by Craig Wallwork
I found Nick Cave by chance. I purchased the CD And No More Shall We Part several years ago on a whim. It was on sale, modestly priced. Frugality brought us together. At the time I knew of Cave only through his collaboration with Kylie Minogue and a bit part in the early 90s flick Johnny Suede but that was about it. I bought the CD thinking it would look good in my collection, the churlish and morose child sulking among the brighter, and more enigmatic, in his class. Once home I stored it away, flanked either side by Cohen and The Stone Roses, and didn’t pick it up again until six months later.
Again, driven by frugality, I began to walk to work. One morning I borrowed my wife’s portable CD player, looked at my collection and saw Nick Cave cloaked in a shadow, wearing it much the same way a magician wears a cape to divert attention from the trick. But what was he hiding? What cunning illusion had he crafted to deceive me? Cave’s trick was to conjure up a life changing revelation. On walking to work that day, listening to songs like “God Is In the House,” “Love Letter,” “Darker With the Day,” and “Hallelujah.” I realised he wasn’t dark, cynical, or angst-ridden, as I was led to believe from my peers. He was in fact a poet, marrying comedy and sorrow, love and death, hope and wistfulness in ways I have never heard before. The people he sang about were flawed, broken, and the world they lived in was peculiar. He had a great sense of irony, taking words, and beating them with his fists, to forge something quite beautiful. Coupled with heart-piercing strings, rectum rumbling bass lines, and sweat-inducing guitars, all supplied and arranged by the motley crew of uber-cool musicians, The Bad Seeds, I was instantly hooked. What Cave could do in just a few lines took authors and poets several pages. The influence he had within three minutes on your heart and mind, took years for the common writer to achieve.
For those unaware of Cave’s history, it all began on 22 September 1957 at Warracknabeal, a small country town in the state of Victoria, Australia. His mother was a librarian, his father taught English. It was fair to say words were no different than the common housefly, buzzing around his head in youth, the beat of their erratic wings shaping his mood in the form of Auden, Nabokov and Shakespeare. When he was 16 he met Mick Harvey, a guitarist who would go on to be one of his long time collaborators. They formed the proto-punk band The Birthday Party and saw some moderate and violent success. Cave confesses that he never wanted to be a singer; that he intended all along to be a painter. Fate had already intervened. Drug and alcohol addiction led to the Birthday Party’s demise in 1983, and from the ashes came the Bad Seeds. Fifteen albums later, and they’re still going strong.
Not content with just music as a conduit to infest our lives, I found he had written a book called And the Ass Saw the Angel, a Southern Gothic story about a mute boy who is reflecting on his life while slowly sinking to his death. I have never read a book that had its own rhythm, whose prose was so deeply layered with guttural slang and hypnotic verse that I was dizzy and robbed of breath. I have never been so close to a character in his final moments as I was with Eucrow, a boy Cave once described as being “Jesus struck dumb, the blocked artist, and internalized imagination become madness.” After I closed that last page I knew my own efforts in the literary world would change, that forevermore I would be influenced by Cave’s hand.
Like some crazy, twisted genealogy tree, I searched his history in text books, the Internet and magazines to see what else he had created. Screenplays, musical scores, acting. Fellow Bad Seed, and best beard in the business, Warren Ellis, supported him in the studios. Armed with violins and piano, they splayed the executive Hollywood naysayers to create powerful and moody compositions for films such as The Proposition, for which Cave also wrote the screenplay; The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, in which Cave also acted; the Cormac McCarthy adaption of The Road, and Lawless, for which Cave, again, helped write the screenplay. I was beginning to think this guy was some kind of deity; part mythology and part the imaginary creation of dilettantes the world over. And like all deities, we must decide whether we become the sceptic or the disciple. I knew which camp I stood in.
I don’t hold in high regard most of the living. All the people who have influenced me are dead, lost to the drink, the hunger, diabetes and broken hearts, but Cave is a man who is continually shaping my world. His more recent works, like his second novel The Death of Bunny Munro, and his work with Grinderman, remain vibrant with humour, as though the act of taking them too seriously would dilute the fun in their creation. It appears the once misunderstood child sat at the back of class at his desk, engraving into the wood horrific delineations of Jack the Ripper, Satan’s red hand or the homosexual criminal Stagger Lee, seems more content now to render Lazarus living in modern society, of Orpheus and his lyre, of kittens in the trees and a man with green flippers singing the blues.
Though that’s not to say his satirical perspective has mellowed the man completely. The fire burning within Cave may have been tempered by age, but the smouldering embers of a once dark youth will still burn your fingers.
God is in the house
We No Who U R
Directed by Gaspar Noé