A common complaint among tinnitus-sufferers like myself is that the irritating sensation (in my case, a ceaseless ringing in my right ear) seems much worse in the morning just as you're waking up. This is arguably due to the fact that in one's supine position, there is greater blood flow to the brain, the central part of the nervous system responsible for enforcing the condition's symptoms. Lately, I've been experiencing "the morning roar" with somewhat of a vengeance. I'd love to chalk it up to the supine-brain theory or on my tireless intake of caffeine, salt, sugar, alcohol, red meat, oxygen or any number of purported culprits, but if I'm being honest, I think the real blame rests on the shoulders of Nick Cave.
These days, my only real opportunity to enjoy listening to music is during my morning walk to work. While I try to be responsible with my headphones (arguably impossible for someone with tinnitus), I do find old habits hard to break. After years of feeling that music was simply never loud enough, my fingers still scramble to escalate the volume when the less-practical side of my brain so dictates. And when Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds happen to be making the music in question, this inclination is nigh on irresistible.
I've been on a big Nick Cave kick lately. When life starts to suck – as it's been doing so pretty proficiently lately – I find few things as righteously cathartic as the timeless sturm und drang that Mr. Cave and his darkly merry ensemble effortlessly put forth. I've rattled on about my fandom for the Bad Seeds before, but recent news that they're re-releasing Cave's back catalog (along with a fleeting and unfounded blip that The Birthday Party were reforming) prompted me to re-visit some of that stuff, and I'm wallowing in it like a sharp-tusked warthog in viscous, black tar.
To pinpoint a single favorite track is impossible for me. As much as I often cite Cave's 1989 effort, The Good Son as my preferred disc, I generally find myself resorting to Live Seeds, a storming – wait for it – live album from 1995. I could have chosen any number of tracks here. The performances of "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" and "John Finn's Wife" are especially feral. But it's "Tupelo" that really gets my blood racing.
Originally released by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on their blues-drenched 1985 album The Firstborn is Dead, "Tupelo" exhumes John Lee Hooker's tragic song about the devastating flood of the Mississippi Delta in 1927 as a birthday paean to Elvis Presley (himself born in the titular town) . There's a twist, of course, in that Cave casts the infant Elvis, who arrived just a day after his twin brother Jesse Garon Presley, as the antichrist. Jesse's fate is explained in the album's title. "Don't Be Cruel" this is not.
While I adore the studio version, I think this live version trumps it. Rife with thunderclaps, dark Biblical imagery, Blixa Bargeld's unearthly wails, a suitably malevolent bass line and Cave's own hellbent exhortation, "Tupelo" writhes and roils here with palpable fervor. There are a lot of punctuating exclamations of "huh!" and "ha!" here, sounding like Cave's whipping his band mates like a Roman centurion on a slave-ship. For the last week or so, I've listened to it every morning while trudging up Fifth Avenue, and I can't stop myself from roaring along with Cave, invariably to the alarm and derision of innocent bystanders.
So, anyway, that might explain the spike in my tinnitus this week. But whatever. Play it loud.