In his book Faith, Hope, and Carnage, Nick Cave declares his dislike of interviews right away. Although the 304-page book by Observer journalist Seán O’Hagan could be seen as a demoralizing beginning, it’s scarcely news. Cave’s interaction with journalists in the 1980s was so tense and contentious that it occasionally escalated to physical violence.
After then, it significantly calmed down but continued to be cautious and apprehensive. After his 15-year-old son Arthur passed away in 2015, he eventually stopped doing any interviews at all, which seemed to be an understandable reaction.
In the 21st-century pop world, where there are many alternative ways to reach your audience, giving up speaking to the press is not unusual. Few prominent stars currently participate in the traditional treadmill of promotional interviews in conjunction with a new album.
However, it’s usually motivated by a desire to strictly control one’s public image: it’s preferable to maintain a painstakingly curated presence on Instagram, with every photo digitally airbrushed to perfection and every accompanying caption carefully vetted, than to have your spontaneous thoughts filtered through a journalist.
Cave’s retreat is notable since it signaled a significant turn in the opposite direction. In recent years, he has never been more approachable or available.
He launched The Red Hand Files in 2018, a website where he asked people to “ask me anything.” Four years later, he has written hundreds of disarmingly open, insightful responses to inquiries ranging from profound to lighthearted.
He adopted the same strategy for the 2019 world tour Conversations With Nick Cave, which focused more on audience questions than musical performances. The presumption that Cave wouldn’t want to talk about his son’s death in public couldn’t have been more wrong as the subject came up often in both online and live iterations.
The same is true with Faith, Hope, and Carnage, which are essentially transcripts of several lengthy conversations between Cave and O’Hagan that started in the summer of 2020. Its 15 chapters cover a wide range of topics, including Staffordshire pottery and the question of whether God exists.
The book frequently performs like the memoir that its cover explicitly states it is not, drawing vivid, witty memories of Cave’s childhood, and his years as a heroin addict (he recalls one roommate in rehab obsessively spraying himself with Lynx deodorant “as if that would help”), and the frequently tense relationships within his band, the Bad Seeds: one member leaves, expressing his displeasure at the band’s musical direction with the fantastic parting shot: “
However, Hagan notes in his afterword that Arthur “remains a constant presence throughout.” The book’s most striking sections, however, are those that deal with grief. While Cave has fascinating things to say about the creative process, social media, and “woke” culture (he believes that the latter may “reflect an unconscious desire to return to a non-secular society” where “autocratic ideas of virtue and sin have come into play”), those topics are not where the book stands out the most.
He describes how it manifested physically in a very lyrical manner, saying, “I could feel it really surging through my body and bursting out the ends of my fingers… a kind of self-annihilation, an internal scream, and its “transformative” aftereffects: In due course, you return to the world armed with some sort of wisdom pertaining to our susceptibility as players in this human drama.
He is forthright about how it has affected both his work and his personality, and he is unwavering in his conviction that by speaking about it openly and finding “a way to speak about my own catastrophe and articulate my own grief,” he can benefit not only himself but also others. According to him, the alternative is to remain “silent, trapped in [your] own secret thoughts… with the only form of the company being the dead themselves.”
Even O’Hagan is shocked by Cave’s detailed, agonizing account of the day his kid died, making for occasionally intensely harrowing reading. But in the end, it’s enlightening—a tale drenched in love, brimming with insights, and a record of an artist’s journey from viewing the world “with some type of scorn” to one of empathy and grace.
The Earth “simply continues on being lovely,” according to Cave, “no matter how debased or corrupt we are told humanity is, and no matter how degraded the globe has gotten.” It cannot be stopped.
Irving is the Chief Editor at the Landscape Insight. He lives just outside of New York. His writings have also been featured in some very famous magazines. When he isn’t reading the source material for a piece or decompressing with a comfort horror movie, Irving is usually somewhere in his car.