I take the long way to the Cirkus Arena. Walking from Slussen across Slussenområdet with its bridges rising over locks between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, and further towards the Stockholm Cathedral, Riddarholm Church and Baroque orange and yellow facades greeting me as I descend into Gamla Stan, stepping cobblestone to cobblestone in black patent leather shoes, past ornate fountains and statues with wrestling knights and dragons, between brightly colored walls, squares full of tables and chairs with tall glasses of beer amidst talk and laughter, until striding out in the plaza round the Royal Palace, I curve the harbor where boats full of Stockholmers and tourists begin their journey out into the archipelago; I pace the edge of Kungsträdgården Park, crossing to another harbor and Berzelii Park and then promenade down the posh Strandvägen Boulevard with thousands of sun-worshippers parading between rows of trees, lampposts and benches and boats docked, some turning into bars and restaurants where nightlife has already gathered faces tilting toward the still brilliant sun and again and again glasses raised to Dionysus. Up ahead, my steps measure the bridge to Djurgården and more tree-lined avenues, extensive lawns, crowds conversing the island up and down, until I make a left then right, up a hill and then the Cirkus Arena appears, only a few steps away from the amusement park at Gröna Lund and as always the sea nearby. This walk as important as seeing the man himself.
I’m over an hour early, of course, given my habit of arriving at an event long before I really need to, which says something about my anxieties and fears, and means I have time to sit and reflect. Might as well have a Laphroaig at the Cirkus Bar and consider what this night’s about.
For the past few days I’ve been listening to favorite songs across the history of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, as well as watching videos of particular concerts. “Saint Huck” on From Her to Eternity, “Tupelo” from The First Born Is Dead, “Muddy Water” leading off Kicking Against The Pricks, the haunting and surreal story of “The Carny” spoken and sung on Your Funeral . . . My Trial, “Deanna” and all its horrible glee in love and murder on Tender Prey, “Sorrow’s Child” from The Good Son, the martyr dream of “Christina the Astonishing” turning Henry’s Dream into a fevered hallucination, of course “Loverman” howling through Let Love In, the body-drenched and joyous killing spree in “The Curse of Millhaven” splattering blood across the very blood-drenched Murder Ballads, followed by the more intimate and soul-forming “Into My Arms” gracing The Boatman’s Call, “Love Letter” in all is direct and heartbreaking perfection from No More Shall We Part, “Wonderful Life” darkening Nocturama, more stories with “Fable of the Brown Ape” and “The Lyre of Orpheus” doubling Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, the Odyssean dreamscape of “Night of the Lotus Eaters” on Dig, Lazarus, Dig, “Jubilee Street” fronting Push the Sky Away, and the devastating “Distant Sky” staining with tears The Skeleton Tree.
So, casting my mind through word and music, sipping a Laphroaig, dressed in black, noting fellow Cave fanatics arrive, often in black as well, while I read this postcard from Nick to us. The relationship between Cave and his audience, his fellow travelers on his journey and ours, demands all attention and fervor; all given in the auditorium or hall, nothing left but an exhausted, joyous contemplation onto sleep. Cave knows this. Cherishes this. And possibly needs to share his own losses and tragedies as we have need him to sing to us through our own catastrophes. During his career, Cave has taken moments to appear solo with voice and piano to sing and talk through his creations. But this is something different. He’s taken off part of the mask of the performer, mask of preacher and prophet, and allow more of the everyday person to talk the practical everyday ways of life . . . always, of course, lived next door to the Muse month after month, year after year, and entered as one enters an office for a nine to five job–this is how Cave frames his creativity, work of imagination.
Time to take my seat. Slowly the audience fills the hall. On my iPhone I read selections from The Red Hand Files. Cave answers questions concerning beauty in the world, smoking cigarettes, inner voices, and Elvis. In particular, his posts on God and sexual desire cast me back through his work, especially a ballad with The Dirty Three (featuring Warren Ellis) named “Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum” a hidden track on Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired by the X-Files, and the beautiful and haunting “I Let Love In” from Let Love In. First, Jesus not returning.
In Jospeh Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the chapter entitld “Refusal of the Call” features these words, “Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem: Dread the passage of Jesus, for he does not return.” The citation for this sentence states,
“Spiritual books occasionally quote [this] Latin saying which has terrified more than one soul” (Ernest Dimnet, The Art of Thinking, New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1929, pp. 203-204.
Before this terrifying statement of refusing the call of god, Campbell offers quotes from Proverbs 1:24-27.
Because I have called and ye refused . . . I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you.
In Cave’s story, travelers after the truth venture into a forest and torture demons in order to find and reveal eternal secrets. When they return to the world however, they forget taking up the call to this grail. They buy a house and car. They settle. Meanwhile, the universe has started to run down. The demon’s words have been revealed as mockery. Ah, you seemingly so-so serious pilgrims of the divine, the sacred appears before you and you let it pass by. The call to a higher view, a call to leave the cave becomes ignored, left unchosen and unfulfilled. The promise unfulfilled. Now, consider another version. Love knocks on your door.
So if you’re sitting all alone
And hear a knocking at you door
And the air is full of promises
Well buddy, you’ve been warned
Far worse to be love’s lover
Than the lover that love has scorned
A dilemma between the loss of the sacred by answering the call and the loss of the self by answering the call, those knocks on the door by a voice promising a passion that consumes. Joseph Campbell writes of these moments,
One is harassed, both day and night by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilated at last, in God.
Love as the god who possesses you as in Sappho’s fragment in Anne Carson’s translation.
Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me–
sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in
Or as Cave sings,
The door it opened just a crack, but Love was shrewd and bold
My life flashed before my eyes, it was a horror to behold
A life sentence sweeping confetti from the floor of a concrete hole
In the first story, when we hear the call we walk into the forest, a place of challenge and danger, of possible reward but certainly great risk–the forest of transformation accepted or transformation denied. What does happen in the forest of Young Goodman Brown?
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so, if you will. But, alas! A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did he become from the night of that fearful dream.
And love that bounds and gags, terrorizes and castrates, the divine lobotomizing us, are these not the thoughts Shakespeare dwelled on in his sonnets?