Nick Cave On Jeffrey Lee Pierce: ‘His Obsessions Crawled All Over Him’
In this exclusive interview to coincide with new tribute album ‘The Journey Is Long’, Gun Club biographer GENE TEMESY talks to Nick Cave about his relationship with the enigmatic Jeffrey Lee Pierce – from dinosaurs to Japanese horror films and the Vietnam War. The Gun Club frontman died from a brain hemorrhage in 1996. Photo of Pierce by WALTER HORN.
You first met Jeffrey in 1984 in Los Angeles I believe, and went to see a film together.
Yeah, I think we went to see Under The Volcano. And then we retired back to my place. I think Henry Rollins might have been there as well actually. Jeffrey and I sat around and took loads of drugs and watched Henry do push-ups.
Were you familiar with his music at this time?
Yeah, of course.
So you had heard Fire Of Love while you were living in Australia?
Yeah, I love that record. Then he took me to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was dark and we just stood there watching the tar and Jeffrey told me how there were fully formed dinosaurs floating around in there, still! To this fucking day!
You saw Jeffrey a lot in London.
That was a difficult time for him. I think he was going through a lot of problems but he played his cards pretty close to his chest, you know. He was very troubled at that time. We would drink and take drugs and sit and talk. He had a thing about the Vietnam War, for some reason. He was very well read on the subject. And dinosaurs. He talked a lot about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and the Vietnam war, I think, were his two major topics of conversation … and Japanese horror movies.
I think he took your son Luke to see Jurassic Park, if I remember correctly.
He wouldn’t have taken him to see Jurassic Park, but he may have taken him to see something to do with dinosaurs. I took Luke to see Jurassic Park and it traumatised him for life. He was only, like, four. But you know Jeffrey was really wonderful with Luke. He used to come around when I wasn’t there and just sort of visit him and play with him and stuff like that. And Luke liked him very much.
But he was troubled about a lot of things. And he became towards the end of his London period, I think, progressively stranger. He would call me and speak at length about his medical condition, which seemed to change by the week. It was extremely confusing to me exactly what was going on. He was a very abstract kind of guy. And he became very sentimental and needy around the end of his time in London. I think he was going through a really bad time then. He was seeing a lot of different doctors and they were telling him a lot of different things. I think he was very scared.
Was there anything creatively that you two might have done together that ended up being recorded?
I don’t think so. Not that I can remember. I mean, he would play his guitar a lot and we probably got up to certain sorts of things, I might have sung along, but nothing that was ever recorded, thankfully. Actually, I found Jeffrey’s hat. I think he had given it to Luke. It was his black felt hat with the silver buckles around it, crumpled and dusty at the bottom of some box. That was kind of sad and eerie. I loved Jeffrey. I loved watching him play. I loved watching him sing. Especially, I loved seeing the Gun Club live. There was some really extraordinary stuff that went on there.
I mean, with Jeffrey, you pretty much entered his world when you saw him. His obsessions crawled all over him. But in Jeffrey’s world, sometimes it was very inspiring and illuminating and other times it was painful and depressing. But Jeffrey did make efforts to stay on top of all that sort of stuff. But I think it was very difficult for him.
Do you remember the last time you saw him?
He looked increasingly ill, I mean, we all did, but Jeffrey looked particularly so. His pallor, you know. He was physically suffering. And then he went to Japan. I think he got involved in some kind of relief work.
Oh for the earthquake, yeah.
Helping earthquake victims. This seemed to have a positive effect on him, you know, spiritually. Then he went back to the states. The phone calls that I got from him there, he seemed really well. Or comparatively well. And happy, you know. And then, I think, Rollins phoned me to tell me that he died.
Jeffrey very often didn’t make sense. That was part of his charm. Jeffrey was full of digressions. I think that was very much part of his character. Jeffrey digressed a lot. One minute he’d be talking about the fall of Saigon and the next minute he’d be talking about the size of a dinosaur’s brain. But I didn’t care I was just happy somebody was talking to me. You just kind of sat back and nodded and listened.
“One minute he’d be talking about the fall of Saigon and the next minute he’d be talking about the size of a dinosaur’s brain.”
To be honest, I think back then both of us were pretty insufferable to be around and we kept each other company. We were able to just be together. I think people found, in those days especially, people found us, both of us, quite difficult people to be around. And so consequently, we were thrown together because of that. We were both going through our own particular little nightmares. But Jeffrey, a beautiful thing about Jeffrey was that he was able to move outside that and connect on some other level to people … I mean, things like with Luke, my kid, and stuff like that. He genuinely cared about other people. He was very genuine. And you know, I loved him very much. And I think he was a great songwriter. And had a great unique voice. The way he sung up high like that and slightly off key was enough to tear your heart out.
‘Fire Of Love’ – how did you first hear of it?
I can’t remember when I first heard it. But it’s just one of those songs that’s always been there. You know, it showed that people of my generation could actually write - which was, you know, well, refreshing.