Nick Cave is perhaps the pinnacle of the “if you know, you know” artist. He’s kind of been quietly there now for decades, producing a staggering amount of material; his creativity and work ethic are remarkable. If he’s new to you, the most likely times you’ve heard his music are perhaps this sequence in one of the final Potter films (“O Children”, from the 2004 double album Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus), or, in a very different vein, at the end of the long tracking shot sequence from the first season of True Detective (“Honeybee Let’s Fly To Mars,” from his side group Grinderman).
Cave started out as a loud, post-punk rock and roller — not for nothing is he considered something of a godfather to goth — but as time passed, his material became a bit more contemplative. He wrote prose and screenplays and film scores, branching out in a way that honestly middle aged musicians quite often do not. In 1999, he married the former Susie Bick, a fashion designer and model whom you’ve doubtless seen in record stores, since it’s her on the cover of The Damned album Phantasmagoria, from 1985. (Later, she’d appear on the cover of Cave’s own record Push the Sky Away.)
All of this is context.
A year after they married, Susie and Nick had a pair of twins, Arthur and Earl. Nick also had a son from a previous relationship, Jethro, born in 1991.
Eight years ago this July, Arthur Cave fell from a cliff near Brighton, in England, where they lived. Grief for Arthur is the through-line on the two most recent albums from Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds: 2016’s Skeleton Tree, already in progress when he died, and the 2019 followup Ghosteen. Both are achingly beautiful, searing portraits of grief, loss, and hope, with a depth and power that always leaves me complete stunned. They are the work of musicians at the height of their powers, inspired by a profound and elemental human state.
This is still context.
Cave has run, since 2018, a site called The Red Hand Files. People write in; Cave responds publicly.
Earlier this month, someone wrote in:
Not a question at all.
On Sat the 30 December my beautiful 16yo son Murray took his own life. He was contacted online by what he believed was a girl he knew. He was extorted and then panicked, hanging himself. He was a wonderful guy who drew beautifully, played guitar and was a straight A student. He was private person and hated being the centre of attention. His world would have crashed around him at the thought of sexual pictures with his peer group. Our hearts are broken, literally agony.
The song we have chosen for the reflection piece at his funeral on Friday in the Cathedral is Distant Sky. In that space it should sound magnificent. I certainly hope so.
In writing this it helps to feel the reality of where we are as a family. We will keep going but fuck me it’s hard.
Cave’s response is beautiful and perfect, and it closes with words I wish anyone struggling with grief would carry with them. You should go read the whole thing, but those closing words are:
Be kind and patient and gentle and merciful with one another. Stay close. Hold firm. Forgive. Grief prepares the way. Joy will in time find you. It is searching for you, in the impossible darkness, even now.