Christ religion

Nick Cave’s journey into religion, creativity and human frailty

Nick Cave

Musician Nick Cave’s journey through mourning and contemplating death is personal, of course, but he casts a net, or a spell, to his audience, and even wider, writes LYN MCCREDDEN.

WHETHER you love or despise Nick Cave, his book “Faith, Hope and Carnage” offers a lot. Much more than the stereotypes of the goth expat or the drugged, post-punk underground lord or the strutting singer with a deep, melancholy voice.

All of these characters appear in the book, but we fully encounter an older, thoughtful, and theologically-depth cave. For many readers, this may seem like difficult, even uncomfortable territory.

Cover of Faith, Hope and Carnage.

In a long series of chats throughout the pandemic period, Cave and his friend Seán O’Hagan conducted a deep-flowing taped conversation, through many tight turns.

O’Hagan is an appropriate interlocutor. It’s different from Cave in a lot of ways and really surprised where Cave is going. O’Hagan is a journalist, not a celebrity or a “creative”. He’s not religious, he’s not Australian, but he’s receptive and open to Cave’s challenges and, at times, his contradictions.

In the context of the pandemic, and after the tragic accidental death in 2015 of the Caves’ twin son Arthur at age 15, a sustained and confronting part of the conversation is, unsurprisingly, about loss, suffering, grief and death. .

It won’t shock Cave music aficionados over the past 30 years, with earlier songs and albums such as “The Mercy Seat” (1988) and “The Murder Ballads” (1996), his novel “The Death of Bunny Munro” (2009), the score for films such as “The Proposition” (2005) and “Dahmer Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022), and more recent albums “Ghosteen” (2019) and “Carnage” (2022), all drenched in an often violent death.

What is new in this book, however, is that Cave weaves together the threads of his life – the loss of his son and so many friends, his mother and father, his first musical collaborator and girlfriend Anita Lane, his heroin years and drug rehab – in a different, more reflective form.

And it’s not that he makes things look better. No way. In grief, Cave writes:

You become deeply familiar with the idea of ​​human mortality. You go to a very dark place and feel the extremities of your own pain… [and as in the pandemic] grief can have a chastising effect. He asks us. It requires us to be empathetic.

One of the chastening effects of grief, for Cave, is recorded in the experiences and expressions of religious faith. The conversation between Cave and O’Hagan leaves us in no doubt of Cave’s deep religious beliefs. These have always been a part of him, through his post-punk and drug-fuelled years, but they are taking new turns.

To his strengthened Christian faith, Cave, often to O’Hagan’s amazement, attaches a series of moral human values ​​that he would now, living with his grief, doubts and fear, love to nurture within himself: values ​​of empathy, humility and vulnerability, mercy towards others, openness and tolerance, and recognition of one’s need for atonement.

forgiveness and mercy

Cave’s journey into grief and contemplation of death is personal, of course, but it casts a net, or spell, to his audience, and even wider. When O’Hagan asks about the differences between sacred and secular worldviews, Cave’s response will be seen by many as provocative. He finds in the world:

“A kind of cynicism and distrust of ourselves…a rejection of the innate wonder of our presence…to do with the increasingly secular nature of our society. There is an attempt to find meaning where it is ultimately unsustainable – in politics, identity, etc.[religion] deals with the need for forgiveness… and mercy, when I don’t think secularism has found the language to address these issues.

Religion “has a lot to answer for”, but it nurtures “a humility about its place in the world – an understanding of our flawed nature”.

Such reflections do not arise, for this reader, from a spirit of hostility, but from a tried, lived, often broken human reflection on the place where meaning – that of Cave, that of his audience, that of the contemporary world – could be researched.

Throughout the book, Cave discusses the how and why of his Red hand filesa four-year-old online blog that is still active.

In these Dossiers, Cave seeks and practices openness, tolerance and empathy. Additionally, he constantly declares his gratitude to his fans, and others who write, for the care they gave him while grieving over Arthur’s death. Tragically, Cave lost a second son, Jethro Lazenby, earlier this year. (In May, Cave published a letter of condolence on the Files, thank readers for their kind words and the acknowledgment of their letters had been a great source of comfort.)

radical listening

In the Dossiers and in his recent Conversations tour, where he spoke openly with his audience about every topic they threw at him, Cave demonstrates an astonishing vulnerability, describing his involvement as akin to prayer or meditation, radical listening.

In contrast, he writes that he quit Twitter and “the world suddenly got better…as far as I know, social media makes you sick.”

Another major strand of conversation in “Faith, Hope and Carnage” is about creativity. We have multiple discussions about the songwriting, performance, collaboration, audience, and divine spark of the artist. For Cave, art “does not exist in its true form unless it moves through the hearts of others like a balm”.

Music has the ability to “broaden the mind, provide comfort, companionship, healing and well-being”.

Cave doesn’t just talk about his own involvement in music here, he embraces his audience and all music lovers. He then explains to O’Hagan that his current job is to ask for forgiveness, “to do what you might call amends, using whatever gifts you might have to help rehabilitate the world.”

To some this may sound like selfishness or bigotry, and there are certainly nuances to it.

However, it is a panoramic and coruscant book. Not only can we glimpse the sources of Cave’s religious faith and hope, but in a dynamic landscape we are introduced to many of his friends, literary, artistic and musical influences, collaborations and recording venues.

We can begin to map the changes and contradictions of Cave’s musical life, experienced as a truly cosmopolitan artist who remains, in many ways, Australian (see his childhood memories in Wangaratta’s book and the school of Melbourne art).

It was a rich life immersed in art, storytelling, poetic language, religious possibilities. It’s useful to have Google and Spotify with you, just to check out the songs, historical contexts, and personalities that jostle for attention within the pages.

Among all of these is a person with regrets, self-proclaimed sins, a felt need to make amends, and an overwhelming sense of human frailty. If it’s a strutting ego, it’s more of a broken, humiliated, aging, open-eyed man.

In the closing pages, Cave throws in one of his many good words:

“Hope is in every little thing, as far as I can see. Hope is optimism with a broken heart.

For this reader, the unstoppable energy, as well as the reflection of Cave – the musician, the religious believer, the religious doubter, the father of a family, the collaborator and the friend – continues to be a wonderfully tender balm.The conversation

Lyn McCreddenPersonal Chair, Literary Studies, Deakin University. This article is republished from The conversation.

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Ian Meikle, editor