Jim Pascoe: On BBC Radio you said "There, in those four wonderful prose poems of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, I slowly reacquainted myself with the Jesus of my childhood ... and it was through him that I was given a chance to redefine my relationship with the world." What is your relationship with the Jesus of your childhood, or perhaps, what is your relationship with the Christ story? And how are these relationships different for you?

Nick Cave: What I was talking about with that, I was really making a point about the Old Testament and the New Testament . The Bible has been something that I've read for many years. As a kid from about seven years old 'till ten years old, I went to church about twice a week because I was in the choir. And I learned a lot, I heard a lot about the Christ story—at least the way the Church put it. In my twenties I started to read the Bible again and found that I was very much excited by the Old Testament , by a God that would wipe out entire nations on a whim, a kind of punitive God. What I was trying to say there was as things have progressed, the Christ story has become more of an interest to me. I've found that I've been kind of obsessed with that for some time now, really. And I guess what it is about it that interests me is that from my childhood I've been taught a lot through the Church about what Christ was supposed to have said, and over the years I've had to unload a lot of the baggage that the Church has taught me, which uses Christ as some sort of a weapon against sin, or which uses the Bible as a kind of handbook of morality, when in fact it doesn't have anything to do with that at all. The story of Christ interests me in that it concerns a human being's struggle with the concept of faith, which I, myself, feel very close to.

Pascoe: I've heard of a relationship between your work with the Birthday Party as representing the Old Testament and your work with the Bad Seeds representing the New Testament .

Cave: Well, it can be put that way, if you want to simplify it; it isn't really that simple. The Birthday Party were a very angry group. At that time—in my twenties—when I read of the Old Testament a lot, I really enjoyed this merciless, cruel, petty, vengeful, punitive God. I thought it was exactly what the world deserved. All of this sustained hatred is difficult to hold on to, and I find now-a-days I'm more into ... you know.

Pascoe: Do you think that reading the Christ story as fiction diminishes or strengthens its power?

Cave: I think it diminishes it. To me there are certain elements to the Christ story that are patently fiction: I don't believe in the Virgin Birth and I don't believe in the Resurrection. But I do believe in the struggle that this human being went through and that it relates to mankind in some way. I just feel that unfortunately Christ's message was to human beings, and human beings have the tendency to manipulate the truth in order to satisfy their own desires and ends, and that's what the religious institutions have done. So I despise a lot about the Church. And unfortunately a lot of what people get to understand Jesus is through the TV, for example ... and religious channels, which is very much a perversion and bastardization and abuse of His word.

Pascoe: Interesting. The Word made "light."

Cave: Exactly.

Pascoe: The new album, The Boatman's Call , moves away from fictional narratives into a much more personal arena. How important is fiction to the artist? Can fiction really be left behind?

Cave: I did my very best on this record to take the events that have happened to me and kept them as accurate as possible. It was important to me to put down on paper, within these songs, the events as they were, or at least as I thought they were. But at the same time you are using language, and I guess everyone tends to hide behind language to a certain degree. There's always a tendency with language to lie in the sense that you write something that isn't perhaps the truth but sounds nice, if you know what I mean.

Pascoe: I do.

Cave: I've tried to keep away from that as much as possible; though, that's meant, in a lot of way, simplifying things. I mean it was important to me to get it right because I knew I was in a relationship that (a) was important and (b) wouldn't last very long. And I felt that it was important to try and put down in song the way I actually felt at the time. So there are joyful songs on there, and there are also quite painful ones.

Pascoe: This relationship, are you talking about a specific personal relationship or....

Cave: Yeah. [pause] I am.

Pascoe: In the new song "Brompton Oratory", you cite John 24, the verse of the rolling away of the Stone....

Cave: Sorry?

Pascoe: ... John 24 ...

Cave: Luke 24.

Pascoe: Is it Luke 24? Oh my, it is Luke 24.

Cave: There goes that question.

Pascoe: Well, actually I have my Bible open to Luke 24; I don't know why I wrote down Mark ... or John ... ah, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Either way, the verse that you reference is the verse of the rolling away of the stone.

Cave: No.

Pascoe: What! It's not? Did I completely fuck this up?

Cave: Well, as far as I know—I might have got it wrong myself—it's concerning Christ's returning to his disciples. At least that's what I meant. I know the Bible reasonably well, but everyone can make a mistake. But it's supposed to be where Christ, after the Resurrection, returns to his friends and shows himself to his disciples. I guess I was making a point in that song that some people have it lucky that people do return to them, and in my situation, it didn't seem like that was happening; in my ... in the relationship that I'm talking about within that song it doesn't seem like that was going to happen.

Pascoe: Trying to recover from that, I was given a quote from Tolstoy when I received the new album, and the quote is "All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion." I have become very interested recently in the Russian art tradition of the turn of the Twentieth Century, both in art and in literature. Does your new album play a part or owe a debt to that tradition?

Cave: Ah ... no. [laughs] No. And I didn't write that thing. That was written by somebody else. I employ someone to listen to the record and write the ... whatever it's called. I didn't write that. But, no, no, and again I say, no.

Pascoe: [laughing] We can still recover from this one (as I spiral downward).... I read something from Peter Greenaway recently talking about cinema ...

Cave: [laughs]

Pascoe: I'm going somewhere with this, trust me here. Ah ... in which Greenaway believes there is no new cinema because all of cinema today is rehashing of tricks from D.W. Griffith. And what is necessary to create a new cinema is to have an artistic movement, like Cubism was a movement in art. What do you feel about the sense of artistic tradition in music?

Cave: Music has suffered too much from movements. That's the basic problem with rock music in particular; rock music suffers from movements in the sense that you get some individuals who will come about with something that is interesting, and a whole flock of people will follow. And the thing becomes a movement. To me, what rock and roll is all about—and art is all about, really—what will be remembered for the individuals that have worked within the framework, particularly now that movements of music are now rehashing former movements of music and so on. To me what rock music is about is the individuals and the cranks and the eccentrics and the frauds and all the people who operate within it. I'm tired of movements in rock music. It just needs more individuals doing stuff, if you ask me.

Pascoe: But even those individuals have to play a part in a tradition. Like your work with Murder Ballads plays a part in the folk tradition, and the new album, there's so much a feeling of hymns.... So even with this individuality—which I also firmly believe in and think is part of creating passionate art....

Cave: My music refers to other music and always has and has always been deeply rooted in the traditions of music. And I honor that. But at the same time, I'm not prone to being swept along by wherever the current winds of fashion blow, which so many people are, you know. I have my ideas and I have my own vision, and a lot of that has been influenced by the past. But that's just evolution within art; that's the way things evolve.

Pascoe: Certainly, you have your own muse.

Cave: I have my own peculiar vision about things; I honor that and am faithful to that vision.

Pascoe: Speaking of being faithful to your vision, I was sent an open letter to MTV that you wrote about your nomination for Murder Ballads and your declining of that nomination.

Cave: Yeah.

Pascoe: A friend of mine, artist Paul Pope and I had a great discussion about this. He read me a piece from Don Quixote that he believes that you alluded to in the line "Thank you, but no thank you."

Cave: Was it Don Quixote ?

Pascoe: I think so.

Cave: You're probably talking about Cyrano de Bergerac.

Pascoe: Oh, man ... I do mean Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cave: [laughs]

Pascoe: Am I a reference nightmare or what?

Cave: The reference is to "Thank you, again thank you, but no thank you." Yes.

Pascoe: That's exactly what I'm talking about. You know where not to go when you need your next reference question!

Cave: No, you're trying. You Americans are tryin' hard! That is one of my favorite lines from that very beautiful play. And yes, I did allude to that at the end. [laughs]

Pascoe: Paul's going to hate me for this; he's going to say, "how could you fuck up the Nick Cave interview!" I don't know how I could do it. It's early.... Your new album reminds me of Your Funeral ... My Trial .

Cave: Oh, good. That's my other favorite album.

Pascoe: I'm interested in what many critics have said about Milton—and I think I got this reference right—in that he spent his whole life working on the same work over and over again, rewriting the same story. Do you see your body of work like this?

Cave: Yeah, I do, I do. There have been things that have preoccupied me from the start, which I can't even really pinpoint to you now what they are. But there have been certain things that have come out of my childhood and that have come out of how I've been raised that have preoccupied me, that I've tried to understand; I try to do that through my work. And I'm quite happy to stick with those themes or those ideas. I refuse to discard them simply because it may appear that I'm harping on the same idea over and over and over again. It is what interests me. And this draws us back to being faithful to your work. I guess I will continue to do that in the future. I'm not bored my own obsessions; I'm excited by them.

Pascoe: What do your feel your responsibilities to your audience are, or maybe more importantly, what are their responsibilities to you and your music?

Cave: Well, my responsibility to them is to continue to be true to my own vision. I believe that if I do that I will be permitted to continue to make music. The moment that I sell out that vision, the gifts that I have will be taken away from me. And [laughs] I really don't know what their responsibilities to me are.

Pascoe: I was thinking in terms of.... It's clear that what we've been talking about is that you're very dedicated to following yourself and being true to that spirit. For the people who claim to be Nick Cave fans, are they somehow obliged to follow you through your different periods?

Cave: No one's obliged to do anything. I mean, I don't imagine that all my records appeal to the same fans all the time. There are records that will confound people and disappoint people. And there will be records that they really like. There's not much I can do about that really.

Pascoe: My favorite line from your new album is "suspended in your bleak and fishless sea." I think that's very beautiful. And very melancholic. This is indicative of the melancholia of the whole album. So my question is do you feel that melancholia plays a key role in the life of a healthy optimist?

Cave: Oh, fuck.... You're about interview number 12; let me think.... I don't know how to answer that question. Nobody's asked me that before; that's not fair.

Pascoe: I didn't know I was supposed to be fair. [pause] Here's an easier one: how's your son, Luke?

Cave: He's fine, thank you. He's doing very well.

Pascoe: How old is he?

Cave: He's five.

Pascoe: Do you get to spend a lot of time with him now?

Cave: Yeah, I do.

Pascoe: That's wonderful.

Cave: Yeah, I have him three days a week. I'm expecting him any minute, actually.

Pascoe: Does your relationship with him—I know you have a strong relationship with him—affect your music?

Cave: My relationship with my son? Well, whatever affects my life affects my music, that would be fair enough to say. And he has affected my life enormously. He's made me attach myself to the world in some way; he doesn't allow me to escape from the world as much as, perhaps, I'd like to. I'm forced to be a part of the world and also be a part of my own past in the sense that by having Luke and by watching him grow up, I, myself, have become very attached to my father who is dead now; who, after he died, I basically forgot about ... I don't know.

Pascoe: Did you have a good relationship with your father.

Cave: No, it was a troubled relationship. He died and that was that and I carried on. But I now see that I'm very much like my father. I find myself thinking about him quite a lot. I think that is very much due to having a kid.

Pascoe: I've heard it said that for people who try to strive for immortality through fame, as in a famous record, that there is a much more fulfilling sense of "immortality" in having a child.

Cave: For creative people, do you mean?

Pascoe: For creative people, yes; but really, for people in general.

Cave: I think we're all afraid of dying; we're all afraid of the oblivion that follows death, and that we're lost historically. It's something that you learn as you grow older, that you actually aren't the last generation, you are just one link in many generations to come. And a link that gets lost into history. I think having a child brings that home very clearly, but at the same time, is a kind of balm to that sense of oblivion. And I guess so is being creative. Producing things. Accruing money and wealth and so forth is another way of denying death.

Pascoe: But what I was trying to get at—not to be too heavy-handed with the morality—isn't it better to seek the balm for oblivion in a child as opposed to accumulating money?

Cave: Yes, I guess so. I'm happy I have a child because it gives me enormous pleasure. I don't really feel that "ah-ha! I will live on through my child!" It's just that he makes me very happy.

Awash in a Bleak and Fishless Sea

Jim Pascoe interviewing Nick Cave
Kulture Deluxe Magazine


©2003 Jim Pascoe. All Rights Reserved.