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Let Love in” – Love Lyrics of Nick Cave The Shift from Sexuality to Spirituality


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Masaryk University, Brno

Faculty of Arts

Department of English and American Studies

Let Love in – Love Lyrics of Nick Cave



The Shift from Sexuality to Spirituality

(B.A. Thesis)

Petr Husseini
Supervisor: PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr.

Brno 2007



Declaration

I hereby declare that I have worked on this B.A. thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Petr Husseini

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my supervisor, PhDr. Tomáš Pospíšil, Dr., for his kind help, support and valuable advice.


Table of Contents
Introduction ……………………………………….....………………………………………5

1. Nick Cave’s Lyrics – The Background …………………………………………………..6

1.1 The Beginning ….…………………………………………………………………6

1.2 Berlin Years …….………………………………………………………………...9

1.3 São PauloYears ………………………………………………………………….13

2. The Sexual and Violent Lyrics…………………………………………………………...17

2.1 Introduction ………………………………………………………………….….17

2.2 Female Clothing ....…………………………………………………………..….18

2.3 Murder and Love Within ………………………………………………….…...20

2.4 Sexuality and Darksome Love ……………………………………………....…25

3. Spiritual Love Lyrics …………………………………………………………………….30

3.1 Introduction ……………………………………………………………………..30

3.2 Nick Cave’s Love Song ...…………………………………………………….....30

3.3 The Boatman’s Call ……………………………………………………………..33

3.4 No More Shall We Part …………………………………………………………36

3.5 Nocturama ………………………………………………………………………39

Conclusion …………………………………………………………………………………..42 Bibliography…………………………………………………………………………………44

Appendix ...…………………………………………………………………………………..48

Introduction
Nick Cave is an artist who has a huge impact on popular music with his songs. Starting in Australia in the late 1970s he has been one of the most visible artists during the so-called “post-punk era”. Later in the 1980s as a musician, scriptwriter, and writer Cave became famous all over the world. The theme of love is his constant preoccupation. Initially in the 1980s Nick Cave’s lyrics dealt primarily with sexuality, physical expression of love, male power, and violence. Later in his career there appeared an alteration in his writing where he did not change the subject of love but modified his approach to it. Since the 1990s Cave deals mainly with the topic of spiritual love, often addressing God.

In my thesis I would like to discuss the shift from sexuality to spirituality in Nick Cave’s lyrics. My aim is to find the purpose for the change in writing and particular musical traditions that Cave follows. The work will show a detailed analysis of the main points relating to the turn from the early sexual songs to the spiritual side of his work, that is from the late 1970s until recent years. Although love is a very common feature in popular music Cave deals with its subject in a different way. His lyrics where the topic of physical and spiritual love is quite central can be regarded as a sophisticated piece of work because art within music remains for Cave a very significant issue.

The work is divided into three chapters. The first one describes the background of Nick Cave and his bands in Australia, his stay in Berlin, and in São Paulo. I will relate Nick Cave’s lyrics to the punk and post-punk era, to blues music, and Latin America elements. The second chapter deals mainly with the sexual and violent love lyrics and is divided into three parts. Each one illustrates a special feature, namely roles of female clothing, murder, and sexuality. The third one discusses the shift to spirituality and pure love and puts Cave’s early songs in contrast with the more recent work.

1. Nick Cave’s Lyrics – The Background

1.1 The Beginning

The popular music of the early 1980s in the English speaking world saw the rise of bands and musicians who shared the legacy of the punk-rock era. This period of rock and roll music mostly prominent in Great Britain with bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash gave rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s to the so-called post-punk era. In the early 1980s appeared many bands which tried to follow the punk music tradition. The age of revolt was replaced by another one, maybe a gentler one. New talents grew up in Europe (e.g. U2, Talking Heads, The Police) just as in the U.S.A. (e.g. R.E.M., Pixies). However, one of the most visible artists of these days started his career outside Great Britain and the United States – Australia saw the musical birth of Nick Cave.

Australia stands physically outside the world of music of Great Britain and the United States. Nevertheless the influences of the British and American punk bands were visible there as Clinton Walker points out that “much of the music would seem to have been inspired by similar stirrings in England and America” (7). The time of the late 1970s marked an epoch of an Australian musical movement which moved rock and roll towards its own invention and identity. Independence is one of the key words of punk music. That was also followed by the Australian bands; they were not at the real centre of that significant movement, however the new wave independently occurred in a number of countries around the world (Walker 7).

During the last years of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s Australian bands underwent an important process of development from rather unknown musical groups to popular ones. In particular, that set of changes can be symbolically demonstrated on Nick Cave’s bands – The Boys Next Door changed to The Birthday Party and moved from Australia1. The Birthday Party was not the only band that moved from Australia to become famous all over the world; however, they were probably the most prominent rock group among them. To name some of the bands that changed Great Britain for Australia in the early 1980s: The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, and The Moodists (Hanson 45). In this period of time we can already trace Nick Cave’s love, sex, and violence lyrics in The Birthday Party’s songs. However, without any sign of his later spiritual approach. The singer and his band went on a tour through Europe and found a favourite place in Berlin which symbolizes Cave’s turbulent time of his career – night-life, alcohol, and drug addiction for instance.

In all of his bands Nick Cave as a member has been the leader and the exclusive author of all the lyrics. Primarily, Cave’s early songs in The Birthday Party were dealing with topics close to the ones presented in punk music. Fear of women and fear for women were one of the examples of issues that concerned sexual matters in punk-rock during the 1970s and in Nick Cave’s earlier production. Simon Reynolds in his article “Flirting with the Void: Abjection in Rock” provides two remarkable topics of punk music, in particular abjection and maternal horror. Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” (song about “lust-for-abasement” (87)) and Sex Pistols’ “Submission” and “Bodies” are instances for the subject of sexual issues in
punk-rock. “Submission” explores a mission into the mysterious depths of female sexuality with the woman on the side of darkness, devouring men (88). The fear of women and female power on one hand and their vulnerability on the other one are at the centre, just as in “Bodies” for instance – an anti-abortion song – portraying the woman as a powerful killer of her baby. Nick Cave’s writing might be illustrated with the example of the mysterious and frightening side of female sexuality in “She’s Hit” – a “blues lament for women’s vulnerability, bemoaning the way they’re prone to liquefy into ‘woman pie’ at the hands of man” (92). The meaning of the songs discussed in this paragraph might be explained psychologically, namely that the woman stands for a mother and a partner as well. The man – like a child – is weaker than her and scared of her possible fragility. The man puts himself into a position of an inferior individual.

The “lust-for-abasement” can be traced in another Nick Cave’s writing as well. The song “Zoo-Music Girl” from The Birthday Party’s Prayers on Fire album offers an idea about the concept:

My body is a monster driven insane

My Heart is a fish toasted with flames

I kiss the hem of her skirt

We spend our life in a box full of dirt. (Cave 28)

The character in the song is presented as a weak individual; that phenomenon in “Zoo-Music Girl” is a so called “self-loathing” (Gladwell 147). It might be in fact compared with Walker’s “lust-for-abasement” in Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. Both categories deal with a kind of gender domination feature. Gladwell claims:

Here a dilemma is clearly apparent. Self-loathing in the face of the female’s imminent ruination – seen as a theft of sorts – and self-disgust at his own weakness as far as ‘she’ is concerned. More often than not, in Cave’s work the voice of reason/logic inside spurns and also spurs violent reactions against the threat she presents to his rationality – as an opposite/obverse or even complement. (147-8)

The revolutionary genre of punk music followed the ambitions of young musicians of the early 1980s. Consequently these songs – “She’s Hit” and “Zoo-Music Girl” – show that namely Nick Cave as a representative of the post-punk era has followed popular issues of his predecessors, punk-rock bands from Great Britain – The Sex Pistols – and the United States – The Stooges. Europe made Nick Cave famous and later put him in a position of a respected musician who later underwent a number of changes regarding his work. Nick Cave proved to develop from a singer of the post-punk band The Birthday Party of the early days to his later and present position of one of the leading songwriters of his generation (Sturges)2.
1.2 Berlin Years

In 1982, as has been already mentioned above, Nick Cave and the Birthday Party moved to Berlin. The year 1982 and the following one became the band’s “swan song” because the music group’s career was finished. The Birthday Party was dead. On the other hand for Cave started a new part of his career (Hanson 53). In the German capital, the rock band became famous but also saw its end. The city of Berlin signifies an important age for Cave’s work.

Berlin became very attractive for rock and roll musicians in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of them recorded their albums here. There is a number of milestones for Cave’s career during the 1980s in Germany. In Berlin, Nick Cave started to form his new band called The Bad Seeds. Its name derives from The Birthday Party’s EP The Bad Seed from 1982, a release picked up at Hansa Studios where for instance David Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded several albums (Johnston 121). Nick Cave’s creativity bloomed in Berlin; he tried to come up with a new style of music. In fact, he was becoming increasingly bored with The Birthday Party’s music and the audience’s reaction to it. Cave wanted to incorporate completely new genres to his own production, such as western, blues, and epic sixties pop ballads (Johnston 123).

There have appeared new approaches in relation to his work in the early 1980s. Bible, for instance, became the source of Cave’s writing during his Berlin years. He started incorporating biblical language and features of Christian culture into his songs. The Bible itself had been a very important source for his writing technique and a remarkable piece of inspiration (Dax 71). The biblical/Christian imagery has been essential not only for his love lyrics but for his other work as well during the years in Berlin, exclusively for the novel And the Ass Saw the Angel (the title itself is a quote from the Old Testament). Christianity proved to be a crucial element of Cave’s later work. However, as we will see, the Christian symbolism – here the crucifixion – has been apparently present already in the songs of the early 1980s. We can find the example in “Wild World” from The Bad Seed EP, released in February 1983:

Hold me up baby for I may fall

Hold my dish-rag body tall

Our bodies melt together (we are one)

Post crucifixion, and all undone. (Cave 56)

In “Wild World” the sexual connotation is linked to the crucifixion in a methaporical way. Nick Cave wants his girlfriend to comfort him in a very remarkable way – we can once more observe a notion of Reynolds’ “self-abasement” with the powerless man pleading for the woman’s help and care. “Wild World” is a “creamy languish in the guise of spoken word” and is close to the Beat style poetry (Hanson 47). The oral presentation of the lyrics becomes now as important as the whole song’s concept.

Another element that appeared during the time spent in Berlin in Nick Cave’s work was a stylization into a desperado, a renegade, who wants to escape punishment because he has killed a beloved woman. This model which is highly popular in the western culture became one of Nick Cave’s typical features. The rebel who stands between good and evil is attractive for the popular culture. The message of the songs remains often in the space between these borders of good and evil. The murder of a woman and the outlaw stylization stay an important issue on many Bad Seeds’ albums just as its narrative style. The topic of love appears in the “murder-ballads” as well; there is no contradiction (for instance, in 1988 in “The Mercy Seat” from the Tender Prey album). However for the first time in Nick Cave’s songs, we can observe the search for new styles and genres on the Mutiny! EP, the last record of The Birthday Party, which was made in November 1983 in the Hansa Records studios3. Let us look closely at “Swampland”, a song about a flight of a murderer:

They cum with boots of blud

With pichfawk and with club

Chantin out mah name

Lucy, ah’ll love you till the end!

They hunt me like a dog

Down in a Sw-a-a-a-mp Land! (Cave 75).

The new genres of music that Cave wanted to embed in his work are apparent in this song. The tradition of the country and blues music and the American south are central for this piece. The Swampland is unmistakably the Mississippi Delta of William Faulkner. This place is seen as a mythical birthplace of the blues music (Dax 73). The chasers hunt the character
– a wanted man – because he has killed his girl, Lucy: “Lucy, ya made a sinner out of me / Now ah’m burnin like a saint” (Cave 75). However, he confesses his love to Lucy (“ah’ll love you till the end” (75)). That is a stylization into a rebel who stands between good and evil; thus the character might be seen from a positive or negative point of view.

The Mississippi Delta is related to the blues music and consequently Cave becomes a narrator as the traditional blues singers whose lyrics have been the main point of their songs. As an author, Cave elevates himself to a position of a medium that knows how the world works. His story has a message. That is also the central point of this kind of songs, just like the blues singers’ stories of the early 20th century. Thus the meaning of the lyrics is more important than the music (Dax 73). Consequently an significant issue is that Cave put a number of autobiographical features into Swampland, namely himself as a rebel among the musicians who stands out as an individual and the hunters who represent his critics and fans (Johnston 132). We can trace once more that the form of the oral performation becomes essential – the singer is the narrator, a storyteller.

Nick Cave’s message in the course of the Berlin years followed the tradition of blues and also of the songwriters. That was namely the legacy of the famous folk singer Bob Dylan and the country singer Johnny Cash. During the 1980s Cave made covers of songs originally recorded by these two musicians: Bob Dylan’s “Wanted Man” from the The Firstborn Is Dead album and Johnny Cash’s “The Singer” from the Kicking against the Pricks album. In “Wanted Man” Cave has rearranged the lyrics by Bob Dylan for his own version. “The original is a long euphonic list of all the places the outlaw of the title, a bounty on his head, can no longer dare show his face. Cave added a few extra lines and reworked the melody together with Harvey, thus turning the song into a tragicomedy with biographical undertones” (Dax 92). The original song by Dylan is another instance of the issue of a rebel in the western culture that has been incorporated into the popular music and later rearranged by Cave.

During the Berlin years, Cave reflected his own musical vision of the blues with Christian imagery and became an acknowledged artist in the popular music and an author of songs whose progress has continued years on4. The narrative side of his work has become unique already in the 1980s. Moreover he is one of the poets among the musicians who have been following a tradition of blues and songwriting. Like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave has remained on of the few singers-songwriters whose lyrics need not to be read with music but on their own (Nashawatty 47). Later I will discuss a specific parallel between Cohen and Cave.



1.3 São Paulo Years

The last decade of the 20th century presented new topics into Cave’s songs again. After the turbulent years and the drug addiction in Berlin Cave found new places to stay. Although the singer visited many places on tours with The Bad Seeds all over the world there was a location that inspired his writing in an extraordinary way – São Paulo.

After a storm comes serenity. Symbolically storm in Nick Cave’s life can mean his stay in Berlin. There he became addicted to drugs, wrote songs of violence and depraved sexuality. Cave left Berlin for good. The actual effect then was a detoxification at a facility in Weston-Super-Mare in the South of England; the singer left West Berlin which has been his home for six years and returned to London (Dax 124). In Berlin and in London as well Cave was at the centre of media. Nevertheless he looked for anonymity. This fact actually guided him to Brazil (one of the places on band’s tour) where he found his partner, mother of his first son – fashion designer Viviane Carneiro. They met on one of The Bad Seeds’ concerts and Cave had fallen in love with her5. Later they made up their home in São Paulo together. Brazil has been unexplored by The Bad Seeds recently and Cave himself was not one of the most famous artists there.

With his move to Brazil Nick Cave embarked on a new direction in his life and, for the

first time ever, started to live in a semblance of an ordered existence. [...] But in the anonymity of this colossal city that spoke Portuguese and not English and where rock music hadn’t become the kind of ersatz religion it had in England, Cave didn’t feel at all impinged upon by the interest Brazil showed in him (Dax 128).

The genius loci – or the spirit of a place – made contribution to his work. In comparison to his previous life Cave became more temperate and that had also effect on his songs. Viviane Carneiro became a new source of inspiration for him. “The change of surroundings gave Cave a wholly new perspective. ‘Everywhere you looked,’ he enthused, ‘there was something strange and wonderful and magical,’ and the songs he was now writing would reflect that dynamism” (Hanson 74). Last but not least, the singer started to use Portuguese as one of the flavours of his lyrics.

In São Paulo in 1990 Cave recorded his new album The Good Son which is musically calmer and which incorporates the New Testament, the person of Jesus Christ, and God in the lyrics. There is a certain number of romantic ballads like “The Ship Song” for instance. What represents mainly Nick Cave’s work of the 1990s – the spirituality in love songs – has been started off in Brazil. The core of the religious subject matter in lyrics lies therefore in relationship with the years spent in São Paulo. It is no secret that Christian faith plays a key role in the Brazilian culture. The opening song of the album – “Foi na Cruz” – is a “love chant” of how “two people missed a golden opportunity to fall in love” (Dax 129). The song possesses a “reverential hush” to remain within terms of Christian culture (Hanson 81). The imagery of Jesus Christ is quite central; in addition, a traditional Portuguese anthem has been used for the chorus:

Foi na cruz, foi na cruz

Que um dia

Meus pecados castigados em Jesus

Foi na cruz

Que um dia

Foi na cruz. (Cave 163)

The translation from the Portuguese: “He hung on the cross / One day / Jesus was punished for our sins” (Dax 129). The central idea of the song is the unrequited love:

Love comes a-knocking

Comes a-knocking upon our door

But you, you and me, love

We don’t live here anymore. (Cave 163)

It seems the former complexity of Cave’s love songs was gone and now the straightforward lyrics tell the story. Songs like “Foi na Cruz” were at that moment more fascinating because of the simplicity, loose associations, and secrets in comparison to his earlier work full of complicated and hidden answers (Dax 129); (e.g. the complicated issue of self-abasement in “Zoo-Music Girl”). “Foi na Cruz” is a perfect example of how Cave began inserting folk elements of Latin America just as previously features of blues during the Berlin years. That involved not only the text components on The Good Son album but particularly the musical ones as well. The Latin America swing on the album replaces the former rock and roll sound – for instance in “Lament” and “The Weeping Song”. Together with the instrumentation and rather gentler rhytms the album is completely different in relation to previous Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds releases (Hanson 81). Thus the personal relationship has not been the only change that had its effect on his records. The Brazilian culture changed Cave’s music as well. The unfulfilled love that is present in “Foi na Cruz” stays a pattern for many songs that should follow on later Nick Cave’s recordings.

Furthermore the Christian imagery that started to be essential for his further work is not purpose-built. “Modern pop rock songwriting is full of it, but it is usually used for its aesthetic, rather than religious, potency. Cave’s use of Christian imagery is different in that he is a believer (Bartlett)6”. We can assert that what we hear from Nick Cave is forthright and that there is no cliché in the lyrics concerning the cross-reference to Bible and Christianity – in particular, spirituality and Christian symbolics play for him a key role; they are the fundaments of his writing since the last decade of the 20th century. Thus The Good Son is probably a turning-point album for Cave because of a completely new experience of Latin America which inspired him vigorously regarding his love lyrics and romantic ballads. In Brazil Cave found his new identity in relation with his age of “maturity”. His partner and the whole culture brought new insights to his work. On the whole Cave became inspired by the people of São Paulo; hence The Good Son was less an album for fans, but an album for its author himself (Hanson 81).

The first chapter pointed up Nick Cave’s shifts in writing from the late 1970s to early 1990s in relation with the individual and cultural background. During this time span Cave has experienced a number of changes in life characterised by movings from Australia to Europe – first to London, second to Berlin – and from Europe to rather anonymous Brazil. This period of approximately 15 years had a remarkable effect on his work. From the representative of the post-punk era Cave has developed into a musician who follows the songwriter tradition of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. Later as the author of romantic ballads he has become
“a reverential love songwriter” (Hanson 73). Prior to the early 1990s Cave’s lyrics evolved and reached a turning point in Brazil with The Good Son. Of course the transformation of the love theme was not finished then. The alteration in writing got only started with a new life style, new culture, and new partner. Similar topics as on the “Brazilian album” occurred on the following ones as well (Henry’s Dream (1992) and Let Love In (1994)). There were however more romantic ballads on The Bad Seeds’ releases since the São Paulo years. The issue of spirituality in love plays a major role mainly on two records: The Boatman’s Call (1997) and No More Shall We Part (2001). The next chapters will depict particular songs with the topic of love at its centre in detail.

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