Christopher Owens ๐Ÿ”– It’s oddly prescient that, whenever I started this review, the Office for National Statistics in the UK revealed that the numbers of people in England and Wales, who identified as ‘Christian’, had dropped by 13%.



Of course, this has brought about a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the usual commentators. Some are merely expressing sorrow for what they see as their way of life slowly disappearing, while others are using it to make points that can be read as Muslim bashing.

In times like these, we need art to help us understand these convoluted times. And few people are as well placed as Nick Cave.

From his beginnings in The Boys Next Door, who would mutate into The Birthday Party (one of the most manic and terrifying post-punk acts) through to the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave has grown and metamorphosised into an artist with a vision rooted in American blues and folk but with an ear for the esoteric. And, crucially, he has brought the mainstream closer to him by way of his influence and ever-expanding musical palate. When one hears a record like Push the Sky Away, it is impossible to not feel some connection with a part of us that we did not realise existed.

Since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015 (and, eerily, the death of his eldest son earlier this year), Cave has been using his standing to address the nature of grief, the power of faith (even if it is a sceptical faith) and how the chaos of the world feeds into making some of the most profound pieces of art.

This book, made up of many hours of discussion with Armagh born Sean O’Hagan (ex NME and currently writing for The Guardian/The Observer) is a fascinating, humourous and insightful read from two men who have known each other for a long time (dating back to this notorious interview which, as Cave reveals in this book, was conducted the day after he came out of rehab). O’Hagan gives Cave plenty of room to make his case, but occasionally pushes back on him or puts him on the spot (such as reading old quotes back to Cave), so don’t mistake this for a hagiography.

Arthur’s death is repeatedly referenced and discussed throughout, but there are other topics and strands of thought that spring from this tragedy that make this book much more than a counselling session. Although there are moments where, like most artists, Cave struggles to articulate how the creative process works for him, there’s no denying that his insights are entertaining, thought provoking and honest.

When asked about foregrounding his lyrical preoccupations for the listener, he replies that he thinks:

…of Ghosteen as essentially an epic story created from a contained moment that is very difficult for me to describe. It’s an ecstatic, spiritual declaration emerging out of an ordinary moment…And perhaps the central image is a static one – the line in ‘Spinning Song that goes, ‘You sitting at the kitchen table listening to the radio.’ This line is, of course, unremarkable as an image. But to me it is anything but ordinary, because it is the last memory I have of Susie before the phone rang with new that our son had died. It is a commonplace image, but for me it’s transcendent because it’s the last unbroken memory of my wife.

The listener, armed with this knowledge, may very well reinterpret the song and find a darkness and melancholia present where it may not have been obvious. These added layers can also allow for multiple readings and a deeper understanding/relationship with the world. By transmitting this aura of grief, it helps us understand the many facets of life and death and brings us closer together.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder why there’s such a strong connection between art and faith. Think of the paintings inspired by Christianity during the Renaissance and even the likes of Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon could not have painted some of their most well-known work without Catholic imagery. Likewise, there is a strong, but unorthodox, connection in Cave’s work (which isn’t surprising for a man who named an album after Acts 26:14).

Beginning by talking about how he’s ... 

…not really that interested in the more esoteric ideas of spirituality. I’m drawn to what many people would see as traditional Christian ideas. I’m particularly fascinated with the Bible and in particular the life of Christ…I was surrounded by people who displayed zero interest in spiritual or religious matters, or if they did, it was because they were fiercely anti-religious. I was operating in a Godless world…so there was no real nurturing of these ideas. But I was always struggling with the notion of God and…feeling a need to believe in something ...

... he goes on to posit the notion that scepticism is an integral part of faith as the seeming contradiction between the irrationality of the real world and the desire for meaning in a mysterious realm. Even more intriguingly, Cave argues that too much faith in either premise leads to, in his words, ‘belligerent dogmatism’.

A genuinely insightful and intriguing way of considering faith, even if one doesn’t accept his conclusions.

For a man whose career has been spent wrestling with contradictions and tapping into tradition, this book won’t provide easy answers. But it will help you understand where his art comes from, how such a worldview can help us understand our place in the world and how it even helps some feel a greater attachment to something out of their hands.

The sort of book needed for the end of the year.

Nick Cave & Sean O’Hagan, 2022, Faith, Hope and Carnage. Cannongate Books, ISBN-13: 978-1838857660

๐Ÿ•ฎ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

Faith, Hope And Carnage

Christopher Owens ๐Ÿ”– It’s oddly prescient that, whenever I started this review, the Office for National Statistics in the UK revealed that the numbers of people in England and Wales, who identified as ‘Christian’, had dropped by 13%.



Of course, this has brought about a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the usual commentators. Some are merely expressing sorrow for what they see as their way of life slowly disappearing, while others are using it to make points that can be read as Muslim bashing.

In times like these, we need art to help us understand these convoluted times. And few people are as well placed as Nick Cave.

From his beginnings in The Boys Next Door, who would mutate into The Birthday Party (one of the most manic and terrifying post-punk acts) through to the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave has grown and metamorphosised into an artist with a vision rooted in American blues and folk but with an ear for the esoteric. And, crucially, he has brought the mainstream closer to him by way of his influence and ever-expanding musical palate. When one hears a record like Push the Sky Away, it is impossible to not feel some connection with a part of us that we did not realise existed.

Since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015 (and, eerily, the death of his eldest son earlier this year), Cave has been using his standing to address the nature of grief, the power of faith (even if it is a sceptical faith) and how the chaos of the world feeds into making some of the most profound pieces of art.

This book, made up of many hours of discussion with Armagh born Sean O’Hagan (ex NME and currently writing for The Guardian/The Observer) is a fascinating, humourous and insightful read from two men who have known each other for a long time (dating back to this notorious interview which, as Cave reveals in this book, was conducted the day after he came out of rehab). O’Hagan gives Cave plenty of room to make his case, but occasionally pushes back on him or puts him on the spot (such as reading old quotes back to Cave), so don’t mistake this for a hagiography.

Arthur’s death is repeatedly referenced and discussed throughout, but there are other topics and strands of thought that spring from this tragedy that make this book much more than a counselling session. Although there are moments where, like most artists, Cave struggles to articulate how the creative process works for him, there’s no denying that his insights are entertaining, thought provoking and honest.

When asked about foregrounding his lyrical preoccupations for the listener, he replies that he thinks:

…of Ghosteen as essentially an epic story created from a contained moment that is very difficult for me to describe. It’s an ecstatic, spiritual declaration emerging out of an ordinary moment…And perhaps the central image is a static one – the line in ‘Spinning Song that goes, ‘You sitting at the kitchen table listening to the radio.’ This line is, of course, unremarkable as an image. But to me it is anything but ordinary, because it is the last memory I have of Susie before the phone rang with new that our son had died. It is a commonplace image, but for me it’s transcendent because it’s the last unbroken memory of my wife.

The listener, armed with this knowledge, may very well reinterpret the song and find a darkness and melancholia present where it may not have been obvious. These added layers can also allow for multiple readings and a deeper understanding/relationship with the world. By transmitting this aura of grief, it helps us understand the many facets of life and death and brings us closer together.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder why there’s such a strong connection between art and faith. Think of the paintings inspired by Christianity during the Renaissance and even the likes of Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon could not have painted some of their most well-known work without Catholic imagery. Likewise, there is a strong, but unorthodox, connection in Cave’s work (which isn’t surprising for a man who named an album after Acts 26:14).

Beginning by talking about how he’s ... 

…not really that interested in the more esoteric ideas of spirituality. I’m drawn to what many people would see as traditional Christian ideas. I’m particularly fascinated with the Bible and in particular the life of Christ…I was surrounded by people who displayed zero interest in spiritual or religious matters, or if they did, it was because they were fiercely anti-religious. I was operating in a Godless world…so there was no real nurturing of these ideas. But I was always struggling with the notion of God and…feeling a need to believe in something ...

... he goes on to posit the notion that scepticism is an integral part of faith as the seeming contradiction between the irrationality of the real world and the desire for meaning in a mysterious realm. Even more intriguingly, Cave argues that too much faith in either premise leads to, in his words, ‘belligerent dogmatism’.

A genuinely insightful and intriguing way of considering faith, even if one doesn’t accept his conclusions.

For a man whose career has been spent wrestling with contradictions and tapping into tradition, this book won’t provide easy answers. But it will help you understand where his art comes from, how such a worldview can help us understand our place in the world and how it even helps some feel a greater attachment to something out of their hands.

The sort of book needed for the end of the year.

Nick Cave & Sean O’Hagan, 2022, Faith, Hope and Carnage. Cannongate Books, ISBN-13: 978-1838857660

๐Ÿ•ฎ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant review. Not for the first time, I'll be ordering a book on the strength of one of Christopher's reviews.

    I read Cave's Red Hand Files and find his answers intruiging, but can honestly say the only song of his I know is Into My Arms.

    I really must explore more of Cave's work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brandon,

      thanks very much. Greatly appreciated.

      Some of his Red Hand Files are a delight to read, especially around the notion of the artist and what, if any, responsibilities they have.

      You know far more than you realise: Red Right Hand, Where the Wild Roses Grow, The Ship Song, Deanna.

      Delete