Luke Kenny – The Walt Whitman of rock poetry

I first heard of Nick Cave way back in the mid-eighties. It was in one of those random issues of Australia’s teen Dolly magazine that I would find in second hand bookstores. In those days our exposure to western pop culture and music in Bombay, as it was called then, came trickling though such magazines and tapes brought by friends or their relatives traveling abroad.

It’s in the pages of Dolly that I discovered the heady world of Australian rock ‘n roll: Inxs, Midnight Oil, Kylie Minogue and — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. But try as I could, I was never to find any music by Nick Cave in India. He was not a typical bubble gum 80s pop star, like George Michael or Richard Marx. Nor was he a classic rock star, like Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen. He was Nick Cave, not someone you can easily define. He was neither rock, nor pop, nor heavy metal which was the kinds of music we most heard. So Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds remained just intriguing words in a magazine to me. Sometimes I would roll that phrase ‘The bad seeds’ round and round in my mind in wonder. It sounded good.

It wasn’t until 24-hour music television exploded in India in the mid 90’s that we began to get a sense of the vastness of international music. No longer were we just hearing the Billboard top 20 albums. Now we could listen to genres. We got to know about Punk, Fusion, World Music etc. Televison shows like House Of Noise (Hard Rock), Headbangers Ball (Metal), Over The Edge (Grunge/Alternative) and Classic & Rewind showed us the music we had missed. Add to that the advent of the internet and the growing speed with which pop culture spread through it and suddenly the universe of popular music was wide open to us.

In 1995 I began working with one of those music channels as a video jockey. Not MTV, mind you. But the first one that launched itself as a 24 hour-across-the-board sampling of the classic and the contemporary. It was called (and still is) Channel V and it even had a stand-alone Australian counterpart, as it was owned by the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

It was early February in 1996 that I introduced a video called ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’. It featured Kylie Minogue as a guest on the song and it was by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The floodgates opened and all those past issues of Dolly came rushing back to me. Nick Cave was back in my head. This time I followed, without question. Nick Cave is like the Walt Whitman of rock poetry. He is melancholic, pensive, moody and dark. He seems to tell stories in his songs.  In fact last year’s musical triumph ‘ Dig Lazarus Dig’ could almost be called rock opera.

No wonder then that he has turned to fiction. I have to be honest. I haven’t read his first novel of 1989, And the Ass saw the Angel. But I was looking forward to hold The Death Of Bunny Munro in my hands and embark on a journey into a twisted realm.

It is clear that Mr Cave is a man of words, many many words. A lot of them have been pouring out through his music, in all its diverse themes, over the past twenty-five years. What gets left behind, comes out as fiction. And it is also clear that Mr Cave is a keen observer of the human condition and the trials and travails that life puts us through.

In this novel he has created one of the slimiest and filthiest characters in contemporary fiction. Bunny Munro. Yet he has also given the character a nugget of humanity, a catch, a spanner in the works. A son. A son that he has to be responsible for, even though he hates responsibility. A son he has to be responsive to, even though he’s the most indifferent bastard on earth.

I think a musician who writes has an edge over the ordinary writer. A musician is a constant traveler and has the advantage of viewing life from all angles. From the time he wakes up and hits the road till the time he wraps up on stage each night, he opens himself up to an endless stream of people. It is an intense experience. Putting himself out there for the audiences who cannot be what he can, is a kind of voyeuristic redemption for the sins of being famous.

The sometimes incoherent sensations of trudging from one gig to another, one town, one city at a time, can very often come together in a memoir. But when one has the opportunity and the ability to sweep up all that grime and lather it onto fiction, then the shit shines even better.

Mr Cave has been a master at exhuming the dark side of the mind for a while now. He’s like the Australian rock ‘n roll version of Stephen King and Clive Barker rolled into one. In The Death of Bunny Munro, he’s done in fiction what he’s been doing in song. This is a book that will be up there with my collections of Poe, Stoker, King, Barker, Palahniuck etc and I am already looking forward to the next installment of Mr. Cave’s inspirational and inconclusively fertile mind. Just as long as the words are alive, or undead.

‘I am damned,’ thinks Bunny Munro in a sudden moment of self awareness reserved for those who are soon to die. He feels that somewhere down the line he has made a grave mistake, but this realization passes in a  dreadful heartbeat, and is gone – leaving him in a room at the Grenville Hotel, in his underwear, with nothing but himself and his appetites.

*****

Luke Kenny was the first Indian male VJ on Channel V. He has since acted in films such as Kaizad Gustad’s Bombay Boys and Abhishek Kapur’s Rock On!! He is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone India and also hosts The Rolling Stone Show on NDTV Good Times.

The Death of Bunny Munro
The Death of Bunny Munro

The Death of Bunny Munro is out in bookstores this weekend. See Nick Cave reading from Bunny Munro here.

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The Penguin India Blog

2 thoughts on “Luke Kenny – The Walt Whitman of rock poetry

  1. i am not so sure i agree with the musicians having an edge over writers. leonard cohen’s prose is laboured at best. and nick cave has disapoointed with bunny, a character that even cave’s immense talents cannot redeem. a let down considering we waited two decades for this.

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