It was over!
This time it was beyond doubt...we were finished.
As I stood there in her room all I could feel was an aching hollow sense of dread, knowing I'd have to face the rest of my life without her. I should have seen it coming. Just like Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, there had been a very obvious warning sign just a few weeks before. A shot across the boughs that I'd somehow ignored, somehow failed to even acknowledge.And now, here in the inky blackness of her room as she lay crying on her bed, I had a decision to make quickly. She'd asked me to stay this last night, but I knew I'd only be stretching the agony out beyond human endurance....so I decided to go, to walk away for the last time. A few weeks before, I had loaned her Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds 'Tender Prey' album which she still had in her room. I knew that this was something I was going to need to help me through the next few hours. Somehow, in the darkness, thanks to some sixth sense I managed to find the black sleeve of the album. I tucked it under my arm and left her house, out into the night to try and find a late taxi(it was already passed 2:00a.m).
The taxi ride was unbearable! The driver was far too jolly and chatty and all I wanted was to dissolve into the seat. As I got home my huge masculine cat(tragically named Fluffy) came bounding up to meet me as he always did.
I sat on my bed and switched on the Dansette, taking the album from it's sleeve and putting on my headphones, I knew there was only one track in the history of music that could in any way reach me right now, that could cut through the fear and longing and put my despair into any kind of context. Sometimes, when gazing into the abyss of heartbreak, of life without HER, there's no point in reaching for the drink, the drugs or the razorblades. Sometimes you just need the balm that only music, the right song at the right time, can bring......
'Tender Prey' Side 2 Track 2......'Slowly Goes The Night'. The stylus clicked into the groove.......
Brushes...chikka chikka....a single piano chord falls like the first tear....and then Nick's deep sonorous voice cuts through the darkness with a spoken intro:
"Darlin', that mornin' you chose to go// I awoke in my boots and clothes// You'd taken my car, stolen my cash// Even my 500 dollar suit was slashed// And I just lay there watching the sun fall down from the sky// Not wanting to open the letter, but opening it anyway and seeing those two words//...Lover, Goodbye!"
Oof!! It was like a gut-punch....just those two words. They were the catalyst....at last the tears and the grief could begin properly.
'Tender Prey' was an important album for Nick Cave, it was the first where he buried his post-punk reputation and emerged as a truly important contemporary songwriter. I'd followed his career through The Birthday Party into The Bad Seeds and every album seemed to improve upon the previous. But 'Tender Prey' was different, and 'Slowly Goes The Night' was his first foray into some kind of Sinatra-like balladeering. I knew from the very first time I heard it that here was a song that one day I would NEED....and now that moment had arrived.
"Next to me lies your body plan// Like a map of some forbidden land// I trace the ghosts of your bones with my trembling hand"...to hear someone who had been often criticised for a misogynistic bent to his lyrics suddenly sound so vulnerable and wounded at the hands of a girl was breathtaking, but now here put into some real-life context it was more important than mere breathing.
The 'ba-ba-ba' backing vocals that run through the song play like little reminders of happier times, compounding the heartbreak more unwaveringly.
"Dark is my night//And darker is my day....yeah// I must have been blind// Out of my mind// I never never saw the warning signs"....I doubt that I have ever been at one with a song in my whole life before or since.
At about three quarters through the song comes the killer line, waiting like an assassin in the corner of the room...."Oh baby I feel the heal of time...(pause)...and it hurts!" Each syllable of that line hit like a bullet.... a line that elevates Cave way beyond the lesser songwriters of this or any day. The healing process hurts! The healing process.....hurts!!
"I reach out and embrace// An empty space// A song that slowly slowly fades// Where goes it? It goes someplace// It goes someplace where it's lonely//.....and black as the night" Every line of this song was now feeding me like a mellifluous intravenous drip, slowly piecing fragments of sanity back in place, keeping me together, "Call it sleep, call it death// Call it what you like// But only sleep, only sleep brings you back to life"....and there we have the reality...only in sleep would I ever be with her again. Ever! Almost cruelly Nick offers a slight chink of light, of some kind of hope as he bids us farewell, "Well I'm goin'// Yeah but slowly slowly goin'// And we both know that it's gonna be alright".....Really? Are you sure it's going to be alright Nick? "But it ain't you that has to cry cry cry// Ten lonely days, ten lonely nights// Since you left my side, side......side" The last utterance of the word 'side' so low and guttural that you know it's not going to be alright after all. I'd like to think that Nick only took one take to record his vocals here, so full of despair and hurt that you get the feeling he's not acting, that this vocal performance is real.
And with that, the song ends.....
I took off the headphones, switched of the Dansette and fell into a sludgy and dreamless sleep.
When I awoke I felt like Faust, so drained of anything resembling a soul, a hollowness gnawing deep in my stomach. I took the 12" sliver of black vinyl from the turntable, slipped it into the inner bag and placed it inside the sleeve. I then put the album away and never returned to it for a long time. Indeed it was well over five years before I could ever bring myself to play 'Slowly Goes The Night' again. Nowadays I can listen to it for pleasure but somewhere a little piece of me dies with every play.
And YOU think YOUR records mean something to YOU??
As I've said in previous Journals, there are songs I like, songs I love, songs I couldn't face life without, and then there are about 20 or so songs that transcend all these platitudes and simply become ME, of which this is one. When they cut me open on the autopsy slab, these songs will fill the mortuary!
If music be the food of love......play on!If music be the cardiopulmonary resuscitation exercises that keep me together when the darkest night of the soul comes calling....give me excess of it!!