Nick Cave’s Sick Bag Song

Artist and musician Nick Cave’s latest book offers a visual document of a 22-city tour of North America, scrawled on the back of airline sick bags. Designed by Pentagram’s Angus Hyland and published by Canongate, it’s a fascinating collection of doodles, lyrics, thoughts and verse…

Artist and musician Nick Cave’s latest book offers a visual document of a 22-city tour of North America scrawled on the back of airline sick bags. Designed by Pentagram’s Angus Hyland and published by Canongate, it’s a fascinating collection of doodles, lyrics, thoughts and verse…

Described as “both mythic and contemporary…[a text that] lies somewhere between the Wasteland and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, the book contains images of sick bags written and drawn on by Cave alongside prose, poetry and lyrics.

As Patrick Burgoyne wrote about in our August 2013 issue, Cave (who trained as an artist) often composes albums and songs in notebooks stamped with dates, covered in drawings and adapted with both typed and written corrections. The super deluxe edition of his album Push the Sky Away, designed by Tom Hingston, came with a detailed copy of one of his notebooks, complete with coloured stickers and a scribbled-on hotel notelet concealed in a pouch on the inside cover.


The Sick Bag Song offers a similar glimpse into the workings of the musician’s mind – arranged in order of his 2014 tour, it begins in Nashville and ends in Montreal. There are no obvious ‘sections’ as such, but each destination is introduced with a simple graphic (pictured below) and image of the corresponding sick bag, stamped with a date and littered with sketches and observations. There is an underlined title on each, alongside arrows, small drawings, asides and corrections written in different coloured ink or overlaid on stickers.



The text offers fleeting glimpses of North America, from an image of a boy on a bridge to mountains, lakes and prairies, alongside some surreal and dark imagined scenes. It also provides a record of the inspiring yet gruelling experience of being on tour – an entry from Toronto, towards the end of his journey, notes: “We have traversed borders…We have moved across the land, over wheat fields, mustard fields, corn fields, bean fields and fields of sunflowers,” before documenting the airlines he has flown with, airports he has sat in, food he has consumed and the venues he has performed in along the way.

Hyland says the book’s design was inspired by the visual language of airlines. Text on the cover and an accompanying website, for example, is inspired by a message printed on one of the sick bags featured (shown top). “It’s a very pared back design – it’s laid out as a serious book of poetry [and] the look and feel of the packaging takes it cues from the idiom of blue chip, corporate America,” explains Hyland. “We treated the sick bags as if they were works of art, showing both the front and back. If you took a pair of scissors to it, you could cut them out perfectly,” he says. The book’s cover features a white blind embossed design (pictured above), which Hyland says was designed with the intention of creating “something tangible and tactile.”


As well as a standard edition priced at £30, Canongate will release a limited edition package containing a unique “and fully functioning” sick bag customised by Cave, a signed and numbered edition of the book and a limited edition vinyl pressing of Cave reading the text aloud.

Priced at £750, it’s extraordinarily expensive – almost ten times the cost of his super deluxe Push the Sky Away package – but given Cave’s cult following, and the popularity of previous deluxe releases, there will undoubtedly be fans and collectors who feel it’s a worthwhile investment for a custom, one-of-a-kind Cave doodle. It seems a shame not to have included an original sick bag in the package, however. One produced in a moment of inspiration during the actual tour is surely more meaningful than one created to justify such a steep price tag.


To promote the book’s release, Cave will be hosting three live events: one on April 8 art the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles; another on April 10 at New York’s The Florence Gould Theatre and on April 16 at The Porchester Hall in London, where he will read from the book and take audience questions.

Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard, directors of 20,000 Days on Earth (a fictionalised documentary about Cave) will also be releasing a series of short flims on the Sick Bag Song website.


The Sick Bag Song is published by Canongate on April 8 and costs £30. Copies are available to order at

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