How NOT to write about music – 113. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


Around 23.05, I started crying.

I can’t even imagine. I don’t even want to imagine…

How much should a man be defined by events that happen in his life outside of his control? This is not the question, surely. The question is: how much is a man defined by his response to the events that happen in his life outside of his control? It is near impossible to judge people when everything goes well: what matters is the response when everything does not go well.

I write as someone who sometimes likes to pretend he has little to no memory of what transpired before – it’s not pretense, not usually – but also as someone who increasingly finds his life trajectory as a series of fits and bursts, the disc stuck and skipping at certain unavoidable points, defined by what happened to me outside of my control (mostly). If I have a problem with the ghost of my former self it is this: he had such casual brilliant brutal disregard for others and others’ feelings – not that I want to make him out to be callous or indifferent, just that his lack of perspective, lack of responsibility, served him so well. Jealousy. All my life I attempted to make others jealous and now I have come full circle, jealous of my former self: so successful that I find it near impossible to move on, however I try.

Maybe I don’t want to try. Maybe I want to linger, explain, learn.

Some basic information for you: commonly held to be an artistic high point in a career (arguably) full of artistic high points, this is the album many expected Skeleton Tree to be and gives the lie to the perception that the male voice weakens with age. It raises issues of performance vs non-performance, it raises goosebumps *not a word to be used lightly*, it makes the listener question right from the off precisely what they are listening out for, why they are listening, what they are listening to. (Amy Winehouse was an incredible singer and performer: so why do most people only talk about anything but?)

There are no “rock” songs, if rock is what you’re after. (I have no idea why rock would be what you’re after, but that is another conversation for another time.) The lyrics are direct, if you choose to interpret them that way. The music is what is (lazily) referred to as “atmospheric” – sombre, drawn-out, as full of silence as it is of sound, no pulse or back beat, not really, the passage of time marked by stately piano chords and vocal accentuation, the moment stretched out and decaying with every passing second and repeated line. A friend says it reminds him a little of Suicide, but I have no idea what that means. (I have an idea, obviously. I am just saying this for effect.) Ambient. Electronic mystery. What some would refer to as “dreamscapes” although in my experience “dreamscapes” is a meaningless description. (Think about it.)

This is art, on a very high level indeed. It makes you question your own life and perceptions and preconceptions. It is not comfort music. It is near impossible to listen to on any level except as a fully engaged active listener. You could put it on as background music, I suppose – but why the hell would you want to do that? That’s a long way to go to find peace of mind.

Would he have got five-star reviews whatever he produced? I mean, whatever.

Walker, Cohen, Cash, C.S Lewis… fill in your own. I don’t know what I’m doing here really, but I am so happy that Nick Cave exists in my world. “Try to imagine nothing,” Isaac once said to me when he was 4 or 5. “You can’t.” The question most folk address is what happens when we’re dead, but really it should be what happens before we’re born. This life seems a fucking rotten one, most the time.

Around 23.05, I started crying. Thirty seconds later, I had to switch the music off.