That's one of the reasons that "Victim" was so important to me because we're in a culture that makes serial killers into such antiheroes. We know so much about where Jeffrey Dahlmer went to school, that he tortured pets, and we know his middle name and how many girlfriends or boyfriends he had, and what his favorite cereal was. You cannot name a single one of the people he killed. You cannot name any of those victims' pets or their occupations. Anything. We don't know anything about them. They're simply: "Cheerleader killed in hotel room. Beheaded." They're known by how they were killed and how they were picked. We've stripped them of all their dignity. The only people who remember them are their families and friends.
I thought: what if we reversed the balance? What if you had to recognize the weight--the capacity--of what was lost? And what if you got to know them one by one--as people--the same way you've gotten to know these serial killers? And that's what made "Victim" so important to me. That and "Twilight" were the only pieces that were, literally, delivered to me verbatim. I'm very, very picky--very particular and careful--about "Victim." I won't allow it to be adapted or used on a soundtrack. I've had writers call me up and say that they wanted to write the killer's response. And I tell them: "Don't you understand? This is her response." There has been so much noise from the other side. This is an attempt to rectify the balance.
That piece very clearly chose me. It was a responsibility. An assignment. "Let's see what you do with this." And the better I do on those assignments, the more the Muses--the voices, whatever you want to call them--the more they say, "Okay, she did alright with that. Let's give her something else."
It's like clearing your conduit, like making yourself into a bigger pipeline.
Nicole: Exactly. I'm recognizing my responsibility. I'm being given these things for a reason. I'm not scared of dying poor, or dying alone--I don't want to, but I'm not scared of it--the only thing that terrifies me in the entire world is that the voices are going to stop. Some day I'm not going to be worthy of the stories any more and that's what keeps me moving. The day I don't do them justice is the day they stop and I know that I've failed.
I do have one question about "Victim." You have allowed one remix of it.
Nicole: Yes, it was actually Sean Beaven [one of the sonic terrorists known for his work with Nine Inch Nails] and John [Van Eaton] who did a remix [part of the Dead Online Internet-only MP3s, now sadly unavailable. --ed]. I fucking adore Sean. He told me what he wanted to do and why. He understood my concerns. I wrote him a two-page letter about it. I said, "I'm her caretaker. I'm her protector. I was given this for a reason and I have to take care of her. I will not let her be exploited. She's already been exploited. I cannot let this happen again." I do believe that whatever story this is--whoever it was--she's real. Not just real to me. She is real. I cannot let anyone do it. And he wrote back and said he would do it with the greatest respect. If I never wanted to release it, that was fine. But to let him do it.
Based on response you've gotten from that track, which is a more harrowing ending? The original ends with "...and the last thing I heard was a click" and the remix ends with an actual click.
Nicole: Sean decided to put very clear punctuation on that. The way he recorded the remix was to put my vocal take--no music--on a cassette and put it on a boom box with a little microphone in the trunk of his car. Then he drove around with it. So you're actually hearing her in the trunk. And the click was just him stopping the tape recorder. And it killed me when I heard it. It was such a punctuation.
[A weird aside about spooky synchronicity. At this point on the tape a car drives by, playing The Police song "Message in a Bottle." As it bumps across the train tracks next to the restaurant, we can clearly hear Sting's voice pass: "I'm sending out an SOS. I'm sending out an SOS."]
And that was his interpretation. He did the rest of it so respectfully and he gave it such a different finish. He did it with all the right intentions and so I didn't mind that at all. That gave it a different kind of bookending. I've had people come up to me who think that she lives in the end. I never want to color someone's reading of it so I ask how they see that. "Oh, it's obviously the safety trigger. Obviously she doesn't die." They so don't want her to die that they come up with a parallel narrative that lets her live in the end. It's the safety trigger. It's the police at the door. Or it's something else. They so want her to live. I can't take that away from them so I don't tell them. She doesn't. He's taken the safety off. But it is fascinating to me how emotionally invested people can become with the track and how they will come up with whatever narrative they need to let her live. Sean chose to make it a little more concrete in the end and have it just snap off the same way her life is snapped off. I have to respect that choice.
KMFDM "Dogma" MP3
It changes things quite a bit. It always colors the mood of the evening if you leave it open. It's hovering there, over you. With the click, it's just that gut-wrenching moment. Stop whatever is going on. I have to go throw up. I need to deal with what I just heard. And you can compartmentalize what you've just heard and move on. It's fascinating that such a subtle difference in a song can generate such a vastly different--while of the same character--emotional response.
Nicole: That's why I think Sean is so incredibly gifted. I'm honored to have him work with me. When I get to a solo album--which we've been talking about for two years--I want to have a different collaborator for every track. Foetus [Jim Thirlwell] said he wanted to do one. Scanner was going to do one. Todd Ashley of Cop Shoot Cop and Firewater was going to do one. And the only way I was ever going to do it was if Sean would produce it. He said sure and then he got really busy with Guns 'n' Roses. [laughs] Now I can't afford him anymore. He has the greatest set of ears on the planet. I was so honored that he even wanted to do a remix with me. I was so amazed that he took that letter I sent and incorporated all the meaning in it. He treated her with so much respect.
Speaking of remixers, I've heard a rumor--probably read it somewhere--that Raymond Watts has quit music and become a chef. [Raymond Watts aka Pig remixed "Ride" for the Dead Online EP --ed.] I hope this is just a bad rumor.
Nicole: I love Raymond. No, his ex-girlfriend--Anna Wildsmith [who worked under the name Sow as well as in collaborative projects with Raymond --ed.]--she opened a restaurant and she was a chef for awhile. It got really popular. Raymond ended up with Louise and they got married and they have a baby--Oscar. He's not interested in doing Pig anymore--he doesn't want to be a musician anymore--he just wants to sit at home and bounce his baby Oscar on his knee.
That's so sad. I love Pig.
Nicole: I know. But he's happy.
That's great. No one could do sexual innuendo and filthy lyrics in such a hummable fashion.
Nicole: But you know what? He's got such an English interpretation of sex. I think it's because he pours all of it into the work and he's such an incredibly sexual performer. I see him on stage and I go: [affecting shocked housewife voice] "Oh my god!" And he's like: "Rarrrr! No meat! No man!" And all that nihil stuff. I still think that the stuff he wrote for Nihil is the best stuff that KMFDM ever put out. He's such an amazing performer. I learned so much from watching him on stage every night and the way he interacted with the audience. I can actually now separate the artist from the person. I know Raymond very differently from the way people see him. I can understand the way he has to now put on that persona when he performs--he has to put on that skin. I recognize that burden--that he has to be what the fans want him to be. They don't want to know who Raymond is as a person. They want to see Pig. I recognize what kind of responsibility that is, which makes me look a little more carefully at what I'm doing.
[According to the MDFMK site, Raymond is actually doing some work with Sasha et al from MDFMK. That little tidbit was posted after this interview was conducted. There may be hope for Pig-lovers.]
"I found through the use of language, that I wrote God into existence. Language became the blanket that I threw over the invisible man, that gave him shape and form...Language became the salve to longing." (Nick Cave, "The Secret Life of the Love Song," The Secret Life of the Love Song)
photo by mark teppo
I feel badly that I can't share that with him. There are only a couple of friends that I've used really clearly in the poems. Usually it's a sort of blending of people that I know who are going through the same thing emotionally. I tend to write about that situation and draw from a couple of different sources. The piece "Honey Half" is written for a friend of mine. I called her on her cell phone one afternoon and she says, "Ah, Nicole, I can't talk right now. I'm being kicked out of anorexia camp. Can I call you back?" Now, I knew girls who went to, like, fat camp...
How do you get kicked out of anorexia camp?
Nicole: That's what I wanted to know!
Did you binge on the Ding-Dongs?
Nicole: You're supposed to! It's anorexia camp! You're supposed to eat. So what? You don't eat the Twinkies? That's what I didn't understand. So I wrote the piece. And she knows it's about her and she loves that. She's good with that because she understands that I meant it in a really loving way.
John knows that "Thirst" is about him. He and I have never really talked about it. I think I performed it live once when we were in Belgium together. I think he was secretly pleased to know that he has enough of an influence on me that he has been drawn into the web. I think all my friends who've come to readings or read my stuff know that they are close to me and are going to be drawn into the work. They may not recognize themselves. A lot of times they'll come up to me and ask: "Is that about so-and-so? Is that about me?" It was sort of an "is the poem true/is the poem not true" kind of question. I realized that it wasn't so much that they wanted to know the truth, they wanted to know that they mattered enough--that they were weighty enough in my life--to be worth using. I usually leave that question open.
"When a star crashes the angels are electrified." ("You are Never Ready," Dead Inside)
That's my favorite line from Dead Inside.
Nicole: It is? I don't even remember writing it.
It's all in the delivery. I don't even remember what song it is from, but it is in the latter half of the album. It just leaps out.
Nicole: [after some thought] It's from "You are Never Ready." "...you must change your life / You are never ready." I have no idea what this line means. This is one of those things that I'm probably not going to understand for ten years or so.
It's actually one of the benefits that comes from time; when you get to go back and read your stuff and find yourself being amazed. "I wrote that?"
Nicole: Exactly. "That's a really great line!" [whispers] But you know what? I didn't write that. It was given to me. That's a gift. And the fact that I get to put my name on that makes me feel like a fraud. I feel like a fake. I don't know what it means.
But half of writing is reception anyway. You just funnel things through. I've had to tell people: "Look, anything you say in my presence is fair game."
Nicole: Yeah. "Anything you say can be used against you." I was flipping through Blood Sugar before the reading at Barnes and Noble and I kept seeing things that I don't remember writing. [laughs] I'm sorry. I just don't remember writing that line.
I was listening to the album last night and pulling quotes and I heard that line again. It has always been something that just leaped out at me.
photo by mark teppo
Golden Palominos "Ride" MP3