It's Hip To Be Hateful

The Observer
May 5, 1998

by Barbara Ellen
Sent by Sue Fletcher

If you wanted to hurt Nick Cave's feelings then you could try accusing him of being a really sweet guy. While most musicians have a craven desire to be loved, Cave has always been the sulking rock brat spoiling the party photographs. Nothing seems to upset him more than inadvertently getting on the right side of people. When he duetted with Kylie Minogue on the 1996 hit Where The Wild Roses Grow, he made sure that the song was about killing women. When he was nominated for the MTV awards' Best Male Artist, he sent a grimly polite letter to the organisers announcing: "My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race".

Even his fans would be unwise to expect any favours. Back in the early '80s with his old band, The Birthday Party, Cave was more than happy to flail about onstage bellyaching grandly about releasing the bats and throwing scary Old Testament shapes, until he realised that the audience was actually enjoying it. At which point, he instantly stopped.

"Our audiences were starting to make demands on me onstage," says Cave dryly, as we sip tea in a west London hotel. "It made you feel like some sort of geek, with chicken blood running down your chin... covered in feathers" A cartoon character? I suggest.

Cave shrugs "Maybe in those days I was a bit of a cartoon character, but I didn't feel that way at the time. I felt a genuine rage in those days, a disgust at myself and the world around me. My sole intention all along has been to access my voice about things and not to dilute it. From all that a unique voice has emerged... but it's taken a very long time"

The new record The Best Of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, to be released on 11 May could be viewed as the definitive aural document of that odyssey. There is no BP material, which is a shame for those of us who find the likes of King Ink enduringly amusing. It does, though, include the best cuts from the numerous Bad Seeds albums, from 1984's From Her to Eternity right up to last year's The Boatman Calls. The notorious Murder Ballads features strongly. As well as the Kylie single, we get Henry Lee, a duet with Cave's ex-lover Polly Harvey.

Listening the album, one realises that Cave's muse, while in no way resembling a horse, has turned very small circles over the years. Though pushing 40 and a proud dad, he is still essentially drawn to the dark side of human nature. Even his love songs tend to sound like he really hates the women he's singing about (Cave cheerfully admits that he usually does). And while he once complained that he would hate to go down in musical history as 'the number one goth' it has to be said that his voice frequently veers towards the melodically macabre - kind of like Vincent Price crooning along to a Scott Walker record.

Cave's interview demeanour isn't exactly a bundle of laughs. When his heroin addiction came to light in the late '80s, intrepid journalists seeking 'the truth!' had their tape recorders hurled over walls and nasty songs written about them. Now Cave's junkiedom is truly in the past but his distrust of the media remains. Although unfailingly polite, even charming, Cave takes great, rather babyish, care to avoid eye contact at all times. Similarly, while his voice is mannered and reasonable, his body language (slumped shoulders, bent head, hanging limbs) all but screams 'can we just get this over with?' When I try to pass him the milk for the tea he just lets me stand there like a prat holding the jug in mid-air, only helping himself when I have placed it back down on the table. All of which is quite amusing at first, but by the end of the interview hour, I am ready to swap my tape recorder for a leper bell. Cave particularly hates discussing his drug past ('I never worried that I'd be a rock casualty, other people worried about it for me'), his relationship with Harvey, for whom he wrote the song West Country Girl (Let's just say that when I write one of my NICE love songs, it's a way of being with that person, bringing them close to me again') and God, in whom he believes in a doubtful kind of way.

"Of course I doubt," he snaps "I would distrust anybody who didn't doubt. But I'm a believer. I have an understanding and belief in the divinity of things. It seems to me that people look at God in the wrong way. They think that God is there to serve them, but it's the other way around. God isn't some kind of cosmic bell-boy to be called upon to sort things out for us. It's important for us to realise that God has given us the potential to sort things out on our own."

Cave is a lot more comfortable when he is talking about music. At some point he plans to write a second novel to follow up 1989's And the Ass Saw the Angel but he stresses that music will always be his favourite art form. ("It's such a mysterious, magical and reliable thing.")

Perverse as ever, Cave also cheers up noticeably when we talk about him being accused, as he often is, of having a dubious attitude towards women in his work.

"I've never been annoyed about being accused of misogyny," he says, "because it's probably true. At times I have felt a seething hatred towards particular women in my life, and at the time of writing the song, quite possibly towards all woman-hood as well. If you're going to censor your thoughts because they're offensive or unpolitically correct, then you're not being true to yourself." This side of Cave, that enjoys writing songs about hating, torturing and, in poor old Kylie's case, murdering women, seems somewhat at odds with the romantic hero yearning for love on Bad Sees classics such as Straight To You and Into My Arms, not to mention the suddenly bashful soul who tells me that he 'writes a great love letter'.

It is also rather debatable whether, had Cave harboured racist, rather than misogynistic tendencies, the world would ever have heard about them.

Maybe it is just the case that, over the years, Cave has sought to alleviate the tedium of being a party-pooping rock star by winding people up. The MTV incident seems a case in point: Cave could have just as easily explained his no show at the ceremony with a little white lie about rehearsing. Instead he chose to throw what could only be described as a beautifully theatrical paper tantrum. Then, when you come to think about it, it is really quite... sweet.


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