I'm trying to remember exactly when I discovered Nick Cave. Probably around 2001 or 2002, when I had gotten into Shane MacGowan and the Pogues in a big way, and went so far as to purchase a VHS copy of a documentary about Shane. Nick Cave, having collaborated a bit with MacGowan, was one of the people interviewed. He sang part of "A Rainy Night in Soho," accompanied by his own piano playing, and I was captivated.
Not long after that, hubby brought home a copy of Metallica's "Garage Inc," upon which they performed Nick Cave's song, "Loverman." This inspired me to want to hear Cave's original version, so I bought his CD, "Let Love In." That one CD led to the purchase of many more. I really couldn't get enough of his music, thoughts, and poetry, though at the time, I really had to draw the line at his early punk group, "The Birthday Party." I could read the lyrics from those songs in my books of Cave's poetry and enjoy them as poems, but the music stretched me farther than I wanted to be stretched. (Note to self -- find those CDs downstairs and try again!)
One of my all-time favorite Cave CDs is "The Secret Life of the Love Song," which is a series of lectures he gave on songwriting. He covered a fascinating gamut of subjects in these lectures, and performed solo versions of some of his more sensitive songs, so poignantly, accompanied by his own piano playing. I swear, as a writer, I learn something new every time I listen to these lectures, and I really, really love them so much. In fact, it's been awhile since I last listened to them, so I think that will be on the docket today: listen to Nick's lectures while I get some spinning done. Guaranteed, I will hardly notice the passing of time while he speaks.
Nick Cave is such a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, he writes fantastic, beautiful, and often painful love songs. On the other hand, there are works like "O'Malley's Bar," "John Finn's Wife," and "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," which are gruesome and violent and graphic, and yet...one is riveted to the stories being told. Nick Cave has an extraordinary way with words, and an extraordinary way of delivering those words. Utterly compelling.
"Loverman" is probably one of the scariest love songs I can imagine, and yet...it's hot. VERY hot. The narrator is obsessed to the point of violence.
"L is for love, baby, and O is for only you that I do. And V is for loving virtually all that you are, and E is for loving almost everything you do. R is for rape me, and M is for murder me, and A is for answering all of my prayers. N is for knowing your Loverman's going to be the answer to all of yours."
The question, I suppose, is WHY is that so hot? Cave's delivery is a big part of it, but also the song is incredibly intense. The louder, the better for listening, so one gets completely caught up in the wash of sounds and the violence of the narrator's obsession.
This next one gives me gooseflesh every time I hear it. The studio version on "Abbatoir Blues" is very good, but the live performance ups the ante considerably. "Send your stuff on down to me," is Nick's way of calling down the Muse for inspiration, and his laundry list of famous, inspired writers, artists, and musicians reminds us that no real artist ever has a completely happy life, and answering the call of the Muse involves a certain amount of suffering. Sometimes the Muse will not come. Often, other people don't give a damn about what you've created, directed by the Muse you have no choice but to follow. But ignoring the Muse is Death. If you are a Creator, you require a Muse, and you must Create or die. And if the Muse declines to come when you're on your knees begging, then you either find something positive and constructive to do with your time while you wait, or you fall prey to various demons, which could include depression, drink, drugs...
Well, it's not an easy way, that's for sure, and "There She Goes, My Beautiful World" captures all of that and distills it into one perfect, intense, violent, and gorgeous song.
Part of the reason I love this next one so much is Warren Ellis, the violinist. His hypnotic minimalism is so perfect in this song, and what an experience, to watch him perform! Paganinni gone mad. What a tour de force! And the song itself tells a story and issues a warning after it meanders through an unhappy, confusing day in the life: "Be mindful of the prayers you send. Pray hard, but do pray with care, for the tears you are weeping now are just your answered prayers. The ladders of life we scale merrily move mysteriously around, so when you think you're climbing up, man, in fact you're climbing down."
And yes, Cave is so carried away in the intensity of the performance, he does indeed trip over a monitor speaker and the mic stand and nearly falls. But he carries on without a hitch, and if you heard this strictly as an audio, with no visual, you would never know what happened at 4:40.
Then, after the fierce violence of the preceding numbers, there are moments like this: "Sad Waters." The first time I heard an acoustic version of this, I wept. The studio version does not capture the same feeling at all, and in fact it's barely recognizable as the same song. This version is the quintessential one, and wild Mr. Ellis nicely displays his sensitive side as well, with one of the sweetest-sounding motifs I've ever had the pleasure to hear.
Next is "Brompton Oratory," which has got to be one of the best documents ever, of how difficult it is to separate one's spiritual side from one's worldly side. A man divided. Aren't we all like this to some degree? And in this case, even in the moments of receiving the Holy Eucharist. Amazing. So real. And each person kneeling to receive -- what are their thoughts? What are yours? What are mine?
One of the things I love best about Nick Cave is his perpetual questioning of the spiritual. There are no easy answers, and much conflict, and he is brutally honest about it. Not an easy thing to do, and I admire him for it, and strive towards a similar honesty.
I must confess, it still jars me that the man who wrote "Brompton Oratory" could also have written "O'Malley's Bar." But this, too, testifies to the man's honesty, albeit in a rather frightening way.