Another day and another story from Nick Cave for his mesmeric fan forum, the Red Hand Files. The singer has made it a side project worthy of our full attention over recent years as he answers fan questions in a befitting reem of eloquent letter writing. The latest post on the site sees the Aussie rocker recall an encounter with Nick Drake and Velvet Underground collaborator Nico.
There’s a familiarity to the names of the three members mentioned that suggests they could have, at one time, provided us with an astounding supergroup of Nicks. It’s a notion that Raghav from India notes in his question to Cave: “I’ve always felt some sort of relation between you and Nick Drake,” he begins.
“If you haven’t heard of him,” continues Raghav, “He was an artist from England who wrote only about 60 songs about love, regret, happiness and some emotions I can’t really describe. He sadly suffered from depression and died from an overdose only four years into his career. I may be very wrong in thinking so, but do you feel that you share more than your first name with Drake?”
The question was then backed up by a message from another fan from Los Angeles, Pamela, who asked: “Have you ever met a hero that didn’t disappoint?” Cave was ready to unleash one of the best rock and roll stories we’ve heard in a long time.
“Whenever I have heard Nick Drake’s music over the years, I have enjoyed it,” writes Cave, “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.”
Beginning his story in the early eighties, as the singer walked down London’s famous Portobello Road, Cave was stopped by a man who wanted to take his picture: “He said that I looked ‘interesting’,” Cave wrote. “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.”
Cave continues with his usual literary dexterity: “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.”
After Nico began to warm up, having spent her opening minutes very quietly assessing her surroundings, she told Cave that she knew somebody just like him, a singer named 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.’” After that, Nico got up from the sofa and silently moved out of the room. It would be an eerie spectacle for anyone to witness, but we’d imagine it landed particularly hard with Nico’s deadpan delivery.
“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,” Cave continued about his run-in with Nico. “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, Cave doesn’t have the photo, and he’s not totally sure he ever saw them. Given the ghoulish prediction of Nico, some might imagine this to be a part of some kind of dream, but Cave confirmed it to be factual. You can read the singer’s full response here.
Below listen to Nick Cave’s classic cover of Velvet Underground song ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.