Nick Cave: Mercy on Me (Self Made Hero)
words and pictures by : Reinhard Kleist
St Nick of Warracknabeal
From sleepy country Victoria to the decadent metropolises of London, Berlin, Rio and back again.
This is his story.
Well sort of.
Mercy on Me by German cartoonist biographer Reinhard Kleist delivers a complex and captivating take on the life of the man who in some ways is still the awkward outcast from Warracknabeal.
Cave provides this insight on the back cover blurb describing Mercy on Me as
“A terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure.”
This is not a by the numbers rock and roll retelling of Cave’s life and music. Kleist’s Mercy on Me is something more mercurial and lyrical as is probably befitting its subject matter.
The ephemeral events which Kleist expertly captures in black and white move back and forth across time and space, fantasy and reality.
Each of the books 5 chapters is framed with a dream like sequence exploring the themes and key events of Cave’s life through some of his most well known songs such as the dirge of Tupelo to the Death Row Confessional of Mercy Seat, the Murder Ballad of Where the Wild Roses Grow to the brooding existential angst of Higgs Boson Blues.
The more traditional biographical elements of Mercy on Me focus on what you may consider the first half of Cave’s career starting with the post punk rock rebellion of the Boys Next Door, plotting their escape to the mean streets of London and their eventual metamorphosis into the Birthday Party.
Kleist captures and caricatures the members of the band perfectly. Nick is all big hair, big talk and big attitude. Hard drinking Tracey Pew menaces behind his ever present Ray Bans and Cowboy Hat. Rowland S Howard is a frail contortion of exaggerated alien features while Mick Harvey as the perpetual straight man desperately trying to maintain some level of professionalism and musicianship while the band shambles along ever teetering on the edge of collapse.
From their the story moves on. The Birthday Party is dead, reborn as the Bad Seeds in the squats, lofts and venue of West Berlin. The tales of Cave’s drug fueled decadence and depravity during this period are legendary. Thankfully Kleist manages to walk a fine line between the sensational and the sanitized choosing instead to focus on the ups and downs of Cave’s tumultuous relationship with Anita Lane and his almost fanatical commitment to completing his Southern Gothic Novel, and the Ass Saw the Angel.
This sequence provides some of the best examples of the relationships between Nick and the characters he creates as he is repeatedly confronted by Euchrid, his hunchbacked mutant protagonist.
Euchrid questions his existence and the reasons for his suffering. He calls upon the author to explain but those calls fall largely on deaf ears as do those of the Wild Rose Elisa Day and the anonymous Death Row inmate of the Mercy Seat.
Fans of Cave’s more popular mainstream period through the 90s and into the 21st Century may be disappointed that Mercy on Me at a cracking pace up the present day glossing over some of his most successful albums such as Murder Ballads and the Boatman’s Call. Cave’s relationships with PJ Harvey barely ranks a foot note and there is no insight or comment on his relationship with Susie Bick, Cave’s wife of nearly 20 years.
As the story culminates with a hallucinatory car trip with legendary blues man Robert Johnson through hellish landscapes we are reminded that Mercy on Me is not a definitive document of Cave’s life, nor does it claim to be.
This book mostly closely resembles the 2014 pseudo-documentary 20 000 Days on Earth with people, places and event shuffled up and down and in and out in service of the story and its themes.
Kleist effortlessly blends word and picture to powerful effect evoking the extremes of the mundane and exotic, the divine and devilish with Cave sitting at the heart of all.
You can order order Mercy on Me now direct from Self Made Hero, Amazon or with the help of the fine folks at your Local Comic Shop.