All of which is partly an excuse to tell you about my favourite Nick Cave song, since it’s sadly ineligible for Backed with. ‘Gates to the garden’ sees Nick ghosting round the mean streets of my old home town – ‘the bell from St. Edmunds informs me of the hour’ – which would be a surprising place to find the leader of the Bad Seeds but for the fact that his poetically mortal sensibility has him making a beeline from the Angel hotel to the cathedral cemetery. There he muses on the ‘fugitive fathers, sickly infants, decent mothers, runaways and suicidal lovers’ beneath the ground, lying ‘in unlucky rows, up to the gates of the garden’ until it’s time to meet someone who’s very much alive at those gates, which will take the couple through to the Abbey Gardens, leaving the listener behind with barely a glimpse of the paradise beyond, and only the angels and the dead for company.
With its graceful sway of ebony notes and hints of cathedral organ, such a contrast to the carefree abandon of its near relation, the Smiths’ ‘Cemetery gates’, Nick suggests enough to allow the listener, should he or she strain hard enough, to see the garden’s central circle of perfectly-planted flower beds, the skyward pointing fingers of the ruins of the monastery, and the geese and ducks gathering for bread beneath the bridge over the River Lark. They might even see me meeting a girl for the first time there, or cider-drunk miscreants throwing a bench into the fish pond in the dead of night. Closer observation still will yield the bank of shrubs planted by none other than my friend Robert, and as the song fades, muddy under the tape onto which Nick Cave has recorded his song, those with excellent hearing will be able to discern a fleeting glimmer of the young Jack Boulter singing ‘Angel Hill’.
I’m sure customer reviews have been the subject of many a blog commentary since the fateful day when an evil marketing genius at Amazon realised that very few people go out of their way to slag off cultural artefacts they don’t like, but many will find the time to rave about their own taste if only you give them a platform and a little encouragement (the gold star of becoming a top ten or top one hundred or even top thousand reviewer). As a blogger of independent breeding and as someone who always predicts casualties when the guerrilla forces of art enter into skirmishes with the disciplined, state-sponsored army of business (or is it the other way round now?), I find it hard to understand why people put themselves at the service of Amazon rather than set up on their own. Granted, they find a ready-made audience unavailable elsewhere, and certainly their commentary can be as helpful as that of the traditional critical media, once you unpick agendas and prejudices and contrast the whims of their taste with your own. And at least you don’t have to spend any time working out which readership tastes the editor says the reviewer generally should not offend.
For my two pennyworth on the subject I would like to take the existing two customer reviews for the revised edition of Nick Cave’s Complete lyrics as the starting point. One is by Jason Parkes, who – as amazon.co.uk’s number 7 reviewer – haunts my every online purchasing move, and no doubt yours too. He generally dispenses accurate and considered information, despite five stars being his default setting (just like Caroline ‘three stars’ Sullivan in the Guardian) and a tendency to think that everything Julian Cope’s ever done is great. But I still find myself asking why, even as I make my latest Amazon purchase. Why would you subjugate yourself to the rivers of money flowing into Amazon’s coffers? Perhaps his habit formed before blogging properly took off. It can be hard to jump ship and swim for the nearest isolated tropical island paradise, with just macaques and parrots for company. A publishing platform can make copy addicts of us all, after all.
The other review, by ‘A reader’ and is hilariously serious. If it were a blog posting it would merely be serious and to some extent in keeping with both its notional subject (Nick Cave) and its actual subject (the critical interpretation of lyrics when those lyrics have been divested of their accompanying music). But to use a product review as a means of dispensing clunky portions of literary theory and reflections on the nature of a work of art is in my book a bizarre use of one’s time, although I suppose you could argue that it’s a form of critical busking, maybe in the hope that the editor of the Times Educational Supplement or the London Review of Books happens to wander by and sign you up on the spot.
Ah well. It was six years ago that ‘A reader’ posted his or her essay. Web sophistication accelerates exponentially. Besides, ‘how you do it is no business of mine / it just passes time, passes time’, as Gruff Rhys once sang.