Nick Cave These wise words of wisdom can be helpful when considering getting a tattoo.
The host hosts the songwriter The Red Hand FilesHe engages with his fans through a slow-mo, ask me anything approach. During a recent Q&A at the Southbank Centre, Nick Cave revealed that he reads every letter sent to him, no matter how prosaic or bizarre.
The latest epistle unites two queries on getting a tattoo, and finds a pair of fans enquiring as to the current status of Nick Cave’s own piece of body art – A menacing skull-and-dagger tattoo. The fan writes: “I wondered are you still after all these years, comfortable with this tattoo? Should I get a new tattoo?”
As it happens, the story of the tattoo’s origin is illuminating – and more than a little emotional, involving The Birthday Party bassist Tracy Pew The musician Anita LaneNick Cave was romantically involved with a woman named Alicia.
The story opens in a flea-bit bar in Sydney’s red-light district. “I handed Tracy a beer mat and asked him to draw a skull and crossbones with a knife stuck in it, and a banner that said ANITA, who was my girlfriend at the time. We met up and I showed Tracy the drawing. He was in the process of tattooing a large black swastika on the chest of some crazy fucker, but looked at the beer mat and said, “That drawing is bloody awful, mate, you’ll live to regret it.” I pointed to the guy in the chair and said, “What, and he won’t?”
“The tattooist said, “Fair enough’” and an hour later I walked out of the tattoo parlour with a skull and crossbones with my girlfriend’s name on it on my arm. Tracy, for reasons I will never understand, got an enormous sailing ship on his arm.”
As it progresses, the story becomes more poignant. Tracy Pew – a comrade-at-arms in The Birthday Party – passed away in 1986; Anita Lane died last year, A beautiful tribute from Nick.
“Now, nearly fifty years later, as I stand before the mirror, I would say, Luca, that the tattoo is the least of my worries. It appears to be only one aspect of a larger emerging disaster. Having said that, I feel a sweet and teary pang as I look at the tattoo — I see that the name Anita has blurred and become unreadable, and the skull, sagging and old now, looks deranged and contemptuous.”
“Still, I’m happy to carry this remnant of my youth with me, not just as a reminder of two of the most beautiful people who walked the earth — Anita Lane, who passed away recently, and Tracy Pew, who died not too many years after that carefree day in Sydney — but also that there was a time when I was both heroic and dumb enough to get a tattoo of a badly drawn skull with my girlfriend’s name on it. I guess I am wiser now, but that folly of youth will always go with me, and when I am finally in the ground, the grinning skull will continue to mock and jeer at all the lofty pretensions and vanities and cautions of these, my latter years.”
In true Nick Cave style he concludes: “So, should you get a tattoo, Chris? As a sage man of a mature age I would advise against it, which is why I think you should probably get one.”
Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan’s book Faith, Hope & Carnage is out now.