23 April 2005

carry me : nick cave and the bad seeds

click here to listen
listening time: 3m 37s

i decided to post a nick cave song after stumbling upon this striking portrait of the musician by san francisco-based (but soon to be chicagoan) blogging artist eugene smith. based on this photograph, the sketch softens cave's expression, which eugene may have done out of his own interpretation, or by blending it with this other photograph, or both. in any case i think the look in cave's eyes in this sketch very well captures the mood of his music, which can be morose and contemplative, or ironic and humorous, but often angry and always deadly serious.

click on the image to see it in its original size. cave is the kind of songwriter who tends to intellectualize too much. in a lecture on love songs at the vienna poetry festival in 1998, he said:
The love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them...The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.
and you can see how much he believes in this even from one of his seemingly more uplifting songs, into my arms, which also has one of my favorite first lines ever ("i don't believe in an interventionist god"):
And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
what's so sad about it? it could just be me, but listening to it, i imagine him singing to a woman on the verge of death. he is sitting next to her lying unconscious in a hospital bed. there is a wooden cross on the wall against the headboard, and wilting lilacs in a glass vase on the bedside table. he holds her hand, brings it to his lips, and cries. death is in fact a recurring theme in cave's songs; he even wrote one in the first person about a murderer set to be executed in an electric chair. i'm posting a different song because lyrically carry me, which comes from his new double album abattoir blues / the lyre of orpheus, disturbs me the most. here is a man in a dilemma over two unrewarding choices, choices that may lead him to do something harmful, to himself and to someone he loves. he refuses to take action and instead waits for a sign. it's deeply spiritual, which you can tell from its churchlike chorus. listen to it, read the lyrics here, and tell me what you think.

thanks to eugene for letting me post the sketch.


  1. i first heard into my arms from an untitled and unmarked minidisc, while inside what must have been the muggiest guesthouse in changmai. my girl was on a train from laos, several hours late, and i was waiting for her.

    listening to into my arms still brings back memories of longing, resignation and heat.

    thanks for posting about nick cave.

  2. Nick Cave's my favorite artist, and Into My Arms an excellent song. How is Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, in comparison to the Seeds' other albums?

  3. hi kmp, well with two cd's and 17 songs, there's a lot to like about this album! there's a lot of diversity in both theme and tune. abattoir blues uses the bad seeds to the fullest, but i prefer the lyre's quietness. overall i still like the boatman's call more, which to me is probably one of the best ballad albums of all time.

    do you hate all onions? i just don't like the red ones...