Clip: Nick Cave
Making music has been a freeing experience for post-punker Cave
By Bob Gendron
Special to the Tribune
Published April 9, 2007
Distinguished by a brooding baritone, wedded to a literary frankness
and captivated by the Southern Gothic, Nick Cave is the musical
equivalent of a possessed preacher. The Australian native, 49,is also
a visionary songwriter and post-punk icon.
"Nick Cave is a pure expression of life. He is a force of nature,"
says Ron Whitehead, a Nobel Prize-nominated and award-winning poet,
publisher, professor and editor who has collaborated with
contemporaries such as Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo. "Allen Ginsberg told
me time and again, 'Be candid. There's not enough candor in the
" Whitehead says. "Nick Cave is brutally honest."
Whitehead isn't alone in his admiration. Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam and
Metallica have covered Cave's tunes. Critics and peers have showered
him with praise and awards. Theologians have noted biblical parallels
in his songs.
The son of an English teacher and a librarian, Cave has exercised his
literary acumen via film, book and music releases. Having initially
recorded during the early '80s with noise rockers the Birthday Party
before blossoming with the Bad Seeds, he is equally proficient in
gristly murder ballads and gospel-steeped chamber pop. His obsession
with age-old themes -- sin, temptation, seduction, love, violence,
death -- bears a relevancy that's both ancient and modern. Cave's
latest band, Grinderman, whose self-titled debut is out Tuesday, adds
to this creative lexicon.
Getting down and dirty
Named after a John Lee Hooker song, Grinderman sees Cave getting down
and dirty with three Bad Seeds mates. Replete with primal blues,
violin loops, fuzz-churned chords and howling cadences, the quartet's
spunky album marks several departures for Cave in that he played
guitar and hashed out material with a smaller band. Addressing
restlessness, rejection and modern science, "Grinderman" updates the
Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.""One of the underlying
things on the record is a basic frustration at not being able to have
any impact on the events of the world as a citizen," says Cave, who
resides in England. "No matter what you do, no matter how the evidence
mounts to the contrary, the whole thing just rolls on anyway. There
doesn't really seem to be anything you can do about that. It's social
impotence, political impotence."
"Disconnectedness as well, in relationships between men and women, in
relationships in the world around you," adds Grinderman drummer Jim
Sclavunos, conscious of the sexual overtones in songs such as "Depth
Charge Ethel." And while many libido-obsessed Baby Boomers are
latching onto Viagra for assistance, Cave vented his urges by turning
"As a 49-year-old, sex is pretty much in your thoughts all the time,"
he says. "A lot of people keep saying ["Grinderman"] is a young
person's record, but I don't find that at all."
Another of these topics is the empty promise of marketplace messiahs.
"I think that comes from being older too," Cave says. "For initially
making music that was punk rock music, which was certainly an attempt
at some sort of rebellion against the consumer society, there was
something with punk where money was an embarrassment. Over the last 20
or 30 years, that's changed considerably."
The result -- a culture in which reality television, overpolished
imagery and music-sponsored advertisements are all the rage -- doesn't
bode well for artists such as Cave, who has always been bigger
overseas and hasn't toured America in nearly four years.
"There's such a barrage of bands in the States," says Sclavunos, a New
Yorker. "People tend to be overtly competitive in music sometimes, and
I don't think we ever want to lower ourselves to be a competitor. It's
not a contest. That might put us at a disadvantage in such a
market-oriented place as America."
Bill Bentley, Cave's publicist when he was signed to Warner Brothers,
believes the singer is too direct for mainstream tastes. "Nick Cave's
music appealed to a devoted audience in America, and those that
followed him were as excited as any fans I've seen. But the themes of
Cave's music were possibly too strong and often dark for anything like
mass appeal. It came down to the fact that his music just wasn't
something that Americans could handle on a large scale."
Cave agrees. "I think at some point we felt that we gave the States a
shot. We did the things we were encouraged to do by the record
company, and we got a certain audience. I'm happy to do whatever to
make our records more successful as long as I don't have to demean
At this point, he doesn't need to. While Cave insists that his recess
from the United States is a matter of scheduling conflicts, he admits
that he no longer struggles with issues of stature and perception.
"I feel that any impact that I'm going to make on the world has been
made. This is an enormously freeing thing for me."