Up Against It

29 November 2008

Recoiling from time to time Nick Cave gets tiny electric shocks from the microphone during the set, stepping back from it, in something between alarm and irritation. I'm getting these tiny shocks he says vaguely, almost, but not quite asking for technical assistance. After a later shock he looks concerned for a moment and then makes a joke out of it "Please" he says "Please don't let me die in Sheffield". It seems a reasonable request and it's one that he goes back to a few times during the night which is otherwise all deserts and moons and melting snow, and rain and beautiful girls and guns of course and bad towns and bad men and blood and fire, and eyes and rage and knives. No one wants him to die. The crowd are too happy with him caught in a boiling torment of lust and doubt and need to want him dead, they are too happy with him caught in melancholic near-suicide mode, they are too happy with him bent double self-tortured and writhing in a sweating, howling, yelling rage of incomprehensible confusion and guilt to ever want him dead. But mostly they want him living so that he can kill. Stagger Lee is what they want to hear. Again and again. Stagger Lee, Stagger Lee. Those are the cries between songs. Stagger Lee. They want him coming out of the darkness and into town, and they want him not dead but murdering,  blood and brains and the rest of it all over the walls and floor, red right hand, but mostly Stagger Lee. And in the end they get what they want.


On the floor in the window of the toy shop at St Pancras Station a gaggle of battery operated toys have walked themselves into a corner. The fluffy pig is down there, nose pressed right into the angle, head actioned in a relentless twisting, a frenzied side to side, like he's digging for something caught there between the glass frontage and the wall, his feet propelling him forward, the glass wall holding him forever in place. Forever or until the batteries wear down. Behind this stuck pig, a soldier thing marches back and forth and a few other creatures amble the neighborhood, heading here and there, purposeless, mildly pathetic, and for the most part forgotten. One of them, a duck perhaps, or chicken, is tangled somehow in the lower wire framework of a postcard stand, another (the clown perhaps or the puppy) trails an accidental ribbon of sellotape, gummed with dust and human hair, like an amateur street sweeper. Best of all though is the giraffe, who, at a lanky ten inches tall, has walked himself to the window and is gazing, staring straight ahead, big eyes fixed on the feet passing by, and on the stretch of marble veldt that extends beyond his prison. For motion he has two modes, a pointless side to side juddering jig (net effect = zero), which alternates with a stepping-forwards-with-intent that culminates with a kind of head butting jerk motion. It's the latter that makes him the star of the show. He's right against the glass and every headbutt forwards is directly into the window, bang, pull back, bang,  as if, with the cute face and wide eyes he is trying to hammer his way out, or destroy his good looks, or somehow get the kind of psychiatric attention that is no doubt his due. Giraffe's face though is a total blank, the action, calm, repeated, like one hard-man trying to prove to another that he has no feelings whatesoever, nutting the glass repeatedly – bang, pull back, bang, pull back, bang – the whole thing done with that kind of numb expressionless conveyer-belted animatronic anger you expect from caged animals and humans without hope, a numb rage that suits the context and goes largely un-noticed.



On a large blue billboard The College of Christ the Redemeer advertises its courses in Theology, Computer Technology, Business Studies and English Lessons.

Not far off in the South London rain a chalk-board slogan beckons you to the

Last ENGLISH run pub on Harper Road

Most of the lettering in white chalk, the word English capitalised in red.

Thanks. But no thanks.