lying-sleeping-gods

I write poems By the dozen To make you love me But you don't care

They are thoughtful Filled with doubting Wherefore, I wonder, Where's your stare?

You will tell me That you love me I can't hear you I'm still here

In the poems They are loveless But one day You'll let me share

When I was young, my Dad used to play Concrete Blonde's wonderful album Bloodletting a lot. I had a few favourite tracks from it but the one that I think got under my skin the most was their cover of Andy Prieboy's “Tomorrow, Wendy”.

It is complete now, two ends of time are neatly tied A one way street, she's walking to the end of the line And there she meets the faces she keeps in her heart and mind And they say: “Good bye” Tomorrow, Wendy, you're going to die Tomorrow, Wendy, you're going to die

I remember saying to an adult at a party that I felt sorry for Wendy – with the song being played all the time, she was forever just a day away from death. I vaguely remember a puzzled response – I might not have done a good job at that age of communicating the strange framing of time I had in mind.

But I think I had a point – while the Wendy this song was based on had already died by the time it was written, in another sense, in this existence, she is trapped in the time of her suffering leading to her death. And so are we.


Underneath the chilly grey November sky We can make believe that Kennedy is still alive And we're shooting for the moon and smiling Jackie is driving by And she says, good try Tomorrow Wendy's going to die Tomorrow Wendy's going to die

Another “odd things kids say” moment I had with the song came a bit later, with my Dad. I asked him if he thought there was a better version than the Bloodletting one “out there”, waiting to be created. He said no, the Bloodletting version was amazing; I agreed, but said something like, I think the song is so good that it feels like someone could perform it even better.

I've since found a quite a few versions of the song I like:

They've all added to my sense of and love for the song, but I'm not sure the perfect version I was imagining as a kid can exist in this world. But something in me will listen to these other versions again and again and again, to hear an echo of what might be.

Or maybe another way of putting it, is that the perfect version of the song is really the one I'm listening to, right here, right now.


In most versions, the tone of the music mostly hovers in a gentle, almost wistful kind of sadness. But at it's core it's song of deep grief, and the anger that comes with that.

I told the priest, don't count on any second coming God got his ass kicked the first time he came down here slumming He had the balls to come, the gall to die and then forgive us No I don't wonder why, I wonder what He thought it would get us Hey, hey, good bye Tomorrow Wendy's going to die Tomorrow Wendy's going to die

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like the definitive songs of the age are songs of lament.

Songs that scream at God, like “Tomorrow, Wendy”, or at yourself, or at the world – although it's not really clear to me if there's much difference between those.

Songs of shame and hurt and rage and despair and even hatred, redeemed only in the vulnerability of endless tears.

Only God says “Jump”, so I set the time Coz if He ever saw it, it was through these eyes of mine And if He ever suffered it was me who did the crying Hey, hey, good bye Tomorrow Wendy's going to die Tomorrow Wendy's going to die

Don't get me wrong, I love joyful songs, too, but they are somehow out of their time; like I'm not really meant to hear them yet but I've been given a sneaky preview over a muffled old cassette player, sitting in a saucepan at a party.


I think Christians sometimes conceive of the world as if it was the era of the New Jersualem, give or take a few incidental details.

Maybe they are just closer to God than me. Because I feel like we're mostly all still exiles. Still in Egypt, still in Babylon; still waiting for deliverance to come. Waiting out an endless Holy Saturday in which it seems like even God Themself might be dead, somehow. Trapped in that vanishing liminal space between the Fall and the Second Coming, and we know essentially nothing about either. To sustain us we have the resurrection, perhaps the smallest miracle that could possibly work; a foreshadowing of the full transformation of everything, that somehow also at once contains the totality of it. Not so much an event in the past to look back on, as an echo from a future that we turn our hope towards. Like Wendy, we are still trapped in the realm of our own impending encounters with a cliff; but we hear whispers of a day that comes after Tomorrow.

And if we're still outside the Kingdom, then where is it? Where should we seek it?

Wherever God is, surely, there is the Kingdom.

The apostles wrote the New Testament like the Kingdom was already well established on Earth... but in some sense that is perhaps also a foreshadowing, a small and hidden thing, a seed planting. The church is not a grown tree! And none knows the hour, not even the Son.


Maybe you have been more blessed by the Spirit than I have so far; maybe in your wanderings through the wilderness, you have stumbled into a more delineated part of the Kingdom. Praise God.

On the other hand, if lament and exile is your lot, just remember this: God is with us nonetheless – despite the paradox, God is also everywhere that's outside the Kingdom, because there is nowhere that God isn't.

I scream Quietly, unobtrusively I scream In some far flung chamber of my mind I scream A futile expression of something or other

But “You are OK” I hear God's voice? Or just mine? “You are OK” Insistently

“I am OK?” It doesn't seem that way It doesn't even really make sense How could I be? Is this just some cheap obsession with the word? Where is the substance of it? And yet Yet I think I believe it Help me overcome my unbelief

The world is beautiful Despite it all Despite everything It is beautiful I hope you might see it

It is much more beautiful Because you choose to be in it It is a hard choice And I thank you for making it

That which hates beauty Which seeks to extinguish it To crush and devour it; That cannot win. Wherever it goes, Beauty follows

The world is beautiful And I wish I could tell you I wish I could show you “There, look”, I would say And you would listen, and look And know what I mean But I can't And you can't It's not there to be seen Not until some light has reached you, somehow The best I can do Is make mirrors In my clumsy way

But then maybe You do see it, after all Just from a different angle Hold on to it! If nothing else, hold on to that

The world is beautiful I do my best to remember it To be destroyed by it

Lord, I need a favour I'll owe you one I mean I don't think that's how prayer works But can we make an exception This one time I really need it

Here's the thing though I'm not quite sure That is to say, I don't know what it is The favour It's a mystery to me I know I need it But I'm not clear on the “it” part

I can sense it, I can feel it But I can't quite comprehend it It eludes me But I know It doesn't elude you

I guess If you grant my plea I'll never know for sure

On second thoughts Maybe this is, after all Exactly how prayer works

The beauty of the smoke Is not the same as the beauty Of that which was burnt

Ugliness lurks In forests and gardens both Dare to dwell In dreams of something else

I offer you this brutality of a world You offer me the beauty of your weeping I linger in it, I dare not cloud it But look only to paint with it

Picture this Beauty haunting the very ugliness Down to the pixel Up to the stars

Don't stop weeping But come, come Come with me And bring a candle

I've learned nothing But I know something new Let me fail to share it

I remember Dimensionality in the leaves I remember Strange exchanges, in cryptic tongues And colours never seen And words that fell like rain

And I still hear echoes of angels in the choir And I still hear the four right chords And I still tremble And I still seek I know not what

All a-tumbling and a-skewing and culminating in... something

An embrace, preloved and prevanished? An invisible whisper? A soul ablaze like fairy lights? A glance, not quite flirtatious and not really noticed? A crack?

I'm altered I remain I ache

I'm just a low grade mystic Kneeling beneath an empty sky For now, that suffices

God is dead Thus spake Zarathustra But we knew it already Have known it long since This endless Saturday This awful miracle This self-birthed cruelty This tedious horror This holy blasphemy This is what it takes This is what you'll get You cannot forget You cannot un-see But then you couldn't die Not if death were death Harder it is To breathe, to choose breath In the face Of such possibility

How lonely it is Trapped in these walls Knowing not even that there is one other Not for sure

How miraculous it is That somehow love trickles through, nonetheless

Some day the trickle will become a flood And these walls will float away I can feel it And I will be free To know and be known To swim

Thanks be To the author of trickles

The wintergreen, the juniper The cornflower and the chicory Well all of the words you said to me Are still vibrating in the air The elm, the ash and the linden tree The dark and deep enchanted sea The trembling moon and the stars unfurled Well there she goes, my beautiful world

Chorus: There she goes, my beautiful world There she goes, my beautiful world There she goes, my beautiful world There she goes again

So begins Nick Cave's raucous, tumultuous, erotically charged ballad in praise of the glory of the created order (and, FWIW, the fourth and final song I had played at my baptism).

Or maybe it's an ode to a (possibly ex-) girlfriend? Among the roll call of natural wonders, we have the stark contrast of the couplet “Well all of the words...”. This could, admittedly, refer to almost anything while stripped of wider context as it is at this point; but it does perhaps have the air of a regretted or resented conversation with someone close. More to come.

John Wilmot penned his poetry riddled with a pox And Nabokov wrote on index cards at a lectern, in his socks St John of the Cross, he did his best stuff imprisoned in a box And Johnny Thunders was half alive when he wrote Chinese Rocks

Oh me, I'm lying here, with nothing in my ears Oh me, I'm lying here, with nothing in my ears Me, I'm lying here, for what seems years I'm lying on my bed, with nothing in my head Send that stuff on down to me, send that stuff on down to me Send that stuff on down to me, send that stuff on down

(Chorus)

OK, so the song is also about writer's block? This is getting... unwieldy.

In one sense Cave is showing a distinct lack of false modesty, daring to implicitly compare himself to the ranks of assorted historical genius. (For the record, it seems Johnny Thunders only tried to claim credit for Chinese Rocks, but Cave may be well aware of this.)

But then, the comparison is unfavourable – look at the impossible circumstances these writers overcame, and look at me, lying here, not able to so much as put put pen to paper. How feeble! How impotent!

He ends with a prayer for inspiration – although its not fully clear who he's praying to.

Well Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital And Gauguin, he buggered off man, and he went all tropical And Phillip Larkin, he stuck it out in a library in Hull And Dylan Thomas, he died drunk in St Vincent's Hospital

More great creators of the past, although now the territory is more ambiguous – not simply triumphs over adversity but a variety of fates awaiting those who make a life of what they create. What might become of me, you can almost hear Cave wonder.

I'll lie at your feet, I'll kneel at your door I'll rock you to sleep, I will roll on the floor

Back to the girlfriend. The imagery, intimate, even passionate, while only hinting at sexuality. Submissive... and yet somehow not.

And I will ask for nothing, nothing in this life I will ask for nothing – give me everlasting life I just wanna move the world, I just wanna move the world I just wanna move the world, I just want to move

Again Cave is the supplicant, asking now not just for inspiration but for inspiration enough to shake the whole world; asking for nothing and yet asking for eternity in the same breath. It is brazen and vulnerable at the same time – and indeed, if you are to prostrate yourself before the Creator why ask for anything less?

Cave often seems to sing “rule the world” for “move the world”, as have artists covering the song. Neither lyric invites an accusation of humility. Nor does the juxtaposition of “ask for nothing ... / ... everlasting life.” although its not clear if Cave's playful mockery here is directed more at himself or the religious, esp. the Christians whose faith he has obsessed with over the years.

(Chorus)

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet brother and a-blow it And if you got a field, that don't yield, then get up now and a-hoe it I look at you, you look at me, and deep in our hearts babe we know it That you weren't much of a muse, but then, I weren't much of a poet

Now we move from prayer to exhortation – from asking for the power to create, to admonishing others to find theirs. The field that don't yield echoes back to the earlier barrenness of Cave's writer's block, while of course both the trumpet and the hoe would be no means be out of place in a biblical text.

And then the girlfriend makes her most explicit appearance. You weren't much of a muse but I weren't much of a poet? Cave has recovered some false modesty after all. Or maybe he is just airing his regrets from a time in a life he struggled both relationally and artistically.

I'll be your slave, I'll peel your grapes Up on your pedestal with your ivory and apes With your book of ideas and your alchemy Oh come on – send that stuff on down to me

The lyricism of the song reaches a fabulous crescendo. Cave is debasing himself completely – I'll be your slave, I'll peel your grapes, up on your pedestal. But who is he even talking to? God? His muse? Creation itself? Creativity itself? I don't think he knows and I don't think it matters. Everything is bound up in the asking.

Send that stuff on down to me, send that stuff on down to me Send that stuff on down to me, send that stuff on down to me Send it all around, send it all around the world Coz here she comes, my beautiful girl

(Chorus x 2)

And finally, bringing it all together, to send the stuff down but now to send it all around the world. It's worth dwelling on Cave no longer asking just that he might create, or even that he might move the world; he is asking for the divine spark for all, on behalf of all, for creation to overflow with creativity.

“Here she comes, my beautiful girl.” The triptych is complete – creation as muse, muse as lover, and now lover as creation. It evokes the Christian concept of the Bride of Christ, where the Lord is a the bridegroom and the church or the new creation or some aspect thereof is the bride.

Alright, I'll admit it, I think he managed to wield.