First: the musician, not the comic book author. Yeah, it’s weird that there are two niche-famous artists of roughly the same age, and who likely share no small number of fans. The world is weird. (I have ended migrating from a fan of the latter into being a fan of the former, for lots of reasons.)
THIS Warren Ellis is the one famous as Nick Cave’s primary collaborator in the Bad Seeds (see note), Grinderman, and for film score work (most recently on Blonde); Ellis himself also has a band called Dirty Three. He’s a multidisciplinary creative, but he had not yet ventured into the written word (unlike Cave, obviously).
Like many musicians — and people! — Ellis has musical idols and influences that he venerates. Perhaps the most significant for him, it seems, was Nina Simone, but he only ever got to see her perform fairly late, at a festival curated by Cave in 1999, only four years before she passed away.
At the end of her (apparently triumphant, transcendent) performance, Ellis noticed that she’d left her chewing gum on the piano, and on a lark wrapped it in a towel and kept it. In that moment it became a modern relic, in the religious sense; Ellis kept it safe for 20 years, wrapped in that towel and kept in an aging bag from Tower Records, before it became clear that it should be included in the Nick Cave-focussed Stranger than Kindness exhibition in Copenhagen (it’s touring, but there are no plans for a US stop).
This book is part memoir, part discussion of relics, and part the biography of the relic after it emerged from the Tower bag. It is completely delightful, and you should read it even if you’re not a Nick Cave fan. For a book like this, there are no spoilers, so let me include for you Ellis’ final paragraph:
The world you create inside is mirrored outside. Release your ideas and let them land on others’ ears. Enter their hearts. They need them to take flight. Keep the sacred and magical close, and don’t listen to people who tell you it isn’t true. Create your gods, and they will watch over you.
Note: The Bad Seeds released their first record in 1984. Like most long-running bands, has had a number of lineup changes over the years, but a real changing the of the guard happed in 2009, when Cave’s initial main crony Mick Harvey left the band. Ellis stepped into the gap, and the records since then (starting with Push the Sky Away in 2013) are pretty different and, by my lights, suggest a pretty huge artistic and musical leap. The Bad Seeds followed it with the “Arthur” records made in the wake of the loss of Cave’s son: Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen. Both deal mostly (and beautifully) with grief and faith, and which are astonishing documents in and of themselves.