Anita Lane, the singer-songwriter who cowrote some of the Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ most memorable songs, has died at age 61. Rolling Stone has confirmed Lane’s death; a cause and date of death has yet to be revealed.
As a solo artist, Lane wrote dark, luscious chamber pop that owed a debt to Burt Bacharach and Serge Gainsbourg. Her light, airy falsetto had a knack for cutting through collaborator Mick Harvey’s arrangements. As a lyricist working with the Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds, she had a knack for writing the eerie and morbid lyrics that were the calling cards of Cave’s early work. Cave still performs some of the Bad Seeds songs Lane co-authored such as “From Her to Eternity” and “Stranger Than Kindness.”
Harvey, a former Birthday Party and Bad Seeds member who also produced Lane’s solo work, posted a photo of Lane on Instagram, taken in Berlin in 1995. He included 43 heart emojis, “one for every year I’ve loved you.” Cave’s wife, Susie, posted a tribute to Lane on Instagram. “Darling Anita, We love you so much,” she wrote with a brokenhearted emoji. She then quoted the lyrics to Cave’s song, “Sad Waters.”
Biographical details of Lane’s life prior to meeting Cave are fuzzy, but when she was 17, she was introduced to him in 1977 by guitarist Rowland S. Howard, who was playing with Cave in the Boys Next Door at the time. She was studying fine art at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, the Gallery School, according to Ian Johnston’s Cave biography, Bad Seed. She was expelled three months later for failing to show up but found a new home in the city’s burgeoning punk scene.
“I guess everyone came to life out of punk rock, all that feeling that was going around at the time,” she told Melody Maker in 1988. “It was funny for us, because we weren’t poor, working class or very upset. What were we? I don’t know. I never cared what anyone was doing or what the fashion was. The tastes I had then happened to be in fashion and that’s probably the case with Nick, too. We were accidentally in time.”
Lane and Cave quickly fell in love, and within a short time, she started writing lyrics with him. When the Boys Next Door became the Birthday Party and relocated to London, Lane moved with them. Their first published collaboration was “A Dead Song,” a prickly number with abstract imagery like “with words like blood and soldier and mother,” which appeared on the Birthday Party’s 1981 LP, Prayers on Fire.
“[Lane’s] lyrics lie around our room on pieces of paper accumulating coffee rungs util they become grubby and get thrown away,” Cave was quoted as saying in Bad Seed, “but ‘A Dead Song’ — that has been immortalized.” She cowrote “Dead Joe” and “Kiss Me Black,” off 1982’s Birthday Party LP Junkyard, using the “exquisite corpse” method, where she and Cave would trade turns writing lines. She continued to contribute to Cave’s music after the group’s breakup and after her and the singer broke up in 1983.
“Anita is an incredibly talented person and gave a lot of ideas,” Cave told Melody Maker in 1997, expressing remorse about the way their creative and personal relationships intertwined. “[She] gave them to me. She was very generous. And after a while, that seemed to become her role: to give herself to me while I just raged forward. I didn’t do it deliberately.”
As a member of the Bad Seeds, Lane helped write Cave’s signature song, the cacophonous, brooding “From Her to Eternity,” the title track of their 1984 album. The song describes a man obsessing about the girl who lives in the apartment above him over a clanging ostinato piano note. “Hot tears come splashin’ on down/Leaking through the cracks,” he sings, “Down upon my face/I catch ’em in my mouth.” They had written the words together late one night in their Brixton Hill flat in London.
She also cowrote the romantic “Stranger Than Kindness,” a strange and quiet song on the Bad Seeds’ 1986 record Your Funeral … My Trial, with the band’s guitarist, Blixa Bargeld. “Your sleeping hands, they journey, they loiter/Stranger than kindness,” goes one of the song’s evocative lyrics. “It was just how I felt one day,” Lane said of the song in Bad Seed. “I was grieving all the time and pining for something. I had this sadness a lot, like it was raining in my chest. [Cave and I] never really stopped seeing each other but we weren’t together at the time. When I was young, I wasn’t a jealous person because I liked myself, but I became more jealous as I got older.”
“Anita Lane wrote that bout me,” Cave told Melody Maker in 1997. “It’s a very pissed-off song, but very beautiful, too.” He recently used the “Stranger Than Kindness” title for a museum exhibition and attendant book about his life and career. A photo from the book of Cave and Lane together appeared in a recent Rolling Stone photo gallery.
She contributed to various recordings by members of the Bad Seeds through the rest of the Eighties, and in the early Nineties, she sang on the album Tabula Rasa by Bargeld’s industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten and on Mick Harvey’s Serge Gainsbourg tribute, Intoxicated Man. Her last contribution to a Bad Seeds album was singing on 1995’s Murder Ballads.
Lane made her solo debut in 1988 with an EP titled Dirty Sings, featuring music performed by Cave and members of the Bad Seeds, including a cover of Sister Sledge’s “Lost in Music.” The singer recounted in Bad Seed how she felt compelled to make the record because she was “desperately unhappy and wanting to die.”
She cornered Mute Records president Daniel Miller and made her case. “I told [him] I’ve got this life and I don’t know what to do with it. I almost don’t even want it, but I’m really talented so use me,” she said. “I didn’t want to be on a pedestal on the record. I wanted to talk to other girls. I kind of wanted to glorify insecurity rather than being confident and successful. I wanted some kind of equality between the emotions that are raised up for people to look at, to show other emotions that are equally as valid as confidence and control. I felt that I was going to die, and I wanted to leave something behind, as a suicide note, I guess.”
She released her first full-length in 1993, Dirty Pearl, an album produced by Harvey that also found him playing nearly all of the instruments. It included avant-garde covers of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” alongside tracks she wrote and recorded over the previous decade, presented in reverse chronological order. Her next solo album, Sex O’clock, arrived in 2001. It was again produced by Harvey and featured covers of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and her own compositions like, “I Hate Myself” and “Do the Kamasutra.” It would be her last recording.
By the early Nineties, Lane had married a man named Johannes Beck, according to Bad Seed. Together, the couple had a son named Raffie. In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Harvey mentioned Lane had other children and had been living in Byron Bay, Australia.
Lane reflected in Bad Seed on how her association with Cave propelled her into a creative life she had not expected. “When we meet, I was 17 and he was 19,” she said. “You haven’t decided on anything at that age. You’re all open and you want the world to show you everything, having rejected what your parents have planned for you. That was the springboard: rebelliousness. You just jump into the arms of whatever comes along and so we did.”
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