Monday, October 2, 2023

Nick Cave: ‘Music Makes Us Do Better’


In the Red Hand Files where he answers questions from fans, singer and songwriter Nick Cave addresses a reader query about sharing a love for music with a Supreme Court Justice whom they don’t agree with politically.

“I recently learned that there is a sitting Supreme Court Justice, here in the United States, who is a fan of a musician I love,” the fan Justin, from Fall River Mass., writes in. “This musician has passed.”

“The Justice, in my opinion, is dangerous to this country, and holds views I abhor. I firmly believe, through public knowledge of this artist, that he was not supportive of this Justice either. I feel like this man, whom I loathe, is singing along and dancing to music that wasn’t created for him. Funnily enough, it feels like a real injustice.”

Nick Cave performs at the Forum in Los Angeles in 2018
Nick Cave performs at the Forum in Los Angeles in 2018 | Jill Ettinger All Rights Reserved

Justin asks Cave: “Do you believe your music is created for everyone? Are you OK with the idea that people you might genuinely see as despicable, are fans of yours? How do you feel about the fact that they listen to the words and music you work so hard on, that you put all of your soul into, and claim a personal ownership of it? Does it feel like a betrayal of the art you toiled over?”

Cave responds: “I have racked my brains to think of someone who is undeserving of my music, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t bring anyone to mind. Perhaps I’ve just grown old and fuzzy and can no longer summon that flaming energy of outrage I remember from my youth. These days I’m not sure what position I can rightfully occupy where I can make those kinds of judgements,” he says.

“I guess, in general, I don’t find people despicable or deserving of hatred and contempt because, as far as I can see, people suffer, and it is suffering that is the underlying cause for much of the wrongdoing in the world.”

Cave goes on to address ownership of his art, which, along with his music, including the soundtrack to the new Netflix movie, Blonde, also includes books and fine art (some of which he recently displayed along one of his biggest fans, actor Brad Pitt).

Nick Cave album art
Nick Cave | Courtesy

“I don’t feel I personally have any real claim over my songs,” he says. “I feel they belong equally to those who love them. These songs have urgent work to do. I send them out into the world, bright emissaries of the spirit, to travel where they are needed, collecting souls as they go – to the joyful and the disheartened, the sick and the well, the grievers and those yet to grieve, the lost and the found, the good and the bad and the somewhere in-between. They become a great whirling conga-line of souls, in all their despicable beauty, frugging to Stagger Lee or shedding a tear to Ghosteen, all the way into the sun.”

Over the course of his career, Cave, now 65, has gone from a strung-out angry 20-something to a bona fide spiritual leader—in all the right ways. His pre-Covid solo tours turn the house lights on and field questions from the audience. Cave, who lost two of his sons recently, has found solace in helping others, in talking candidly about his suffering.

“Suffering lies beneath our most destructive behaviour,” Cave wrote to Justin. “This is why music is important. Music at its very essence is a force for good. It has an inherent moral magnitude. At its core music has the capacity to improve matters, to reform the condition of the heart by appealing to the better angels of our nature. This is its rightful and sacred duty. Music makes us do better. Be better. It helps release us from our suffering and points us toward the good.”


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