A few months after reading Morrissey’s thorny and diffident Autobiography, yesterday I come across Bernard Sumner’s own memoir. I’m surprised. As much as I was with Morrissey’s, and maybe even more. Because the two of them – hailing in their own ways from Manchester’s neighbouring territories – seemed to channel everything they had to say about themselves into their words and music. Not for them the torrid reveals in society pages. Bernard Sumner’s talking voice is as meek as he has always seemed to be, whose shyness dominated early performances as the reluctant lead singer of New Order. The sleeves said it all: Peter Saville’s mining of art history allowed New Order to vanish as personalities – until the shock of seeing them on Low Life, but, then, never again.
And now, I’ve just been to see 20,000 Days on Earth, the Nick Cave fiction biography, which compresses film formats with a flickering over excitement, yet protecting Cave’s insistent tour through landscapes, towns and his past. Again and again he credits memory as the subject and the engine of what he does. Who he is. His greatest fear, he tells Darian Leader, is the loss of memory.
Cave lives in Brighton, which is maybe as improbable as Nico turning up on the shores of council estate Manchester in the 1980s. Cave salutes Brighton’s sky, and roams time and space in an ageing Jaguar.
While I enjoyed the film – its fits of fantasy truth, Cave’s dogged meta-presence – it, and the books mentioned above, point to the simple fact that as they careen into their 60s, these pillars of pop iconoclasm have shifted or shuffled forwards into a reconciliation with the past, rather than an innate embodying of the extreme present. The present is still present but it’s just not as present as 1981 or 1989 was. It never will be. It never was in 1981 or 1989. Tru dat.
In the age of reveal, I something percent miss the obliquity of my heroes’ lives. I’m more privvy to them and that should feel good, it should quench some irreconciled urge to know more about them. But it does not do this. It humanises them by turning the capital of the present into the 3D render of the past.
Maybe it doesn’t matter and I’m just seeing my own anxieties. It’s possible because this business of ageing is never yes or no. Good, bad. It’s an unanswerable question. It’s not even a question. It’s intractable fact. Enacted upon us.
Higgs Boson Blues.