The Wild Rose

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

1.5 oz Leopold’s Gin
0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
0.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
Dash Angostura Bitters
Dash Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe

* * *

Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?  The poets seem to think so.  In literature and art, the more human beings are denied love, the more they crave it and obsess about it.  Which is why, over the centuries, so many have risked so much the name of love.  Would Anthony and Cleopatra – who fell in love at first sight – have married if they had known Rome would quake as a consequence?  Politics be damned, yes.   Would lovelorn Paris have kidnapped Helen if he thought it would jump start the Trojan War?  Again, yes – foolish boy.  And would so many rom-com heroes and heroines have chucked it all to make that eleventh hour dash to the departure terminal had the promise of true love not been a reward which far outweighed any and all risks?  Of course not.

But, what then should we make of that tragic heroine, Elisa Day, who followed a tall, dark, and handsome fellow down by the river?  “Elisa who?” you ask.  Poor, dear, naive Elisa Day, the “Wild Rose”, who reminds us that not all love stories end happily.  Forget all the tragic love affairs of yore.  Forget the unrequited romances, the affairs that ended in tragedy, the love stories so sappy that even a maple tree wouldn’t touch them.  Elisa Day is the poster girl of love gone wrong, and she comes to us from no less formidable a source than Mr. Nick Cave.

The term musician barely does Nick Cave justice.  As frontman for the groups Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party, and Grinderman, Cave has written and sung some of the last three decades’ most original, driving, and haunting  songs.  As an author, he has published books on religion (“The Flesh Made Word”) and written novels (including “The Death of Bunny Munroe”, about a sex-addicted salesman).  In 2006, he composed the score for a theatrical adaptation of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”.  At the request of Russell Crowe, Cave wrote a sequel to “Gladiator”, which never got made but was rumored in Hollywood circles to be one of the coolest (if noncommercial) scripts in recent years.  If you don’t get it by now, Nick Cave holds a special place among 12 Bottle Bar’s panel of Olympians.

Since the beginning of his career, Cave has fostered an artistic fixation on the concepts of love and death, and that exploration is nowhere more apparent than in the song “Where the Wild Roses Grow”.  As so many of history’s lovers suggest, love can quickly turn to obsession and, well, obsession can lead to some very nasty things.  Like murder.  Maybe this is what led Cave to write the album “Murder Ballads”, on which “Where the Wild Roses Grow” features so prominently.  The collection of songs is chilling in its lyrical recitation of thoughts turned deadly, but none more so than the not-so-rosy duet he sings with fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue.

Cave was influenced by the folk ballad “Willow Garden”, which tells of how a man kills a young woman while they are courting. Cave’s version is tinged with both the light and darkness of adoration – from Minogue’s Elisa Day sweetly claiming that “he would be my first man” to Cave’s chillingly calculating statement that “all beauty must die”.  And, in terms of writing the song with Kylie in mind, it didn’t hurt that Cave had, in his own words, “a quiet obsession with her for about six years.”  And so, born of his own personal fixation, this song about passion gone wrong became Cave’s first pop hit; the irony that twelve-year-old girls all across the globe were going about humming the melody of his danse macabre was not lost on the songwriter.  Like much great art, he does not moralize on “Murder Ballads”, he simply tells the tales to be told and lets the audience draw its own conclusions.

And so, we arrive at today’s drink, the Wild Rose, a nickname applied to Elisa Day once her body was discovered in a bank of the same flowers.  There is, of course, no formal connection between the drink and the song, but we think every good drink deserves a good tale, apocryphal or not. Musty and floral, there’s a Gothic sensibility here — like a long forgotten bouquet.  The Gin offers a bracing, “notice me” quality, much like when we see the object of our affections for the first time.  The Sweet and Dry Vermouths are a study in contrasts, again much like romance itself.  And the inclusion of both Orange and Angostura Bitters serve as a poetic reminder that even great love can have its somewhat astringent moments.  Are we reaching?  Sure, but love can make us rationalize just about anything – even murder.

Video – Where the Wild Roses Grow
Video – Willow Garden (a brilliant performance by a young girl)

ESOTERICA: According to Wikipedia, the Alexandrian Library of modern culture, the death count on “Murder Ballads” clocks in at 64. The Song “The Curse of Millhaven” gives us almost half of these, while “O’Malley’s Bar” recounts its death toll over fourteen-and-a-half minutes with Tarantino-like exuberance.  Not for the squeamish, but whoever said love was.


7 responses to “The Wild Rose

  1. Well, he did write “The Proposition”, which was quite an excellent movie.

    • No one’s saying the Gladiator 2 script was bad (I haven’t read it), but apparently it “wasn’t what the studio had in mind”. BTW, Erik, I thought this one would be up your alley — in namesake, at least. It’s a good little drink if you don’t want to go too dry or too sweet. Regans’ Bitters are a must.

      My only lament was twenty rose bushes in the garden and not one in bloom.

  2. Many a love song about loss..murder and obsession???…. way out there. great video… the lovers were so in character.. it was like a little opera.
    I had heard of Cave but didn’t know much… you have peeked my interest.
    Drink looks nummy too and perfect for the holiday of love… love the giant full-blown rose.

  3. Wow, what an intriguing article. Thanks for including the link to the video mentioned, it fit the piece perfectly.

  4. When I was in graduate school and listening to Murder Ballads in lab, my adviser came by and asked if I was listening to Christmas songs. True, he was a little hard of hearing, but that was one of the strangest comments I have ever heard him say especially given the songs’ content.

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