Nick Sings

August 22, 2023

One night in 1990, around midnight, my phone rang. When I answered it, a strange voice said, “Is Tom there.”

I said, “Yeah, it’s me.”

He said, “Hey, it’s Nick Cave.”

That woke me up. I found out later Nick was staying with my friend Christoph Dreher in Berlin. Christoph’s band, Die Haut, had been performing and recording with Nick and The Bad Seeds. A month earlier, I’d sent Christoph my script for Johnny Suede. Nick had seen it lying on a table that night and read it, knowing nothing about it or me.

And now I heard him say these words, “I really like this guy Freak Storm in your script, and I’d like to play him.”

I was ecstatic. Nick had the brilliant idea to play Freak as a kind of albino Elvis/Gospel preacher, which inspired the white pompadour wig. A month before shooting, I got a note from him saying the lyrics to “Mama’s Boy” that Freak sings in the film seemed kind of stupid. I was a little surprised because, to me, that was the whole point. But Nick wanted to sing a version with his own more serious lyrics.

A few days later, I got an audio cassette in the mail. It was Nick singing his lyrics of the song. I listened to it. After he stopped singing, there was silence on the tape. I listened to the silence, too. I could hear him breathing. And then Nick’s voice came back on as if we’d both been sitting there together thinking the same thing. He said quietly, “You know, Tom, my lyrics are stupider than yours. Let’s go with yours.”

There were some problems the day we shot. The wig expert we’d hired specifically because she said she was a wig expert revealed she had never worked with wigs before. Nick was in makeup for 3 hours. But, when he finally came out and sang “Mama’s Boy” in that empty courtyard, with his amazing voice echoing up to the sky, it was magnificent.

Every now and then, I wonder where that tape is now.

Watch Johnny Suede here.


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Independent Filmmaker & Musician