The Peculiar and the Grotesque
The unthinkable has happened – women have abandoned Nick Cave. "She’s been set free for awhile to go and do her thing,” Cave says wryly. "The male is left behind and dissected with the dull and rusty scalpel of my wit.” This is Nick Cave nearing his sixth decade: novelist, screenwriter and genius behind the Birthday Party, the Bad Seeds and a decade’s worth of solo work, complaining about how he can’t get any. Begging for it in fact, at least if we’re to take the first single from his new band Grinderman as autobiography. "No Pussy Blues” is exactly what it sounds like, a gritty, garage-inspired piece of pleading and whining about being shut down at the bedroom door: "I bought her a dozen snow-white doves,” Cave sings, "I did her dishes in rubber gloves / But still she didn’t want to.” It’s raw and intense and hilarious, showing Cave has lost neither his musical fire nor his dry, self-deprecating humour.
Of course, sitting 56 floors above Manhattan, decked out in a tailored suit, and smoking thin, hand-rolled cigarettes, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything Cave might want that he can’t get. He’s joined by Grinderman drummer Jim Sclvunos, whose done recent duty in Cave’s solo projects; their equally bearded mates of long-standing include Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis and bassist Martyn Casey, both familiar names to Bad Seeds fans. It’s appropriate that Cave is refusing to do interviews alone for Grinderman — for the first time since the seminal Birthday Party days, Grinderman is a band, a gang of men.
Grinderman harkens back to the Birthday Party days in more ways that — there’s an aggression and fire in this project that, while it’s never disappeared from Cave’s muse, has been tempered by more "mature” recent projects that focussed lyrically on marriage and domestic contentment. Gone is the image of Cave brooding at the piano, replaced by him raging up front with a guitar.
The name comes from a Memphis Slim song that Cave, in typical cheeky fashion, has flipped on its head; in the original, the "Grinder Man” is a immensely popular lothario unable to keep up with demands on his, um, time. Cave’s vision of Grinderman is the opposite, not just in the rejections of "No Pussy Blues” but in an overall sense of dread: fear of aging and declining influence haunt Grinderman. "What the record is about in the most general terms is impotence and not being able to have a true effect over anything,” Cave reveals. "It’s unsparing but humorous,” Sclavunos adds. "Certain things about the way people perceive you come to the forefront of your mind.”
Nick Cave first grabbed the world’s attention as the front-man for the legendary post-punk outfit the Birthday Party. Formed in Melbourne, the band was inspired by the explosive Australian punk scene, as well as no wave influences from abroad; they relocated to London in the early ‘80s, where they recorded their first record, the critically acclaimed Prayers on Fire. They quickly became notorious for raucous live performances that erupted in drug- and alcohol-fuelled rows between band and audience; BBC Radio DJ John Peel helped spread the gospel by ceaselessly spinning their first single "The Friend Catcher.” A move to Berlin found kinship in bands like Die Haut and Einstürzende Neubauten, whose Blixa Bargeld became a seminal figure in the Bad Seeds. Amidst poverty and chaos, the Birthday Party’s run came to an end with the 1983 release of the Mutiny EP.From the ashes of the Birthday Party grew the Bad Seeds. Formed in 1984, they introduced themselves with From Her to Eternity, which featured originals and covers of Leonard Cohen’s "Avalanche” and Elvis Presley’s "In the Ghetto.” The title track is a great example of the early Bad Seeds sound — a frenzy of torturous feedback, tense keyboards and pounding drums of damnation, with Cave howling at/for a woman. The prolific Bad Seeds’ released two albums in 1986 that showcased different sides of the band. On Your Funeral/My Trial, one side is sentimental, the other violent, and was Cave’s articulation of a tangled, melancholic vision of love, women and sexuality; the second album was Kicking Against the Pricks, a covers album of dirty, punk-blues versions of the Velvet Underground, Johnny Cash and John Lee Hooker.
By the time the Bad Seeds released what is arguable their seminal record, 1988’s Tender Prey (which features Cave’s signature song "The Mercy Seat”), Cave was increasingly identifying himself as a writer. He was working steadily on what would become his first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel (released in 1989), a dense Southern gothic novel that explores redemption from the putrid, ugly, pathetic and violent impulses of humanity.
Despite the fact that he’s never published a follow-up novel, writing has become a secondary career for Cave. In 2005, his first screenplay made it to theatres in the form of The Proposition, a gory Australian outback western. Other literary pursuits include two collections of short plays, lyrics and poetry, entitled King Ink and King Ink II, in addition to teaching a poetry class at a writing academy in Vienna. From those teaching experiences, Cave released a spoken word album of two lectures on love songs, God and the Bible. In "The Secret Life of the Love Song,” Cave reveals the defining essence of any love song worth its salt: the presence of sadness and longing.
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