Nick Cave: “Every time I go on stage, I feel indebted”

On the occasion of the publication of a book of interviews, the Australian musician confides in the “New York Times Magazine” in a very intimate interview. At 65, Nick Cave reflects on the tragic deaths of two of his children and the role his audience and the stage played in his recovery from bereavement. He also evokes his past drug addiction and Elvis Presley, and regrets the place that morality occupies today in creation: “It is the power of attraction and repulsion of good and evil which confers all its beauty on artistic creation.”

“I try to write, says musician and author Nick Cave, starting from the principle that the trials of life, however terrible, can be a source of redemption and the sublime.” Before he could look at existence through this prism, he paid a heavy price. In 2015, her 15-year-old son Arthur fell to his death from a cliff near the family home in Brighton, Britain. Afterwards, and over time, Cave came to appreciate the fragile beauty of existence. This wavering is also embodied in his music. Nick Cave had always been one of rock’s damned souls, an acclaimed songwriter and singer unafraid of provocation and lyrical and sonic abrasion, a tireless explorer of the darkness of the soul.

Gradually, however, it became the shining vector of albums and concerts with a cathartic function, moments of grace, comforting and sincere – which are no less uncompromising.

Outside of music, his journey took shape with [le site] The Red Hand Fileswhere he, who was previously a terribly intimidating personality, responds in a clear manner and with touching attention to the often existential questions submitted to him by Internet users. [Nick Cave assure avoir reçu près de 60 000 questions de ses fans. Il a publié plus de 200 réponses depuis la création du site en septembre 2018.]

And this metamorphosis of the Australian sexagenarian [il a fêté ses 65 ans fin septembre] is precisely the point of Faith, Hope and Carnage, a series of intimate interviews between Nick Cave and journalist Sean O’Hagan, published on September 20 [encore inédit en français]. Sadly, just as the interviews had just come to an end, Cave’s eldest son, Jethro, died suddenly at the age of 31. [en mai]. “All bereaved people know that the time of grief is running out, explains Cave when asked if he intends to pursue this exploration of grief. But out of respect for Arthur and Jethro, I can’t just say ‘Now it’s good, I’m moving on’.

For me, the most terrible sentence in the book is in Sean’s afterword. He announces that since the end of your talks, you have lost another son. This after about 250 pages where you explain how you managed to find meaning in life and return to the living after Arthur’s death. Maybe it’s still too early for you to answer, or maybe there’s no answer, but how do you plan to keep moving forward, after losing another son?

It’s hard to express, but I know very well that we can get out of it. When Arthur died, the worst thing for me was wondering if this suffering would ever end. I don’t want everything I say and do to revolve around grief, but I feel an obligation to tell people in this same situation – and there are hundreds who write to me on The Red Hand Files – that we can get out of it. Most people who write to me, especially those who have just lost someone, cannot understand. But I know exactly how they feel. That’s what’s happening with Jethro.

With Arthur’s death, life has come to take on a kind of mystical luminosity for you that it didn’t have before. I felt the same when losing a loved one, but I was also afraid to see this feeling disappear over time, and to have to mourn again for this appeasement. Is this also one of your concerns?

A drug addict who quits drugs will feel a kind of temporary euphoria [Nick Cave a été accro à l’héroïne pendant la majeure partie des années 1980 et 1990]. The slightest walk is a delight. Then there is a kind of descent and life resumes its normal course. There may be that in mourning, but my religious sensitivity, which has always been present in me, was heightened after Arthur’s death. Sometimes I feel more mystical than others, but I’ve always experienced this tension between my religious beliefs and my skepticism and rationality, which I considered a weakness. What has changed in me is that I now see that it was not a fault, that all the energy of my creativity came from this fight. And this conflict is perhaps the very essence of religious experience.

Your father died when you were 19. Back then, did grief have a different effect on your music than it does today?

I didn’t realize at all the effects of grieving when my father died. I don’t think I had the faintest idea what was going on. I was impervious to everything except my desires. When Arthur died, I found myself at the bottom of the hole, in the most appalling darkness. It was almost impossible to distinguish anything apart from despair. susie [sa femme depuis 1999, mère d’Arthur et de son frère jumeau Earl] and I managed, without really knowing how, to get out of there and – it’s a bit silly to say – it’s partly thanks to the people who continued to write to me and who said to me: “I’ve been through this, this is what you’re going to go through, this is what’s going to happen.” It was extremely uplifting and moving.

The concerts I did afterwards were also very strong, the affection of the public saved me. My audience has been a tremendous source of comfort, and now every time I step on stage, I feel indebted.

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Nick Cave: “Every time I go on stage, I feel indebted”

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