(image found HERE)
As an early birthday present, my wife is taking me to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds play tonight in Glasgow. Considering the fact that Nick Cave is often known as a Gothic prince of darkness type character (he's so much more than that lazy label really connotes), it's a fairly fitting way to spend Halloween night.
From the early 80s up to today he has created an immense output of songs. The lyrics across the years have explored copious amounts of darkness, murder, horror, devilry, numinosity, spirituality, love, lust, mayhem, madness, sorrow, beauty, glory, wonder, and mystery (always with a strain of dark humour). He has painted a mosaic of landscapes and characters that alternate between heavenly and diabolical, sublime and obscene, with the language of the foul-mouthed and dirty-minded gutter as well as the high modern poets (and older poetic traditions too). There are faux Southern Gothic and Wild West tales that fuse the American regionalism of Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy with Cave's own Australian psychogeography. There are open-aired nocturnes and phantasmal cityscapes as well as sordid scenes of claustrophobic squalor. A carnival of ghosts and serial killers and outlaws and prostitutes and drug addicts and freaks and jilted lovers and even mere husbands and wives populate the songs. His several novels and screenplays evince much the same in ever innovative and fresh iterations.
And all this has been infused from its inception with bouts and outbreaks of theology as Cave wrestles Jacob-like with his own dark theophany. Indeed, he exhibits the quality Flannery O'Connor called that of being Christ-haunted. Recurrent sightings of the face and person and words and miracles of Jesus have suffused his work since he ranted in The Birthday Party (whose first album bore the significant title Prayers On Fire) 'The face of Christ is leaping from the storm/ The face of Christ is leaping from the storm' ('Truck Love'), through epiphanies of Christ in glory by a man on the electric chair ('The Mercy Seat'), to Cave's claim: 'I've searched the holy books / Tried to unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ the Saviour' ('Nobody's Baby Now').
Christ came as a liberator. Christ understood that we as humans were for ever held to the ground by the pull of gravity - our ordinariness, our mediocrity - and it was through His example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to fly. In short, to be Christ-like.
Thereafter, he felt the pain and ecstasy of the dark love songs he'd been obsessing over for so long were given theological meaning. ‘The Love Song is the light of God, deep down, blasting up through our wounds,’ he said in his lecture 'The Secret Life of the Love Song'. There he also spoke of the almost missional significance of his own work as a songwriter: ‘Me, I'm a soul-catcher for God. Here I come with my butterfly-net of words. Here I catch the chrysalis. Here I blow life into bodies and hurl them fluttering to the stars and the care of God.’
After a few more albums of haunted spirituality (during which he even considered himself a 'Christian apologist'), 2004's double album Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus opened with the blasting refrain 'Get ready for love! Praise Him!' and ended with the refrain 'Hey little train, we are all jumping on / The train that goes to the Kingdom'.
All these yearnings and affirmations are qualified by tensions and doubts and misunderstandings, and there have been many spiritual twists and turns up to the present moment. You can still hear a grotesque and numinous kerygma even on the latest album, Push the Sky Away, which continues to make a fitting soundtrack for Halloween and other nocturnal activity:
Hear a man preaching in a language that is completely new
Making the hot cots in the flophouse bleed
While the cleaning ladies sob into their mops
And a bellhop hops and bops
& a shot rings out to a spiritual groove
Everybody bleeding to that Higgs Boson Blues
& if I die tonight, bury me in my favorite yellow patent leather shoes
With a mummified cat and a cone-like hat
That the Caliphate forced on the Jews
Can you feel my heart beat?
Can you feel my heart beat?
('Higgs Boson Blues')