Nick Cave’s Best Story

No doubt about it, Nick Cave has lead an incredible life.

He’s been around the world a million times and met more amazing people than a kid from Wangaratta could possibly expect. That time he met Bob Dylan at Glastonbury, for example, is worthy of a biopic, as is his first encounter with the legendary Johnny Cash.  But this week on The Red Hand Files, Nick Cave shared what might be the most amazing story I’ve ever heard. I won’t spoil it, but here’s his answer to the questions ‘have you met a hero that didn’t disappoint?’ and ‘what do you think of Nick Drake?’ This is so good:

Whenever I have heard Nick Drake’s music over the years I have enjoyed it, but that’s not the reason for replying to your letter, Raghav. I want to tell you a story, a sort of Nick Drake story, and try to answer your question, Pamela, in the process.

Sometime in the early eighties, on London’s Portobello Road, I was approached by a man who wanted to take my photograph. He said that I looked ‘interesting’. He gave me his address and told me to come to his flat the next day. This is before I had developed an acute dislike of having my photograph taken, and when I was dumb enough to think that going to a stranger’s flat to have my photo taken might be a good idea. Anyway, the next day I went to his place, somewhere in Ladbroke Grove.

Inside the flat, the photographer told me he had to set up his camera and asked me to sit and wait on a little sofa in the middle of his rather dark living room. I remember that there was an unsettling atmosphere in the room, heavy and strange, but I sat down anyway.

After a while, I felt a presence behind me, as someone entered the room, walked slowly around the sofa, and then very carefully sat down beside me. It took me a moment to realise that this person, this woman, was the singer, Nico. Now, Pamela, at that time in my young life, Nico, who had sung with The Velvet Underground and made some classic solo albums herself, was, by any measure, a hero, and she was there beside me, sitting very still, and wearing green rubber, knee-high wellingtons. She didn’t speak for a long time. Then she turned slowly toward me, and said, very deliberately, in her thick German accent –

‘I knew a boy who was just like you.’

I said, ‘Oh yeah?’

She said, ‘He was a singer and his name was Nick.’

And I said, ‘Well, that’s strange, because I am a singer and my name is Nick.’

And she said, very slowly, ‘I know.’

Then she said nothing for a while and my mind rushed all over the place, and I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, I’m sitting next to Nico. Fuck, I’m sitting next to Nico.’

Eventually she said, ‘He died.’

And I said, ‘Oh, you mean Nick Drake?’

And she said, ‘Killed by his own hand.’

And I said, ‘Well, that’s where we diverge.’

She turned to me and after the longest time said, ‘Really? That’s what you think.’

Then she stood up and in slow motion walked out of the room.

And I’m thinking, ‘What the fuck.’

Anyway, the photographer’s way of taking pictures was to have you look in a mirror, in this case, his bathroom mirror, and he would photograph your reflection. As I was arranging my face, there in the mirror, from the end of the hall behind me, Nico appeared, like an apparition, standing very still and looking into the mirror. The photographer took the photo and I said, ‘I want that one.’

Sadly, I can’t remember what happened to the photos. I’m not sure I ever saw them. But, sitting here now and remembering, I sure would love that photograph.

So, that was the day that Nico, who famously sang ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’, became ‘my mirror’, the day she wore green rubber wellington boots and moved very slowly, the day she prophesied wrongly my self-destruction, and the day she did in no way disappoint. I send the fullest version of my love to her, wherever she may be, and Nick Drake too, all of it.

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