Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Boy on Fire: The young Nick Cave (Mark Mordue, Fourth Estate)

After 35 years of communication with Nick Cave, 10 of them actively spent researching a biography which eventually grew to Moby Dick proportions, Mark Mordue has fashioned this expertly detailed account of the prodigious entertainer’s early years. All the relevant voices have their say, creating a wonderfully alive picture of this tumultuous time in modern Australian music, which is now, incredibly, 40 years ago. The biography’s long incubation period means that some, such as Rowland S Howard and Tony Cohen, are now gone, but on the page they glint with vitality and humour, as does Cave himself. Mordue deftly captures the vortex of events to show how a very lucky—and very naughty—boy, the inheritor of an impressive line of talent, born into a loving family in the unprepossessing Victorian town of Warracknabeal, was able to take on the world. Cleverly structured and written with the mercurial flair of a music journalist, this biography ends at a cataclysmic moment, with the fertile ground sown ready for this energetic bad seed to thrive. Anyone looking to join the dots of Cave’s music and career will appreciate this work, as will those interested in how life shapes art. Indeed, given the way the long lens shines a loving light on the cacophony of the times, Boy on Fire even provides a soothing portal into a more innocent past, pre- both the pandemic and the ratty internet.

Julia Taylor worked in trade publishing for many years.

 

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