Here's the bit in the chapter I Am The King where we discuss rock, regal symbology, Bataille's concept of sovereignty and then examine Cave's king fixation:
THE KING OF ROCK
Rock is full of kings. Some are self-proclaimed despots (e.g. rappers); others are elevated and crowned by their followers (Elvis). There are variants on the regal theme: the Boss (Springsteen), rap's gangster chic, the shaman, prophet or Messiah (Bono). So why does rock lend itself to the kingly posture?
On one level, to be king means simply to be the best at what you do. On another, it's the logical culmination of the self-aggrandisement inherent in showbiz. But in a wider sense, the king represents total possibility, the zenith of the imaginable. In the same way, the rock star is the incarnation of his fans' forbidden desires and impossible dreams. When Johnny Rotten compared himself to the Antichrist and declared he wanted to 'be anarchy', he wanted to be a law unto himself. This was the meaning of the Pistols' version of anarchy: not workers' councils and self-criticism tribunals, but the right to be your own tyrant.
Actually, one anarchists' commune in 1850s America practised a doctrine of 'Individual Sovereignty' that was pure Rotten: each person was 'the absolute despot or sovereign' of his life. The concept of sovereignty assumes a special significance in the thought of Georges Bataille; it was his term for a supreme state of being. Sovereignty (equivalent to Lacan's 'phallus') is a pinnacle of unalienated, uncastrated wholeness of being. For Bataille, sovereignty is marked by extravagance and excess, as illustrated by societies whose hierarchy was organised around the squandering of resources. Examples include Aztec sacrifice and Native American potlatch, a form of ritualised gift-giving in which rank was determined by the ability to waste wealth. The modern equivalent of potlatch is rock stars trashing hotel suites or wasting a fortune getting wasted on drugs. From all this, Bataille concluded that there was a fundamental human drive towards prodigality and 'expenditure-without-return'.
True prodigal sons, rock stars have always styled themselves as dandy playboys, always cultivated an aesthetic of excess. Their values are aristocratic, a rejection of the bourgeois creed of deferred gratification, accumulation, investment. Historically, the aristocracy have been the class most able to devote their lives and resources to extravagance (dandyism, combat, gambling, art, 'perverse' sexuality).
Sovereignty is defined by the consumption of wealth because productivity is always servile, according to Bataille. A sovereign existence is one that isn't subordinated to utility, that doesn't involve the employment of the present for the sake of the future. And so the bum or hobo ('king of the road')is as much a sovereign as any monarch, despite his apparent destitution. For the defining mark of the sovereign is that he is, rather than does. Unlike Sartre's revolutionary (who wants to get rid of hierarchy altogether, and who sacrifices his present to work slavishly for that utopian future), the Rebel just wants to usurp the King's place. He wants it ALL and he wants it NOW.
Rock is crowded with these rebel-kings, upstarts turned monarchs....
Iggy is the bridge between the Lizard King and the most king-obsessed rocker ever, Nick Cave.
Cave's regal fantasies began with 'King Ink' on Prayers on Fire (1981). Cave's anti-heroic alter-ego is the king of bohemia, presiding over a realm of squalor and torpid impotence. On the Birthday Party's next album Junkyard (1982), 'Hamlet Pow Pow' turns Shakespeare's Oedipal psychodrama into a cartoon. The dead king's son charged with vengeance against the throne-usurping uncle, who spends most of the play shirking the duty of regicide, Hamlet has long been seen as the archetypal male adolescent outsider; Cave is happy to step into his angst-ridden shoes.
Another kind of ruined king that has haunted Cave's imagination is the pop idol who's seen better days or the rock prophet abandoned by his unworthy flock. He's spoken of his fascination for the late-era Presley, a bloated travesty of his rebel self (Cave's first solo single was a cover of 'In the Ghetto', Presley last gasp of brilliance before the twilight of his creative life really set in). On his second solo album, The Firstborn Is Dead, Cave reappears as 'The Black Crow King'. The album's pastiche ethnological liner notes suggest that the chorus of voices is 'a king surrounded by followers who have learnt to imitate him'--Cave ridiculing and repudiating his Goth cult following? Deserted and preposterous, the Black Crow reigns over 'nothing at all'.
This melodramatic posture--the prophet without honour--would be reprised on Kicking Against the Pricks with his cover of Johnny Cash's 'The Singer', where a messianic minstrel rues his abandonment by a fickle, shallow audience who don't understand his vision.
Of course, self-aggrandisement is intrinsic to rebel rock; singers from Johnny Rotten to Morrissey have resorted to the posture of the martyr, the crucified or spurned saviour. Cave seems particularly fond of the delapidated grandeur of the fallen king. The key song here is 'Junkyard'. 'I am the King' intones an obviously wasted Cave amidst a cacophonous turmoil of brackish guitars that at the time (1982) felt like the final self-immolatory throes of rock'n'roll. Once again, Cave's kingdom is in ruins--literally a junkyard. The title is an inspired pun based on Cave's heroin addiction. The junkie feels like a king, omnipotent, cocooned and resplendent in his solipsistic invulnerability (especially if the heroin is cut with the ultimate megalomaniac euphoriant, speed). He thinks he's God, oblivious to the reality of his surroundings. 'Junkyard''s lyrics revolve around violently compacted opposites: king/junkyard, honey/garbage, heavenly body/brutal violation. The crucial line is: 'there's garbage in honey's sack again', which evokes both heroin's wombing nirvana and the horror of mainlining toxins. Cave's voice disappears into a seething quagmire of purulent sound.
The junkie as twentieth-century king? Bataille never considered it, but it's a plausible development of his notion of sovereignty as sterile splendour. ('Heroin' comes from the German word 'heroisch', meaning strong, powerful, heroic.) Bataille's final paradox was that the sovereign's last word is 'I am NOTHING'. Heroin addiction is a return to the invulnerable self-sufficiency of the foetus, a total escape from the ignominy of the productive world, the purest form of wasting your life. Robert Bly argues that drug addiction is a perverted expression of the yearning for kingly prestige: 'As Romantics we long for that oceanic feeling we felt in the womb, when we were divine and fed by ambrosia. Addiction amounts to an attempt to escape limitations and stay in the King's Room.'
His style model?
Talking of the monarchy, it's always a good time to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with "The Monarch of Middlebrow". Penned by Anwen Crawford for the Australian literary magazine Overland, it's a regicidal tour de force, which dissects Cave's misogyny and tracks his "transformation into an antipodean Elvis Costello... old, mild, and respectably bourgeois" (while still giving fevered imaginings from the early days like "From Her To Eternity" their due).
A few months ago I was in England and staying chez mum, who likes to get in the Sunday papers, and to my surprise, lo and behold, there on the front cover of The Sunday Times Magazine was Nicholas Cave sat in the pews of a church alongside Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Inside, the clergyman interviews the singer about his return to the Church and the role of faith in his life.
I remember when I interviewed Cave back in 1988 he talked about nearly undergoing a conversion during a very long, harrowing flight from the UK to Australia, or Australia to the UK. He'd got seated next to some born-again true-believer, or maybe it was a priest - at any rate, a lot of alcohol had been consumed, some kind of long dark night of the soul had set in, and he became vulnerable to his fellow passenger's pitch, they started praying together. This is going from memory, I can't be arsed to dig through the original cutting, but that's the gist - he was on the brink of accepting the Lord into his heart.
On the one hand, this wasn't so surprising, given that he'd been talking in recent years about how his favorite thing to read was the King James version of the Bible. Religious imagery, a parable-like cadence, had been creeping into the Bad Seeds songs.
On the other hand, it was only a few years since The Birthday Party, where the vibe was much more about sacrilege and defilement.
Like this song:
Second: I gagged it with a pillow
But awoke the nuns inside
They pounded their goddy-goddy fists
(From the inside - so from the outside)
And then the advert for the sex-vampire Goth dancefloor smash "Release the Bats" proclaimed: "Dirtiness is next to antigodliness"