A Letter from Nick

Bad Seeds Newsletter, March 95

by Nick Cave

To my Friends,

After much coaxing from Tender Prey Management's Rayner Jesson, and Shaun Connon, who put this newsletter together, I thought I'd write to you all. First, I want to thank you for your support over the years and apologize for never answering your mail. I mean, I read it all and value it very much, get comfort from it, steal ideas from it and I hope you all continue to write but I simply don't have the time to answer. So here I am, making amends to all of you, who have trudged through the ice and snow down to the letter-box and returned empty-handed, cursing my name. This letter is to you.

Friends, you ask me many questions, most of which I cannot answer, but Kate from Brighton wanted to know what my work-space looks like. I like this question. I reckon you can tell a lot about an artist from the environment in which he works. Look at J.G.Ballard. Look at Jack Henry Abbot. Look at Shane McGowan.

I have a table and a computer. On the wall above the table, I have a large and beautiful print of Jesus Christ surrounded by a group of small children. He is teaching them, comforting them, arms outstretched. Above this I have a smaller print of the famous Grunewald crucifixion. Christ as the flayed and pierced martyr, the tilt of his spiked head and his outstretched arms, identical to that of the serene Jesus with the children. I love these two pictures and have had them for years.

To the left of the Christ images I have a publicity photo of James "The Demon Dog" Ellroy and his beloved bull-terrier, Barko, recently signed by the author. I attended a reading by Ellroy at Waterstones, earlier this month, and the writer invited me and a herd of publishing types to dine with him. Jet-lagged and clearly deranged, he ranted on about rock 'n' roll being nothing more than "institutionalized rebellion" but was charitable enough to reiterate his admiration for my song, "Till The End Of The World". "Crime fiction is the rock 'n' roll of literature," howls a wounded Nick Cave, by way of witty riposte, weeks later from his sick-bed. James Ellroy is the great author of American Crime fiction, arguably the only novelist writing anything of worth in what has essentially become a repetitive, soulless and boring genre of literature. James Ellroy has just published his latest self-professed epic masterpiece called "American Tabloid", which I am wading through at the moment.

To the right of the Christ print is a small photograph of John Lee Hooker, looking depressed. John Lee Hooker, as many of you will know, is my favorite bluesman and continued inspiration. I know I've been rattling on about him for years, but listen to the brilliant "When My First Wife Left Me" (my all time favorite song title, incidentally) and you will understand why.

So, it's Jesus, James and John Lee, the holy trinity. Old trusted friends who've seen me through the good times and the bad. Stuck around the periphery of these giants are a few soft-porn photos of women torn from stick books, useful in those frustrated, creatively impotent moments. A beautiful black and white portrait of Deanna (the girl from the song of the same name), her lips bruised, her face smeared with make-up, taken by the occasionally brilliant Australian photographer Bill Henson. Also I have a couple of poems torn from books and stuck to the wall. "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love" by the great poet W. H. Auden,

Lay your sleeping head, my love
Human on my faithless arm...

and Death Fugue by the Jewish suicidalist Paul Celan,

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night...

Both of them magical first lines.

So, that's what the place where I work looks like, friends. Make of it what you will. It's where I seem to be spending most of my time, lately. I've been hammering away at this collection of murder ballads and it seems like we are going to be making a movie to accompany it at the end of the year, so that project probably won't see the light of day until early 1996. In Australia, The Bad Seeds recorded about eight new songs for this record, with titles like "The Curse of Millhaven", "Henry Lee", "Where The Wild Roses Grow", "Crow Jane", "Lovely Creature", "King Kong Kitchee Kitchee Ki-Mi-O" and a version of the Bob Dylan classic, "Death Is Not The End", but as its release date is so far in the future, I'm going to stop talking to people about that and get on with other stuff. The writing of the next Bad Seeds record, for example, which I have started on, but is going to take some time in itself.

The Bad Seeds are going to Greece and Israel in April to play a few concerts. Supporting us will be the truly awe-inspiring Australian combo, The Dirty Three, who are simply the best band I have seen in years. They consist of violin, guitar and drums and are fucking wild. Warren Ellis, the violinist, will be playing with The Bad Seeds in Greece and Israel, if all goes as planned. In Australia, around Christmas, I got up and sang with The Dirty Three, doing some truly fucked-up versions of "Tupelo", "Running Scared", "Wanted Man" and a version of Rowland S Howard's masterpiece of teenage angst, "Shivers". There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Imagine it, friends, Warren Ellis' plaintive violin and my tear-weary vocal.

Anita Lane and Mick Harvey were in the studio in Australia remixing the song "The World's A Girl" to coincide with the re-release of her beautiful "Dirty Pearl" CD...

You brushed me aside
Like the finger of a child...
I thought you were inspired
But you were just possessed...

Brilliant. Magical words from The Enchantress herself. There isn't a lyric writer going who can turn a phrase like Anita Lane. The B-Side is a steamy rendition of the Serge Gainsbourg song "Je T'Aime", featuring a duet by me and Anita and a whacked-out version of "Bedazzled" from the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore film of the same name. We all grieve the recent passing of Peter Cook, of course, the last great Englishman, who was quoted as saying, "I'm sure I have a few regrets, I just can't remember what they were." He was some kind of a man.

John Hillcoat, who directed the nasty little film "Ghosts Of The Civil Dead", is about to begin shooting his next film, which he won't let me act in, but has commissioned Blixa Bargeld, Mick Harvey and myself to write the score. Its working title is "The Small Man" (later titled "To Have and To Hold"), and it is a romantic melodrama, set in Papua New Guinea, dealing with the residue of romance - alcoholism, domestic violence, insanity, murder - and which he won't let me act in. There is a character in there, a hopped-up ex-pat gone native, who smokes pot the whole time and sits around doing fuck-all and not saying anything. A small, manageable part, but no, he won't let me do it. Even though we've been good friends for many years and I have given his wife lots of work. He is a director with great clarity of vision but in this instance I think he has made a tragic mistake. Still, I'll soldier on. Somehow. The soundtrack will be done in September, all church-bells, lush strings, child-choirs and bug thrum. Yes, friends, the crazy friccancy of the jungle.

Well, that's it for this one, dear readers. Keep writing to me, keep trudging down to the post-box. you write 'em, I'll read 'em. How are you getting on, Eleanor of the Uzi and bottles of cider? Better, I hope. Hello, Yoko. And Barbie, what the fuck happened to you? Here's a groovy quote from Hannah Arendt...

The sad truth is most evil is done
by people who never make up their minds
to be either good or evil

Nick Cave

London, 1995


Return to the Interviews page.