Gloomy Tunes: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Tupelo”

Elvis Presley would have turned 83 today. You know who else would have turned 83? Jesse Garon Presley, Elvis’ identical twin brother, delivered stillborn a half-hour before Elvis arrived.

The birth of Elvis is the subject of today’s Gloomy Tunes, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ monstrous “Tupelo.” Taking John Lee Hooker’s song of the same name (about the 1927 flood also immortalized in Charley Patton’s  “High Water Everywhere”)  as his model, Cave re-imagines Presley’s birth as apocalypse, a windswept, sodden Gothic tale, where no birds fly, no fish swim, and the streets are turned to rivers. But in a clapboard, tin-roofed shack, a child is born. But not before tragedy hits, and Cave howls “the firstborn is dead!” (which is also the title of the 1985 album that “Tupelo” kicks off). It’s a tale told though a corroded blues, the band hammering on a single stuttering, staggered riff, with pummeling drums and thunderous cymbal crashes, as the King is loosed on an unsuspecting populace (although “the lil children know”), in language that recalls both the Bible and Ancient Mariner. A great, powerful song and performance.

John Lee Hooker
Nick Cave )photo by Jutta Heinglein)
Charley Patton

Steven Mirkin

Steven Mirkin’s diverse career has taken him from politics to pop culture to high art, offering him a front row seat to some of the most fascinating events and personalities of our time: writing speeches, fundraising appeals and campaign materials for Ed Koch, John Heinz and independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson; chronicling the punk/new wave scenes in New York and London; interviewing musicians such as Elton John, John Lydon and Buck Owens; profiling modern masters Julian Schnabel, Paul Schrader and Jonathan Safran Foer; and writing for TV shows including 21, The Chamber, Let's Make A Deal, and Rock Star: INXS.

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