Nick Cave:
A Subjective History for
the Uninitiated

On The Street, February 1988

Interview by Rob Miller

Collected by Katherine B.

It all started back in 1977 with the fresh-faced Boys Next Door comprising Phil Calvert (now in Blue Ruin) on drums, Tracy Pew (now sadly deceased) on bass, Rowland S. Howard (formerly of Crime and the City Solution, now of These Immortal Souls) on guitar, Mick Harvey (besides Nick Cave, the sole survivor of The Birthday Party and the driving force behind Crime and the City Solution featuring Simon Bonney on vocals, and also on guitar and later drums, and of course, young Nicholas. The Boys Next Door released one patchy album that featured one brilliant track written by Rowland called Shivers, which has since become widely regarded as a classic, although for different reasons that were to define The Birthday Party.

It was only really towards the end of 1980 after the Boys Next Door had effectively metamorphosised into The Birthday Party following a lengthy stay in England that the objectives of this new incarnation began to be obvious - taking Iggy and the Stooges and the Doors as rough points of departure, they vowed to go where no one had gone before, to become a real rock'n'roll band, extreme, confronting and even dangerous.

Certainly Nick Cave's notoriety stems largely from the wild and unrestrained performances of the Birthday Party days, who on a good night were absolutely compelling - physical to the point of making you sick, loud, desperate, ugly and beautiful at the same time and capable of blurring distinctions between performance and reality.. An exceptional performer, Cave instinctively knew how to squeeze the pathos out of an audience and he also did an unsurpassed line in on-stage abandonment, diving backwards into the drumkit still singing, to say nothing of startling swan dives into the audience and a repertoire of screams to rival James Brown. Even on a bad night, and there were enough of them, The Birthday Party were incomparably more exciting than any of their contemporaries with the possible exception of the Laughing Clowns.

Yet despite the fascinating development evident of the records, The Birthday Party were mere essayists in craft compared with what the Bad Seeds were later to do. With the exception of The Bad Seed EP, The Birthday Party were largely unrealised on vinyl despite some great moments on Prayers on Fire and Junkyard. (For sheer musical mayhem, check out Drunk on the Pope's Blood or some of their later live bootlegs instead). It was only when Cave's imagery began to take a more classical turn on The Bad Seed and Mutiny EPs that things began to turn around. The use of more conventional imagery drawn from biblical, literary and popular sources 'reconstituted in the deep south of Cave's imagination' combined with a more spartan musical framework resulted in a much more powerful music. Instead of trying to put everything in as they'd done with The Birthday Party (who eventually fell to bits after internal tensions had taken their toll - they couldn't have kept it up anyway) the Bad Seeds employed a sparser and more suggestive approach. The tempos were slowed down and the music actually gained in power and resonance.

To date the Bad Seeds have released four albums to date including the well-received album of covers, Kicking Against the Pricks and as with The Birthday Party each has seen a conspicuous improvement on the last even allowing for individual favourites - starting with From Her To Eternity through The First Born is Dead to the current Your Funeral... My Trial, generally agreed to be their best so far.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Rob Miller, 1987. Wholesale publication requires the written consent of the author. Contact site administrator for details.


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