I’m finally converted to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I don’t think it was this 1999 Vienna lecture that did it, though it certainly helped. It was The Boatman’s Call, which a friend lent me, that then opened the door to the man’s darkness, and allowed me then to enjoy Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, which I had owned already but had not been able to handle. “Get Ready for Love” is the opening track to that two-disc record, and it preaches the Gospel, but in probably the scariest way you’ve ever heard. It is more or less bellowed. When I was ready for Cave, though, I loved it, and now I’m really enjoying what came out just months ago, Push The Sky Away.
Granted, you’ve got to be ready for Nick Cave, otherwise you might just think it’s rock’n'punk melodrama, or troubled and useless anger. Sometimes experience will do that for you–nothing teaches you like heartbreak or sorrow–but, thankfully, he provides that background for you in this lecture on the love song. He fully bears his Aussie soul, for our sake, to understand what he’s doing. And it’s remarkable.
The lecture is given in Vienna, called “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” spoken for the Vienna Poetry Festival. It’s hard not to post the talk in its entirety here, and I may do so in parts, but I’d recommend listening to Nick. He’s got one of the most dramatic (-ally melancholic) voices around. It’s like a vampire from the bush, preaching a fire-and-brimstone funeral eulogy. Note not only the kind of “God-shaped hole” he talks about in existence, but the defense of sadness he has, as well as the creative forces human being have for sorrow. I’ll leave him to it (ht RH):
To be invited to come here and teach, to lecture, to impart what knowledge I have collected about poetry, about song writing has left me with a whole host of conflicting feelings. The strongest, most insistent of these concerns my late father who was an English Literature teacher at the high school I attended back in Australia. I have very clear memories of being about twelve years old and sitting, as you are now, in a classroom or school hall, watching my father, who would be standing, up here, where I am standing, and thinking to myself, gloomily and miserably, for, in the main, I was a gloomy and miserable child, “It doesn’t really matter what I do with my life as long as I don’t end up like my father”. At forty years old it would appear that there is virtually no action I can take that does not draw me closer to him, that does not make me more like him. At forty years old I have become my father, and here I am, teaching.
What I wanted to do here was to talk a bit about “the love song”, to speak about my own personal approach to this genre of songwriting which I believe has been at the very heart of my particular artistic quest. I want look at some other works, that, for whatever reason, I think are sublime achievements in this most noble of artistic pursuits: the creation of the great love song.
Looking back at these twenty years a certain clarity prevails. Midst the madness and the mayhem, it would seem I have been banging on one particular drum. I see that my artistic life has centered around an attempt to articulate the nature of an almost palpable sense of loss that has laid claim to my life. A great gaping hole was blasted out of my world by the unexpected death of my father when I was nineteen years old. The way I learned to fill this hole, this void, was to write. My father taught me this as if to prepare me for his own passing. To write allowed me direct access to my imagination, to inspiration and ultimately to God. I found through the use of language, that I wrote god into existence. Language became the blanket that I threw over the invisible man, that gave him shape and form. Actualising of God through the medium of the love song remains my prime motivation as an artist. The love song is perhaps the truest and most distinctive human gift for recognising God and a gift that God himself needs. God gave us this gift in order that we speak and sing Him alive because God lives within communication. If the world was to suddenly fall silent God would deconstruct and die. Jesus Christ himself said, in one of His most beautiful quotes, “Where ever two or more are gathered together, I am in your midst.” He said this because where ever two or more are gathered together there is language. I found that language became a poultice to the wounds incurred by the death of my father. Language became a salve to longing.
Though the love song comes in many guises – songs of exultation and praise, songs of rage and of despair, erotic songs, songs of abandonment and loss – they all address God, for it is the haunted premises of longing that the true love song inhabits. It is a howl in the void, for Love and for comfort and it lives on the lips of the child crying for his mother. It is the song of the lover in need of her loved one, the raving of the lunatic supplicant petitioning his God. It is the cry of one chained to the earth, to the ordinary and to the mundane, craving flight; a flight into inspiration and imagination and divinity. The love song is the sound of our endeavours to become God-like, to rise up and above the earthbound and the mediocre.
The loss of my father, I found, created in my life a vacuum, a space in which my words began to float and collect and find their purpose. The great W.H. Auden said “The so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting – had it not occurred, it would have found another- in order that its life come a serious matter.” The death of my father was the “traumatic experience” Auden talks about that left the hole for God to fill. How beautiful the notion that we create our own personal catastrophes and that it is the creative forces within us that are instrumental in doing this. We each have a need to create and sorrow is a creative act. The love song is a sad song, it is the sound of sorrow itself. We all experience within us what the Portugese call saudade, which translates as an inexplicable sense of longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the Love song is the light of God, deep down, blasting through our wounds.
More to come…