After learning about it, for a while I became a bit obsessed with the story of Nick Cave’s loss in 2015 of his teenaged son in an accident (he fell from a cliff near his family’s home). It pushed all my parenting buttons somehow. He’s produced a stream of intense, grief-stricken music since then.
I’ve especially been taken with his “Distant Sky,” which prompted some thoughts. Very uncharacteristically for him, he brought in another singer to do a couple of the verses – Else Torp, a Danish specialist in Baroque and Renaissance music. Here’s a link to a live perfomance: the audience noises are a bit distracting, but the emotional intensity of the performance makes up for it, I hope.
Especially in these newer songs I think of Nick Cave as someone who experiences transcendence, but is unable to bring himself to believe in it. This tension I think is what makes a lot of his music so interesting. He’s touched on it many times in the past, as in his beautiful “Brompton Oratory”. In “Distant Sky”, I wonder if he deliberately used two singers to contrast these aspects of himself: the soaring imagery that’s assigned to his female counterpart, and the desperate lines that he leaves to himself in the last verse. (Singing them, he looks to me as if he’s barely holding himself together. It’s painful to watch.)
I wondered too whether a person can get himself trapped in an image of The Man Hovering Between Doubt and Faith, and whether that self-branding can wall us off from spiritual progress. In how many areas of our lives do we do similar things?
His recent song “Bright Horses” is maybe his most explicit statement of this state of experiencing transcendence but being unable to accept its reality. The “little white shape dancing at the end of the hall” is of course his departed son.