Dr. Cave, again, in vivid form, tells us about love. This time he delves into literary philosophy of Lorca, and the term “duende,” which means the power of spontaneity, the language of the heart, and also the Portuguese term “saudade,” which is a deep, rooted longing for something/someone that is absent. In thinking of rock’n’roll music, Nick Cave believes that a true love song is not true without this saudade. Any other “love song” without this longing, is not a love song, but a fraud, a “hate song.”
And then there’s his very carnal description of the Song of Songs. Take it away, professor.
In his brilliant lecture entitled “The Theory and Function of Duende” Frederico Garcia Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. “All that has dark sound has duende”, he says, “that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain.” In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely, Bob Dylan has always had it. Leonard Cohen deals specifically in it. It pursues Van Morrison like a black dog and though he tries to he cannot escape it. Tom Waits and Neil Young can summon it. It haunts Polly Harvey. My friend and Dirty 3 have it by the bucket load. The band Spiritualised are excited by it. Tindersticks desperately want it, but all in all it would appear that duende is too fragile to survive the brutality of technology and the ever increasing acceleration of the music industry. Perhaps there is just no money in sadness, no dollars in duende. Sadness or duende needs space to breathe. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care.
All love songs must contain duende. For 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 love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. 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.
In Lou Reed´s remarkable song “Perfect Day” he writes in near diary form the events that combine to make a “Perfect Day”. It is a day that resonates with the hold beauty of love, where he and his lover sit in the park and drink Sangria, feed animals in the zoo, go to a movie show etc., but it is the lines that darkly in the third verse, “I thought I was someone else, someone good” that transforms this otherwise sentimental song into the masterpiece of melancholia that it is. Not only do these lines ache with failure and shame, but they remind us in more general terms of the transient nature of love itself – that he will have his day “in the park” but, like Cinderella, who must return at midnight to the soot and ash of her disenchanted world, so must he return to his old self, his bad self. It is out of the void that this songs springs, clothed in loss and longing.
Around the age of twenty, I stared reading the Bible and I found in the brutal prose of the Old Testament, in the feel of its words and its imagery, an endless source of inspiration. The Song of Solomon, perhaps the greatest love song ever written, had a massive impact upon me. Its openly erotic nature, the metaphoric journey taken around the lovers bodies – breasts compared to bunches of grapes and young deer, hair and teeth compared to flocks of goats and sheep, legs like pillars of marble, the navel- a round goblet, the belly- a heap of wheat – its staggering imagery rockets us into the world of pure imagination. Although the two lovers are physically separate – Solomon is excluded from the garden where his beloved sings – it is the wild, obsessive projections of one lover onto another that dissolve them into a single being, constructed from a series of rapturous love-metaphors.
The Song of Solomon is an extraordinary love song but it was the remarkable series of love song/poems known as the Psalms that truly held me. I found the Psalms, which deal directly with relationship between man and God, teeming with all the clamorous desperation, longing, exultation, erotic violence and brutality that I could hope for. The Psalms are soaked in saudade, drenched in duende and bathed in bloody-minded violence. In many ways these songs became the blue-print for much of my more sadistic love songs. Psalm 137, a particular favourite of mine and which was turned into a chart hit by the fab little band Boney M. is a perfect example of all I have been talking about.
The love song must be born into the realm of the irrational, absurd, the distracted, the melancholic, the obsessive, the insane for the love song is the noise of love itself and love is, of course, a form of madness. Whether it be the love of God, or romantic, erotic love – these are manifestations of our need to be torn away from the rational, to take leave of our senses, so to speak. Love songs come in many guises and are seemingly written for many reasons – as declarations or to wound – I have written songs for all of these reasons – but ultimately the love songs exist to fill, with language, the silence between ourselves and God, to decrease the distance between the temporal and the divine.
In Psalm 137 the poet finds himself captive in “a strange land” and is forced to sing a song of Zion. He swears his love to his homeland and dreams of revenge. The Psalm is ghastly in its violent sentiments, as he sings for love of his homeland and his God and that he may be made happy by murdering the children of his enemies. What I found, time and time again, in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was that verses of rapture, of ecstasy and love could hold within them apparently opposite sentiments – hate, revenge, bloody mindedness etc. that they were not mutually exclusive. This idea has left an enduring impression on my songwriting.