BOOK REVIEW: Nick Cave: ‘Mercy on Me’ by Reinhard Kleist

BOOK REVIEW: Nick Cave: 'Mercy on Me' by Reinhard Kleist

In June 2018, courtesy of SelfMadeHero, XS Noize guided readers through the less ordinary life of Johnny Cash as told by Reinhard Kleist in his unique graphic novel: I See a Darkness. XS Noize has once again teamed up with SelfMadeHero to bring you Kleist’s latest graphic novel about the even less ordinary Nick Cave in Mercy on Me. Kleist, across five chapters, without censorship, tells the story of Nick Cave, beginning with Cave as “a show-off and an arsehole” teenager at school in Warracknabeal, Australia to date. Cave himself endorses this graphic novel, describing Mercy on Me as “a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer (despite “biographical half-truths and complete fabrications”) to the truth than any biography that’s for sure!” With the thirtieth anniversary of Nick Cave’s Tender Prey album (which includes the classic The Mercy Seat covered by Johnny Cash); there is no better time to examine, analyse and celebrate the career of Nick Cave.

As with I See a Darkness, Kleist introduces the graphic novel referencing a well-known song by the artist with deft illustrations, the song of choice is The Hammer Song from Nick Cave’s sixth album, The Good Son. The reader is then acquainted with an adolescent Nick whose antics include, but not limited to, narrowly escaping death by almost colliding with an oncoming train. Kleist reveals that there is much more to this highly intelligent young man (who doesn’t stick to the rules) than reckless endeavours. Kleist tells us how Nick met Mick Harvey (who would at some point be in all the musical projects Nick would undertake) and his former girlfriend Anita.

If you don’t play an instrument then what is then your role in the band? Frontman. This was the rationale for Nick being elected frontman in his first musical outfit, Boys Next Door. At this time Johnny Rotten spoke to Nick like “a prophet” and Nick didn’t see home as a dwelling; but “the stage”. But even home has its problems, his girlfriend Anita didn’t like songs the band played such as Masturbation Generation and gigs were few and often hijacked by Nazi-punks which were usually raided by police. Furthermore, Nick himself seldom saw the wisdom in the advice of the musical direction the band should take, refusing to be “smoother” like Roxy Music as Boys Next Door did not want to sound like “another pop band”. Instead, Nick sought to become an “enigma” and “being different/shocking people”.

Kleist then takes us forward to the UK, the band, now called The Birthday Party, describing themselves as something “better” than New wave eventually get the breakthrough they were looking for; earning a reputation for doing things differently to other bands, “like a loaded weapon, aimed at the audience”. Despite this newfound acclaim, with Nick proving that he is “more than Ramones and The Who covers”; the opening chapter ends with an unsatisfied and unfulfilled Nick. In chapter two we see Nick sink further into unhappiness. Rifts emerge within the band and Nick is now in Berlin “like a captain who doesn’t know which direction to steer the ship”. Kleist impresses with mesmerising and innovative illustrations with Nick and his bandmates out at sea. He also perfectly depicts Nick, now a drug addict, emaciated, suffering from insomnia and obsessed with completing his “monumental” novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel.

The band splits. Nicks relationship with Anita (who was still living in Australia) ends. Nick, hanging out in East Berlin (when the wall still erect, separating the east and the west) with the “freaks and eccentrics” because there was “no military service like in the west”, motivates himself to write as he needs more than the “grim reality” he sees as life. The process of completing the novel would take longer than it should because Nick often lost manuscripts in bars. Kleist impeccably tells And the Ass Saw the Angel’s narrative, focusing on the main character Euchrid (a hunchback mute who is persecuted and eventually killed by the mob).

The story continues with Nick now in London and as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Kleist depicts some hilarious scenes when Nick is out shopping in Camden with Mick, Nick (much to Mick’s distress) slips into the role of a kleptomaniac. Nick continues to test himself by going against the advice of his nurse from rehab to go back on tour to see “if he could pull an audience into his world”. It pays off and Kleist pays tribute to Cave’s career highlights including the Tender Prey LP, the chart-topping duet with Kylie Minogue, Where The Wild Roses Grow, the making of Murder Ballads with PJ Harvey and The Boatman’s Call LP. Kleist is conscious to show Nick, even as he achieves more success and acclaim as an artist wanting to portray an authentic and genuine image of himself; as opposed to a commercially friendly image. In one scene, when Nick is recording The Mercy Seat, Nick stresses that it is sacrosanct that the song is heard as “a call for help! Not a child’s prayer!!!!”

Despite achieving everything and more that Nick hoped he would achieve as an adolescent as well as getting married and having an “orderly family life”, he is convinced that he will have to “pay a heavy price” for his success. The final chapter explores Nicks search for Higgs Boson, the “so-called god particle” that can bring about an apocalypse. The chapter uses Higgs Boson Blues, a leading song from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 2013 album, Push the Sky Away as a template to continue the story of a now older Nick.

Nicks philosophy is discussed and Kleist takes us with him as backseat passengers on Cave’s road trip to Geneva where Nick talks to the characters in his novel and songs. Nick feels trapped within his songs, he is just another character, no longer possessing the power of a creator who made them. Nick sees visions of Robert Johnson, who he addresses as Maestro, they discuss the idea that music continues to live beyond one’s lifetime. Robert Johnson pleads with Cave to give his story a “nice ending, not a crazy one…” There is more to Nicks career than Kleist discusses such as his Grinderman side project, other novels and film roles, but this certainly does not stop one from getting to know the unique, mysterious and mesmerising character who is Nick Cave. The aim of this graphic novel was not to list everything Nick has done to date, Kleist did not do this in I see a Darkness and the finished product was an outstanding masterpiece essential for Johnny Cash fans, regardless of their affiliation with graphic novels or not. Kleist, having his skills as an illustrator and storyteller tested to the brink, as both Johnny Cash and Nick Cave had been, comes out victorious; the result is another outstanding masterpiece, putting musicians and music-related themes into the realm of the graphic novel genre where these themes are significantly underrepresented.

To enjoy and own your own personal copy of Nick Cave: Mercy on Me please visit: https://www.selfmadehero.com/books/nick-cave-mercy-on-me

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