The District’s own Dave Tarnowski is the man behind one of the most honest and entertaining pages on Instagram. As @nickcaveandthebadmemes, Tarnowski tackles topics like mental health, relationships and the absurdity of everyday life with the help of music and pop culture icons including the eponymous musician Nick Cave, David Bowie, Robert Smith of The Cure, film director David Lynch and more. While Tarnowski notes he’s not a mental health professional and help from one is essential if you’re in need of it, he uses his meme page and podcast, “The Sad Bastard,” to encourage hard conversations about such tricky topics through sharing his own experiences with both mediums.
Tarnowski uses his skill and creativity, perhaps stemming in part from his background as a fiction writer, to create these virtual conversations and connections that are needed especially in a year like 2020. What started as a Facebook page now has 177,000 followers, a podcast and three other meme pages – all complete with Tarnowski’s voice, honesty and wit. We caught up with the meme maker, podcast host and pop culture enthusiast to learn more about his pages and podcasts, and to get his thoughts on some rapid-fire topics.
District Fray: Can you tell me a bit more about how @nickcaveandthebadmemes was born and eventually led to your podcast “The Sad Bastard?”
Dave Tarnowski: I started the [@nickcaveandthebadmemes] Instagram account in 2017. For the first year-and-a-half, it was just goofy. At the beginning of 2019, I started thinking about my mental health and turning the focus into that and relationships. It was this thing going on inside me that I didn’t know how to talk about. In late 2019, I started doing the Q&A Instagram stories and that became a really big thing, helping people feel seen through sharing my stories. There are so many things that we all go through. I’m not the first person to be going through a divorce right now. Especially with Covid, people get crammed together and it’s causing a lot of breakups. I’d never wanted to do a podcast, but this one guy approached me and said, “You need a podcast.” I was like, “Alright.” He introduced me to the person who produces my podcast, and that’s become my favorite thing.
@nickcaveandthebadmemes currently has 177,000 followers. When did you realize it was really taking off?
The first thing that made me feel like, “Holy shit,” was when Natasha Lyonne started following me, and shared a bunch of my memes. People were always telling me that this famous person or that famous person is following me, and it got to a point where I didn’t even see who was following me. But those things helped me grow. Suddenly, I’d get 10,000 more followers practically overnight. I had been a fiction writer and I never finished anything. I was sort of telling my 14-year-old self who started writing, and who was always like, “You’ve got to do this,” that maybe we should put this on the side for a moment and refocus our efforts. I really started changing gears from a complete niche into what it’s become, which is literally almost anything. I started doing The Cure and David Bowie and Natasha Lyonne in “Russian Doll.” It became not necessarily universal, but it covered a lot of people that held similar interests, and that was the moment when things just went crazy.
In addition to your first page, you also run @sadpeaks, @dondrooper and @memeybridgers. How do you decide when to create a new page as opposed to posting on the original, and do you have any plans for more?
David Lynch was the first person I really started meme-ing on the Nick Cave page. I don’t know where I found that connection, but I was just like, “You know what? F–k it.” A lot of people started liking that. And eventually, @sadpeaks came along. It’s funny because on my other pages, I do the same kind of memes, just more specifically geared. On @sadpeaks, I’m never going to suddenly throw a Robert Smith meme there. But there was something about @nickcaveandthebadmemes that just has that connection, and it’s what gets noticed.
Why are people so connected to memes as a communication form, especially with hard topics like the ones you cover?
I’m talking about really serious shit, but with a wink and a nod to it. It’s not that having bipolar disorder like I do is funny. But if I put something out that is very easy to digest, so you see something and it’s this picture with words on it, it hits you in a certain way. I guess it’s sort of like an advertisement for the soul. I’m not selling anything with it, other than helping someone feel seen. That’s a really powerful thing, and something that’s carried me through everything I’ve been doing and everything I plan to do from here. There are universal things that not everybody goes through, but that a ton of us do. And also, when it comes to mental health – and this is what I’ve really made my soapbox in a way – it doesn’t get talked about enough, unless it’s in hushed tones. I wanted to be a loud voice with it.
Deserted island album? It changes. The Cure’s “Pornography” has always been my top album. But right now, I’d say Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher.” It’s perfect. What was the last concert you saw before lockdown and where was it? I saw Nick Cave in New York in 2018. If you could have dinner with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be and why? [David] Bowie, just because I would have so many questions to ask him, and he seems like he’d be a really good dinner date. Have you made any new musical discoveries recently? Bohren & der Club of Gore. They’re German, a very dark jazz band – I would say like the bastard child of David Lynch soundtracks. They have been a pretty constant soundtrack of my quarantine life and are typically what I put on when I write a podcast. Who would you want to play you in a movie version of your life? The person I get compared to the most is David Harbour. But since I started shaving my head, it’s been Heisenberg from “Breaking Bad.” So, I’d love Bryan Cranston. What song would play in the opening credit sequence to the movie about your life? “Plainsong” from [The Cure’s] “Disintegration.” If you had to eradicate one social media platform tomorrow, what would it be? Twitter. What is your favorite movie at the moment? “What We Do in the Shadows.” It’s such a great movie, but I actually ended up loving the TV series even more. Favorite place in D.C. to get takeout? I would say The Pig. And lately, it’s been Duccini’s Pizza. What is the most overrated part of living in D.C.? The monuments. Underrated? I do love 16th Street. It has a lot of great buildings to see, especially the freemason building. I think that’s the most beautiful building in this city. If you had to pick one artist to see at any D.C. venue, who and where would you pick? Morphine. They were the best live show ever. Mark Sandman, the singer and band leader, died back in 1999. I got to see them about a dozen times when I was a kid in all sorts of clubs in New York. I’d like to see them at the 9:30 Club.
Follow Tarnowski on Instagram @nickcaveandthebadmemes, @sadpeaks, @dondrooper and @memeybridgers. You can listen to “The Sad Bastard” podcast wherever you get your podcasts and learn more via Instagram @thesadbastardpod.
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