[I was recently asked to write a short essay about Nikki Sudden for a book about him. So even though he died back in 2006, in some ways, this is my first time really coming to terms with it. Here’s a brief ode to a great man.]
The first time I met Nikki Sudden, I sat in his lap. No, it was not a lap dance, but the song was “Daddy’s Girl.” It was my song, I was singing it, I had the microphone, for once Nikki was just a face in the crowd. But I remember that face. I do not remember much else about that night, but I remember Nikki. The way the room seemed to revolve around him.
Nikki looked like a rock star. He had that effortless cool that took over a room. He watched me perform, and there was the implicit compliment that came from knowing that you were entertaining the coolest person in the room. Sitting in his lap that night at Berlin’s White Trash bar felt like the most obvious thing in the world to do – and becoming his friend was the next.
When I moved to Berlin a few months later, Nikki was one of the first people I told, and he was one of the first people to invite me over. He lived a short bike ride across Görlitzer Park, and I visited him frequently when he was in town. The thing was, he was rarely in town because he toured a lot. Because Nikki really was a rock star. And like all true rock stars, Nikki belonged to the world, and I had to share him with it.
Nikki did not become a rock star. He did not become one after years of touring or years of carting around guitars. He did not become one by association. He simply was. He may have toured for years, he may have always been surrounded by guitars, but those things did not matter. He always was a rock star. He woke up a rock star, in the truest sense of the word. He lived and loved for the music and that made Nikki who he was. I imagine Nikki being born, Gibson in hand, humming a tune. He was always the coolest person in the room, and that was before he even opened his mouth, much less picked up a guitar. But when he started singing, when he started playing, then you knew for absolutely sure. Nikki was a rock star.
I had always second-guessed calling myself a musician. Even when I made my living touring Europe, I never felt like a real musician. Artist maybe, but not musician. But Nikki? Nikki was a musician. Nikki breathed it. No one could doubt Nikki’s authenticity. And therefore it meant the world to me when he would treat me like a colleague, when we would sing together. He asked me to sing on his last release, and it was one of the biggest compliments I could have ever received.
One of my fondest memories of Nikki was sitting on the floor of his apartment as he played guitar to my songs. To My Songs. My lyrics, my amateur lyrics, were on the floor of his apartment, and he sat there, with his guitar, singing them, as if I was somehow legit. We talked about doing a collaboration, but we ran out of time, and it never happened. All I have left are a couple tracks recorded like that, sitting on the floor of his living room, Nikki with that guitar that always sounded so right.
I have not listened to those tracks in years. Today was the first day I dared put in the cd, and hearing his voice, after all those years, makes it feel like it was just yesterday. Sitting with Nikki, across Görlitzer Park, listening to his guitar, listening to my words coming out of his mouth. I had never experienced anything like it. I put two of the tracks from that night online, here and here.
He was a legend, and I was grateful for the short time I got to spend in proximity to him and his light. Nikki was always the coolest one in the room, and I wish that short time had been a little bit longer.