Nick Cave

"Sometimes I think, this is God's voice speaking to me."

Trouw, 18th June 1997 (Dutch)

Interviewed by Peter Sierksma
Sent by Dolf

For a moment it looks as if the old Cave has completely disappeared: quiet last album, quiet personal greeting. But fortunately, the anger and non-conformance that gave him (as the singer of first The Birthday Party and then The Bad Seeds) such a special place in pop music, is coming back very quickly.

The word "Euro-summit" is enough for an old fashioned eruption. "How ridiculous!" mutters Cave in reply to the question of whether he has been in town lately. "The whole city is turned upside down. All that for a couple of ridiculous, self-important bureaucrats. Fuck 'em." And worst of all, due to the circumstances, he hardly managed to get to the Zeedijk (Former Dutch drug-district -DvdH). Somewhat nervously, he looks for a light, after putting a cigarette in his mouth. His gold necklace with cross swings back and forth on his tight pink T-shirt. A hotel-box of matches helps.

"Thank you," and he takes his first puff, greedy as a hungry baby. "Pfff... A loon? Whether I have ever seen a loon?" Cave takes another puff, stares at the ceiling for a moment, looks away, takes off his sunglasses that he put on just after meeting and then looks back, expressly surprised: "No, I don't think I have ever seen a loon." Somewhat mockingly: "A loon is a big sea bird. A large sweeping bird. That's all I know about the loon. But it's not about the loon. That's just a word, an image."

"It's finally about what remains. 'Loon' is just a sound. 'Loon, 'Lunatic', 'Loonlake'. That last word I borrowed from a novel by E.L. Doctorov that is also called 'Loonlake'. Doctorov describes the loon meticulously there. But again, much of what I write comes about in a sense unconsciously. There are people who 'make' poems and songs. For me, it would not make sense if I were to know exactly what I was writing down all the time."

The loon, to start at the beginning, is featured on the second track of Cave's last album, released in February: < I>The Boatman's Call. The song, Lime-tree Arbour, is about two lovers in a summerhouse on the edge of a large lake. The loon turns up in the second line of the first verse, together with a fisherman: "The boatman calls from the lake/A lone loon dives upon the water/I put my hand over her/Down in the lime-tree arbour..."

After the dramatic climax in the fourth verse ("There will always be suffering/It flows through life like water"), the loon and the fisherman disappear again and the two remain silently: "The boatman has gone/And the loons (apparently more than one, now -DvdH) have flown for cover/She puts her hand over mine/Down in the lime tree arbour." The song is a kind of hymn, a restrained cry to eternity and that's what we have to cope with, says the singer. Cave, seriously now, "I love that song. Like to sing it as well. I always try to give it a mystical content. In that line with the loon a lot can be heard. It is a voice from the subconscious. That might be the way God's voice reveals itself. I use to think: Gods speaks to me..."

Then, almost apologizing, "But I mean that in a very broad and general sense, because I don't see God as someone who sits on the edge of my bed and whispers to me what I should write down. That is not how it works. What I mean is: those two remain lonely. Sometimes that is good. They've got each other and can comfort each other. But it's not enough... It's not enough. There is a deep yearning behind those lines to get more. Call it a "spiritual call" - not of this world..."

He takes a new cigarette, and holding his head to the side, wipes his famous black lock of hair from his eyes and then fixes his sight on me. "A few years ago I would never have said something like that. And now I am honestly still a bit reluctant for this type of analyses."

"Before you know it, the loon is a symbol of whatever and is the boatman, for which I only imagined a hunter-like figure, suddenly Christ himself. You know that interpreting. But okay, let's call it a humanistic song: we have, if everything goes well, each other and we have to cope with that, but somewhere there is that big yearning, that urge for the hand that has to release us from our despair and imperfection. That's what Lime-tree Arbour is about. But also other songs like Into My Arms, Brompton Oratory and There is a Kingdom.

Especially those last two songs almost sound like a psalm (notably the organ-sounds of Cave's Casio on Brompton Oratory make you think being in a Protestant church) and a gospel (There is a Kingdom). Cave agrees. "Yes, I have searched very consciously for the style of the religious song. There is a Kingdom sounds so solemn, that the band members had a hard time with. At first, they did not want to play it. But well, after a long period of nagging (grins, like only the old long Dickens-like rascal Nick cave can grin) they did it. Only to please me..."

His flirtation and struggle with the biblical idiom is deep, tells Cave. Raised an Anglican in the Australian Warracknabeal where Cave was born in 1957, he quickly learned the laws and rules of the church. He sang for a while in a boys' choir, but did not feel comfortable in his purple cassock. Especially the way in which the preaching was done and the great social closeness in the community where he grew up (about 300 kilometers outside Melbourne) made him mad. Thus mad, that he was kicked out of school and had to go to boarding school in Melbourne. There, Cave discovered Punk quite quickly. Notably the Australian Saints impressed him and have influenced his music strongly, "The Saints with I'm Stranded were actually the first punks, but they looked very bad with their long hair, so that the press only discovered them later. Wrongly. They were much better and more authentic than The Sex Pistols and everything that came after them. I happened to hear I'm Stranded yesterday. So without compromises. Beautiful."

Later his parents moved to Melbourne as well and took some distance from church. Cave now: "My parents weren't fanatic. I think they went to church mainly to remain inside the community. My father, he died in a car accident when I was 19, was a teacher of mathematics and literature, my mother worked in the library. Especially for my father, literature was a way to escape from the world. It raised him above the grey world in which he lived. There, in Shakespeare and Nabokov, he found God and his revelation."

"I myself have coveted especially the images and stories from the Old Testament for a long time. In the time in which I was doing concerts with The Birthday Party, I bought a pocket bible, the King James's Bible. What occurred to me was how severely and despotically the God from the Old Testament acts. How he almost curses those people. And it seemed that I adopted that cursing voice in my singing."

It is true. Wasn't that the real Nick Cave, an animal, an onstage cursing and yelling, the audience taunting, wandering Cain? In the autumn of 1986, he broke off a concert in rage because the installation failed several times. "Why art thou kicking against the pricks?" was the motto from the New Testament's Book of Acts of his then recently released LP with covers from old folk- blues- and pop songs and it seemed that it wasn't meant for St. Paul on his way to Damascus, but for himself.

Now, more than ten years later, he tries to kick less and also show his soft and sensitive side. Has Cain become an Abel suddenly? Cave laughs and looks away. "Well, let me say it like this. I'm still not a saint. I'm afraid I will never be one, but I try to strive for a certain harmony. I hope you are not going to depict me as some kind of a Jesus-freak, but I like to read the Gospels nowadays. Luke is especially beautiful. For me, Christ isn't the absolute truth, like the church teaches. That whole idea of one truth that is explained by the modern Pharisees as one conduct, doesn't appeal to me. That only blocks."

"I go to church regularly. I like the prayers, the rituals, the songs. But at the sermon I often walk out the church, revolted. Such a lack of fantasy and stuck in cliches of what is and what isn't right. What I do like on the contrary is the inner rest and freedom that Christ offers. In that way my voice has changed lately. Less curse and more love..."

"But again: don't let it all look too holy. I remain an unfaithful sinner. But what I mean... look, I've got a son, Luke, he is four years old and forces me into some regularity. I try to be with him as much as possible and raise him as a good father... er... as far as possible, of course..." Whether he was named after the evangelist?

There is the grin again. As if he wants to commit a murder. Then as politely as possible: "Yes... certainly not after Luke Skywalker."


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