Sometime ago I read a review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds which described the movie (with its New Jersey, blue-collar anti-hero) as H.G. Wells’s classic reinterpreted by Bruce Springsteen.
This got me thinking. What would other classics be like if they were reinterpreted by musicians? So, armed with my love of music and literature, I attempted to write my own reinterpreted synopsis.
After much deliberation I finally settled on rewriting Dickens’s Great Expectations via Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (with some liberties). And here’s what I ended up with.
by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Orphan Jack Sorrow1 lives with his abusive sister, Christina2, and her gentle blacksmith husband, John Finn3. One day whilst out riding his mule Jack encounters Phelonious4, a convict recently escaped from a chain gang.
Phelonious snatches Jack and forces him to sneak into a church and steal a flask of whiskey from a drunken reverend5. Phelonious is soon recaptured by the sheriff and returns to the chain gang.
A while later, Jack is taken to visit the wealthy, reclusive Miss Bellows6 in Arkansas. Since the death of her fiancée, Miss Bellows has slept in a coffin, claiming she’s not one for surprises and would prefer to lay down every night as if she were laying down for the rest of her life.
Jack passes his days at the large estate with only Miss Bellows’s aloof, adopted daughter, Elisa Day7 for company. Jack soon falls in love with Elisa. However, one day after an argument over Elisa’s affections, Jack becomes embroiled in a fight with another boy.
Soon after, Jack returns to his sister and begins his blacksmith apprenticeship with his uncle. Longing to be back at the estate with the eccentric Miss Bellows and Elisa, Jack spends most of his time drinking in O’Malley’s Bar8, where one night he is approached by a burly stranger in an old Stetson hat9. The strange man gives Jack a flask of whiskey similar to the one he had stolen for the criminal all those years ago.
Some weeks later, Mr. Jefferson, a lawyer from Alabama pays Jack a visit and informs him that he has received a windfall and is to be sent to the city to become a gentleman. Jack assumes Miss Bellows has laid down in her coffin for the final time and left him an inheritance. In Alabama, he meets Henry Lee10, the boy he had a fight with back at Miss Bellows’s estate and they soon become friends.
Months later John Finn pays Jack a visit, bringing with him a letter from Miss Bellows. Relieved at the news that she is still alive Jack pays Miss Bellows a visit before returning to Alabama accompanied by Elisa.
One dark night Jack is accosted by a stranger who reveals himself as Phelonious. Phelonious tells Jack that he, not Miss Bellows, is the source of his fortunes and great expectations. Jack also learns that another convict, Crookes11, is Miss Bellows’s dead fiancée and had faked his own death many years ago.
Jack and Henry discover that Crookes has come to Alabama intent on killing Phelonious. They follow him one night but arrive too late and find both men dead.
Jack, oblivious that Miss Bellows has raised Elisa only to break his heart as a revenge for her loss of love, professes his love for her during a stroll by the river. Elisa reveals she is in love with Henry and that they are to be engaged. Jack weeps with sorrow.
Elisa is later found dead on the riverbank with a rose between her teeth12. After learning of this tragedy, Miss Bellows lays down that night for the last time with a further broken heart.
Where the Wild Roses Grow (feat. Kylie Minogue)
by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I quite enjoyed writing that and hope you enjoyed reading it. Depending on how I feel I might tackle another one at some stage.
- A combination of ‘Jangling Jack’ from Let Love In and ‘Sorrow’s Child’ from The Good Son. Plus, it sounded like a great name for a doomed Dicken’s character.
- ‘Christina the Astonishing’ from Henry’s Dream.
- ‘John Finn’s Wife’ from Henry’s Dream.
- Phelonious: a play on the word felon.
- ‘mad, old buzzard, the reverend…’, ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ from Henry’s Dream.
- Mary Bellows, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ from Murder Ballads.
- Elisa Day, ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ from Murder Ballads.
- ‘O’Malley’s Bar’ from Murder Ballads.
- ‘He wore rat-drawn shoes and an old stetson hat…’, ‘Stagger Lee’ from Murder Ballads.
- ‘Henry Lee’ from Murder Ballads.
- Crookes: crook.
- ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ from Murder Ballads.