales, too.
I was going to use “symbiotic” instead of “mutually beneficial” above, then I read this:
In biology, symbiotic refers to any diverse organisms that live together, but in this case, the relationship is not necessarily beneficial to both. Parasites, for example, have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts, but only the parasite benefits.
The movie ends with a performance of Jubilee Street, which Beth and I recently saw live at the Edinburgh Playhouse. In a series of quick cuts, Forsyth and Pollard inter-splice glimpses of Cave performing throughout his career, right back to the young hellion performing with The Birthday Party.
It’s enthralling, and my scalp tightens. In the reflection of the monitor, I see the ridiculous quiffy fringe that I can feel lifting almost imperceptibly.
Then the music eases, the gig is over, and we follow Cave out of the theatre. He’s spoken earlier about how his songs are most interesting to him when they have been written but haven’t fully revealed themselves to him. And guess what he’s talking about now…?
In the end, I am not interested in that which I fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words. Truths that rise up without warning like the humps of a seamonster and then disappear. What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us.
This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect. This is where all love and tears and joy exist.