Photo: Chad Wadsworth
If you’re a fan of Nick Cave you’ll know he’s a man of mystery whom much prefers to keep the lives of his family and friends away from public knowledge. With little personal interaction on social media, Cave almost exclusively connects with his followers on tour. Appearing alongside his Bad Seeds, he creates an aura of intimacy with each member of the audience, as though it were just you and him alone in a room. Lately, Cave has opened up a new means of communication with his fans: The Red Hand Files. Via this platform, the iconic front-man responds to those whom write him, claiming that he leaves no letter unread. Conversations with Nick Cave was explained to me to be an expansion of the Red Hand Files, whereby audiences had the chance to ask Cave their questions face-to-face. Though, it quickly became very evident that to the fans, and to Nick himself, that this was so much more than a Q&A.
At surface level, we got to know the man of mystery. That, in itself, was worth the price. Nick Cave walked on stage, to a massive applause, with the same certainty and calmness that sticks to him when performing in front of thousands. Dressed in a skin-tight, tailored suit atop a high-collared white shirt, he slowly made his way over to his impeccably-polished piano. When sat, the same deep shade of black from his suit ran down his combed-back hair, to his glistening shoes and up through the piano, almost as though he slotted into the instrument like a key to a lock. He sort of looked like he’d stepped straight out of a Tim Burton film, while his look was only one Halloween mask away from the night being ‘Conversations with Jack Skellington’ . The audience wouldn’t have had it any other way, though. He was alluring and ice-cold, as anyone’s favourite movie villain should be.
Once Nick kicked off the evening with a beautiful rendition of God is in the House, questions came thick and fast for the 61-year-old, mostly regarding themes such as songwriting, inspirations and the meaning behind Nick’s iconic ballads. On occasions it was evident that some wanted to impress Nick with complex questions, just as the lyricist impresses many with his song’s complicated imagery. Though, these people should have thought better than to elevate themselves to Nick’s level. After one woman went a bit poetic on Nick by asking what the deeper meaning behind is surname was, he simply smirked and yelled “It’s my fucking name!”.
Many questions began with a thanks to the leader of the Bad Seeds but, whenever complimented, Nick was emotionless, as though he was self-aware of the beauty of his work and didn’t need to be reminded. On the process of song creation, Nick took us through a step-by-step tour of how his song’s came to light and showed us a little glimpse of the genius that goes on inside his head. In his nine-to-five of songwriting, Nick explained, different words from random places begin to shimmer and vibrate, while it is these words that he pulls together to form verses of glowing lyrics. This, he assured us, is a rare occurrence, making it clear as to why he was unphased by the questions praising his work, as he knew himself how long it took to achieve his level of quality. Still, Nick Cave returned the adoration from his fans in other places, often sitting back down at his piano to play a song at the request of those whom managed to make him smile.
The likes of Into My Arms and The Ship Song were so exquisitely moving, taking us on an tear-jerking journey where we were waiting on Cave’s every word. His deep, powerful vocals were captivating and it was evident that we were watching an expert storyteller in motion. As the night when on, Nick answered more and more questions with the same grammatical eloquence that ran through his songs. When forming his answers you could almost see the cogs turning in his head, like his mind was rooting through an endless vocabulary to deliver the perfect response, while you got the impression that he would be disappointed in himself if he did otherwise. In this sense, I was intrigued to think what Mr. Cave would have been in another life. His inherent ability to select the perfect word for any scenario wouldn’t put him out of place as an Oxford University English teacher, or as a poet which, in many ways, he is. As the evening was drawing to a close, one woman asked Cave a very hard-hitting question. She wanted to know what he meant be the word ‘transcend’, which Cave used once to describe how one must escape the confinements of grief. The woman then noted that her son had died from a drug-overdose, just as Cave’s own teenage boy tragically lost his life when under the same influence. The audience did not know it, but it was this interaction that they had paid to see. Nick was almost brought to tears through the empathy that he shared with this woman. After a long pause, he explained. Grieving parents must transcend the state of self-blame if they want to survive themselves. Once one comes to accept that the death of their child is not their fault, only then can they transcend their own lives and have a new, somewhat glorious, understanding of the world. The beauty and sincerity of this answer left the Theatre Royal simultaneously applauding and weeping. Though, to that woman, Nick Cave gave a priceless piece of advice that many therapists and counsellors perhaps could not. So, that night, it became apparent to me that the iconic post-punk front-man was many things: a singer, songwriter and poet but, also, a man of words who can find meaning in places where many others can’t.
After engaging with the man behind the music, I’d say stick to enjoying the dark and angelic work of Nick Cave, but, don’t think too deeply about what it all means. I don’t think we’d quite scratch the surface.