Love Song for an Old Friend

Man playing a piano
Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave alone at the Alexandra Palace 

Dear Reader,

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed my love affair with music-listening. In the past, there’s a lot more music-on-the-go, piped through my noise-isolating headphones while I’m travelling on buses and MRT trains across the island.

Now there’s more time for music to infuse my home – especially during the lockdown – via my hi-fi system (as well as Spotify on my TV) in the living room, the mini system in my bedroom, and the Bluetooth speaker in my study. Instead of watching gigs outdoors or in concert venues, I’m tuned to YouTube on my TV screen.

After previously writing about Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave for Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, I recently watched a paid streaming of his solo concert, entitled Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace, recorded in front of no audience, but accessible by anyone around the world with internet hook-up. It was a moving performance that once again reminded me of the blurred line between poetry and songwriting.

Like a spoken-word performer, Cave begins Idiot Prayer by reciting lines, from ‘The Spinning Song’ (from his 2019 Ghosteen album): “Once there was a song / The song yearned to be sung...” before launching into beautifully-crafted songs from different periods of his career, accompanied only by his own piano tinkling.

The closing song is ‘Galleon Ship’, whose lyrics are excerpted below:

For we are not alone it seems
So many riders in the sky
The winds of longing in their sails
Searching for the other side

And if we rise, my love
Oh my darling precious one
We’ll stand and watch the galleon ships
Circle around the morning sun

I think back to my shoddy attempts at writing silly love songs, in the late 1980s, as a precursor to my poetic journey. I’m now poring through a new poetry manuscript inspired by music from my youth – songs by the likes of the Bee Gees, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys – and the memories it invokes.

So is it any wonder I’m finding myself playing with rhymes – which I very rarely do, since ‘Away from Home’, from my 1997 debut, Isaac?

It’s always good to get back in touch with an old friend. Now is as good a time as ever to do just that.

Shu Hoong

(From August 8, 2020)