Anita Lane, a beloved Australian singer-songwriter who was a member of The Birthday Party and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, as well as solo singer, has died at 61. At press time no further information was available about the cause of death or when Lane passed, but her former bandmate Cave confirmed the news in a lengthy post in which he called her “the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far.”
Lane met Cave in 1977 when she was a teenager studying fine art at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, and then fell in with the budding bandleader after getting booted from school. The pair began writing lyrics together as Cave’s first band morphed into The Birthday Party and decamped to England. Her first official co-write to reach ears was “A Dead Song,” which appeared on The Birthday Party’s official 1981 debut album, Prayers on Fire.
The songwriting collaboration continued on the band’s 1982 Junkyard album with “Dead Joe” and “Kiss Me Black,” and Lane was a short-lived member of Cave’s subsequent band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, helping to co-write their epic, signature rager about romantic obsession, “From Her to Eternity,” as well as several songs on the band’s fourth album, Your Funeral… My Trial.
In addition to contributing vocals and songwriting to projects by German post-punkers Die Haut, Barry Adamson, Kid Congo, German industrial noise band Einstürzende Neubauten and Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey’s projects over the years, Lane also released a handful of solo efforts. Her Harvey-produced debut EP, Dirty Sings, was released in 1988, followed by her debut full-length, Dirty Pearl, in 1993 and a second solo collection, Sex O’Clock, in 2001.
Cave paid emotional tribute to Lane on his Red Hand Files site in response to the question, “What can you tell us about Anita?” and other inquires. “You think you know grief, you think you’ve worked out its mechanics, you think you’ve become grief-savvy — stronger, wiser, more resilient — you think that there is nothing more that can hurt you in this world, and then Anita dies,” he wrote.
“Standing on the street in a baby-doll dress, surrounded by sunshine, laughing and radiating a piercing beauty of such force you stop breathing. I could not believe my eyes. Later, at my kitchen table drawing things, she had a quickness of touch and a clear, light line full of humour, throwing each drawing away and starting another, charged with a rampant, unstable, fatal energy that would follow her all her life. My line, amateur and ponderous.”
Cave said that “everyone” wanted to work with Lane, describing it as trying to catch lightning in a bottle. But then, he wrote, bandmate Harvey figured out how to get her in the studio, even if the “precious” few songs they did were just a “fraction of what she was. She was the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far. Walked into the most prestigious art college in Australia — on a whim — and talked her way into being given a place there. Bought an easel, some butcher’s paper, some crayons, put on a dress, did her hair and never went back in. She thought the best ideas were the ones that never saw the light of day.”
The Bad Seeds bandleader said Lane was the real brains behind The Birthday Party, writing “a bunch” of their songs, as well as such iconic Bad Seeds anthems as “The World’s a Girl,” “Sugar in a Hurricane” and his favorite, “Stranger Than Kindness.”
“How could something so luminous carry so much darkness?” he asked. “Drank gin out of a baby’s bottle. Despised the concept of the muse but was everybody’s. Spoke in a child’s voice and was my best friend. Two months ago, speaking to her on the phone she seemed a million miles away. Loved her children more than anything. They were her pride and joy. It was both easy and terrifying to love her. Leaves a big, crying space.”
Check out tributes and some of Lane’s musical moments below.