Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Gothic Rock Grief: Nick Cave

“grief is also tidal. In time, it can recede and leave us with feelings of peace and advancement, only for it to wash back in with all its crushing hopelessness and sorrow. Back and forth it goes, but with each retreating drift of despair, we are left a little stronger, more resilient, more essential and better at our new life.” - Nick Cave

I hadn’t paid attention to musician Nick Cave until he was quoted in a recent Brain Pickings post by Maria Popova. He is a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and apparently that’s a post-punk or gothic-rock band.

The post was about whether Artificial Intelligence could create a great song. That’s not what interested me. Cave thought AI could create a good song, but not a great one. He said that when we listen to a song, ‘we are also listening to the composer and how the music came out of his or her life. When we listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, we are listening to a withdrawn and alienated young man’s journey out of a small town. We are listening to Beethoven compose the Ninth Symphony while almost totally deaf. We are listening to Nina Simone stuff all her rage and disappointment into the most tender of love songs.’

He also said, “What we are actually listening to is human limitation and the audacity to transcend it.” This is what got my attention. When I hear someone talking about their grief, I listen to the person behind the words.

Cave’s words come from a blog he calls the Red Hand Files. Each post is called an Issue and responds to a fan letter. For the most part, I’m paraphrasing his words to focus on grief.

Cave’s son Arthur, age 15, died three years ago in an accident. In an interview in The Guardian, Cave says ‘grief is a vast landscape. It fills up your body. The conventional wisdom is that you do grief alone, and that to do so is heroic, almost a nobility. But that is an illusion and very dangerous. The goodwill we received after Arthur’s death, and their sharing their own griefs, was monumental and amazingly helpful for me and my family.’

Issue 1 – ‘After Arthur’s death, we all needed to draw ourselves back to a state of wonder. My way was to write myself there, but it also had something to do with community. I realized that I was not alone in my grief and that many of you are suffering your own sorrows.’

How he composes lyrics for songs has also changed. ‘I found a way to write beyond the trauma by not turning my back on my child’s death, and this has enabled my imagination to propel itself beyond the personal into a state of wonder.’ His song “Fireflies” is evidence of this, and his lyrics are poetry.

Issue 23 – In response to a young father whose wife died, Cave wrote: ‘Three and a half years have passed for both of us. We feel we should be better. We feel we have in some way failed and that we should have made peace with the world. But grief is beyond our control; it is omnipotent and invincible. All we can do is kneel before it, heads bowed and await its passing.’

‘Now we have a new life; unchartered, uncertain. We hum with suffering, but there is immense power there too. We are alone but we are connected in a personhood of suffering. This is an act of extraordinary faith and demands vast reserves of inner-strength that we may not even be aware of. But they are there.’

I don’t know anything more about Nick Cave or his music. Now I’ll be paying attention.

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