Anita Lane – Singer, songwriter
Born March 18,1960; died April 2021
Anita Lane, who has died aged 61, was a singer and songwriter whose mercurial talent explored emotional extremes with a black humoured candour. She did this over two albums of her own, Dirty Pearl (1993), and Sex O’Clock (2001), and on numerous collaborations with assorted fellow travellers.
Possessed with a voice that sounded sired somewhere between No Wave era New York and the Parisian Left Bank rather than the Australian suburbs she was actually from, Lane’s precious few recordings revealed a fearless and unique creative force.
As a teenager, Lane had fallen in with a post-punk community that crawled out of Melbourne to explore a darker vision than their sunny surroundings offered, and helped carve out a ferocious form of antipodean gothic that marked out her future artistic path. Aged seventeen, Lane formed a creative and romantic alliance with nineteen-year-old Nick Cave after her classmate Roland S. Howard joined his band, The Boys Next Door.
As the band morphed into The Birthday Party, she co-wrote songs with Cave, moving to London and then Berlin with the group. Lane became a member of the first line-up of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and co-wrote the lyrics to the title track of their debut album, From Her to Eternity (1984). With Blixa Bargeld, she wrote Stranger than Kindness, which appeared on their fourth collection, Your Funeral… My Trial (1986). Cave said it was his favourite Bad Seeds song, and named a memoir after it.
On her passing, Cave wrote in his Red Hand Files blog how Lane was ‘the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far’. This was clear from the fusion of cracked Americana and European torch songs such as The World’s a Girl (1993), a single taken from Dirty Pearl, to the string soaked erotica of Sex O’Clock.
It was clear too on the various guest appearances she made. Her take on These Boots Are Made For Walking (1991) with fellow former Bad Seed Barry Adamson gave Lee Hazlewood’s composition a sardonic edge. Her versions of Sexual Healing, by Marvin Gaye, and Sister Sledge’s Lost in Music saw the songs broken down and reconstructed in her own quietly provocative image.
Her collaborations with Mick Harvey on two albums of Serge Gainsbourg songs were less extreme, but just as individual. Lane was the perfect vocal foil on 69 Erotic Year and Bonnie and Clyde on Intoxicated Man (1995), as well as on The Ballad of Melody Nelson and I Love You… Nor Do I on Pink Elephants (1997), but she was nobody’s sidekick.
Sex O’Clock saw Lane widen her palette, both in her covers of Gil Scott Heron and Doc Pomus, and in her own songs, such as The Next Man That I See and Do That Thing. She closed the record with a funereal version of Italian protest song, Bella Ciao. Whether intended or not, it marked Lane’s own musical farewell. Sex O’Clock was Lane’s masterpiece, but she never released another record.
Anita Louise Lane was born in Melbourne, and began writing and singing aged sixteen. She briefly studied art at Victorian College of Arts, the Gallery School before being expelled after three months for not turning up to classes.
With The Birthday Party, she co-wrote the lyrics to A Dead Song for the band’s debut, Prayers on Fire (1981), and two songs - Dead Joe, and Kiss Me Black - for the follow-up, Junkyard (1982). She sang lead vocal on the Bad Seeds scored soundtrack to the film, Ghosts…of the Civil Dead (1988), co-written by Cave, and appeared on Adamson’s debut solo album, Moss Side Story (1989), and his soundtrack for Delusion (1991).
Lane was guest vocalist with German band Die Haut on The Bells Belong to the Ashes, for their album, Headless Body in Topless Bar (1988). On the band’s 1992 album, Head On, she duetted with Kid Congo Powers on Excited, and with Bargeld on Subterranean World (How Long…?). She sang with Bargeld again on Blume, for Einsturzende Neubauten’s 1993 album, Tabula Rasa.
Her own records seemed to come from need. As she told Ian Johnston in his 1996 biography of Cave, Bad Seed, she cornered Mute records boss Daniel Miller, and told him how “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.”
The resultant Dirty Sings EP and the compendium of old and new material on Dirty Pearl brought a focus to her hard-to-pin-down talent. She went on to appear on Cave’s 1996 Murder Ballads album alongside Kylie Minogue, PJ Harvey and Shane MacGowan on an epic cover of Bob Dylan’s Death is Not the End.There was a collaboration with Gudrun Gut on Firething (1996), and an appearance on the soundtrack of German director Tom Tykwer’s film, The Princess and the Warrior (2000).
Echoes of Lane can be heard in the generations of chanteuses who followed in her wake. With a twentieth anniversary re-issue of Sex O’Clock already planned by Mute, Lane’s artistic legacy should see her belatedly recognised as one of the greatest unsung talents of her time.
She is survived by her three sons; Raphael, to Johannes Beck, who she met in Berlin; and Luciano and Carlito, to Andrea Libonati, who she met in Morocco and lived with in Sicily.
The Herald, May 18th 2021