Free Speech

Rocker Nick Cave Defends Old Songs From 'Perpetually Pissed Off Coterie of Pearl-Clutchers'

"I would rather be remembered for writing something that was...offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless."

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The last time Reason wrote about Australian musician and genre-bending Goth heartthrob Nick Cave, he was making a bold statement in favor of free speech and creative expression while slamming "woke" culture and what he saw as its analogs on the far right:

Antifa and the Far Right…with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other's belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness.

This time I want to quote him in a discussion with a fan who asks the (good) question, "Do you ever feel the need to change lyrics, when performing live, which may be problematic in 2020, for example 'a fag in a whalebone corset dragging his dick across my cheek'? Or are you happy to preserve the lyric as a product of its time, and respect the original content?"

Cave publishes a monthly newsletter, The Red Hand Files, in which he answers questions from his audience. In the new edition, he responds to the above query with a direct statement that should be a model for other creatives who are feeling weak-kneed in the face of rapidly changing standards of acceptability.

What songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know? 

Perhaps we writers should have been more careful with our words—I can own this, and I may even agree—however, we should never blame the songs themselves. Songs are divinely constituted organisms. They have their own integrity. As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs. They must be allowed to exist in all their aberrant horror, unmolested by these strident advocates of the innocuous, even if just as some indication that the world has moved toward a better, fairer and more sensitive place. If punishment must be administered, punish the creators, not the songs. We can handle it. I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.

Cave is not some reactionary rock star whose best years are behind him or whose oeuvre is packed with worn-out rock-star cliches about feminine pulchritude. The song referenced above, "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," the opening track to an acclaimed 1992 album with his band The Bad Seeds, is a "kind of a nasty fucked-up lullaby" (in his own words) that Cave says he used to sing to his young son. It's a hauntingly surrealistic tormented ballad that defies any easy categorization. The Australian native is a long-lived, hard-thinking observer of modern life who has been in the public eye since the early 1980s and whose output includes dozens of albums, novels, screenplays, and nonfiction pieces. His interests, modes of expression, and style have all evolved over time but one constant is his defense of free speech and artistic independence.

In 2017, he pushed back against calls from musicians such as Roger Waters and Brian Eno to respect the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement's demand that no musical act perform in Israel. Besides making it harder for critics of the Israeli government to plead their case directly from the stage, Cave wrote in an open letter, BDS supporters were also trying to "bully, shame and silence musicians" into adopting a party line. Last fall, he insisted that "free speech was a clear-cut and uncontested virtue."

We live in a world where the old guard often cowers to pressure, especially from the young, out of fear or forgotten principles. As a musician, Cave works in an industry that rewards groupthink, especially when it comes to politically sensitive issues and sensibilities. His willingness to speak his beliefs is doubly notable, first because he is doing it at all and second because he does it without acrimony or aversion. As a rule, rock stars age with all the grace of jack-o'-lanterns left out on the porch for way too long, but Nick Cave is teaching a master class in aging gracefully and seriously.

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  1. No one cares about your fucking man crush Gillespie.

    1. No one cares about your post.

      1. I care about it. It’s pretty funny!

        Nick Cave is not a person whose opinions matter to me in the slightest.

  2. BDSers are pathetic. The Israeli government certainly is a fucked-up corrupt monstrosity, but no matter how bad it is, the Palestinians are far worse, as are all Muslim governments. You’ve got to be an anti-semite to choose corrupt Palestinians over corrupt Israelis.

    When every example of a Muslim government is so bad, you begin to see a pattern. When you can’t see that, but do detect a pattern in the one Jewish government, then you are willfully blind. When you top that off by seeing the one Jewish government as worse than all Muslim governments, then you are a a Jew-hater, a bigot, a Nazi, and pretty fucking stupid.

    1. That, and the glaring inconsistency of a bunch of Arabs from Arab nation states such as Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc. unifying under an Arab ethnic banner by forming an Arab League that explicitly resisted Jewish settlement and waged war against Israel for 30+ years and still exists today. Funny how that always gets memoryholed by the BDSers. No mention of a Palestinian people or national identity or statehood, but all these people decided to unify and label themselves as Arabs who wanted to keep Israel conquered and colonized by Arabs. Very weird.

      1. Wow, revise history much?

        1. What did he say that was inaccurate? This is all a matter of undisputed historical record.

          1. He did refer to European colonization as “Jewish settlement”.

    2. The BDS movement is fairly harmless because Israel has succeeded in suppressing it all over the world. Israel is free to steal land from Palestinians, kill or jail any Palestinians who object, and enforce its apartheid policies to keep the Palestinians permanently subjugated. Anyone who objects is branded as an anti-Semite.

      1. So are you antifa or far right?

        Lucky horse shoe says both!!

    3. There is so much wrong from BDS, even an Israel critic like Norman Finkelstein have criticized them as being a “hypocritical, dishonest cult.”

      Leaving aside whether the comparison to South African apartheid is correct — and I don’t believe it be completely correct — people also put way too much stock in the idea that somehow boycotts ended the apartheid in South Africa. Do you know what was instrumental in ending apartheid? When Mandela left prison, he renounced terrorism. At some point, the South African government’s policies were largely reactive, and Mandela renouncing terrorism helped reduce tensions and led to a breakthrough.

      In Israel, this is so much more of a factor; the only thing that has ever held up movement on the Israeli side is security concerns. Israel doesn’t want the West Bank to become a terror state like Gaza. As I said, I don’t believe the South African analogy is correct, but I do believe one thing; if the situation in Israel-Palestine is ever going to be resolved, the Palestinian leadership is going to have to follow Mandela’s example.

      Also, there are things Israel is doing wrong, but people have to give up on “settlements” — its a red herring and the international obsession with this is also holding up peace. How many people criticizing the “settlements” know that only 10% of the population outside of East Jerusalem is Jewish? Yet, 20% of the population within Israel is Muslim Arab. So there can be a 20% Muslim Arab population in Israel but not a 10% Jewish population in a future Palestinian state? It has to be reduced to 0%? Did you know the Jewish community in Hebron is called a “settlement”, even though Jews have lived there since Biblical times? Did you know villages resettled after the Jordanian army drove them out are called “settlements”? Did you know that Jewish communities in East Jerusalem (including the Jewish Quarter) are called “settlements”?

      There’s a reason Israel isn’t budging on the settlement issue. Its because what the people obsessed with it are really asking for is ethnic cleansing in the name of “human rights.” Give it up.

    4. If you choose Palestinians over Israelis you can’t be an anti-Semite. Palestinians are an ethno-national group of mostly Arabs. Arabs and Israelis are both descendants of Shem (one of Noah’s son’s) known as Semites, ergo Palestinians are Semites.

  3. Antifa and the Far Right…with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other’s belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness.

    The dude is a fucking poet.

    1. Well, yeah, he fucking wrote Up Jumped the Devil.

  4. gender-bending goth heartthrob?

    he’s right about Roger Waters. that dude went full-loser decades ago.

    1. You might want to double-check your reading.
      He said “genre-bending,” not gender bending.

      1. he sure did. makes more sense that way gracias.

        1. You were right the first time. Waters is a bitch. He still tours performing The Wall because his solo work is less than exemplary.

          1. he was on XM w/some dj and they were both chuckling about their belief BASS > GUITAR … which is all he has bc everyone has known for 50 years Gilmour is better at everything

            1. Gilmour is better at everything

              Except lyrics. But other than that, yes – literally everything.

            2. The only thing that bass has over guitar is that bass players are harder to replace.

            3. Barrett>Gilmour, Waters

              1. Gigolo Aunt.

                1. Close your eyes on the Octopus Ride!

              2. Barret>Waters, yes. Barrett>Gilmour, not so much. Gilmour is the superior musician, vocalist, and (musical) songwriter. Waters is a middling bass player at best, and a first-rate douche nozzle to boot. I’m so glad Gilmour refuses to have anything to do with him anymore.

  5. BDS supporters were also trying to “bully, shame and silence musicians” into adopting a party line.

    +1 Sun City

    1. Would have scanned better to say BDS supporters were trying to Bully, Denounce and Silence.

    2. Ain’t gonna play Sun City.

      By the way, how come musicians don’t form super bands anymore for a cause? Remember Band-Aid, USA for Africa and Northern Lights (the forgotten Canadian version)?

      Do they know it’s Christmas now? Was one song enough to feed Africa? Are the tears finally enough?

      1. You try autotuning 100 off-key, out of pitch singers!

        1. the SNL skit of that was a highlight from when the show was good.

  6. Antifa and the Far Right…with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other’s belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness.

    This is certainly partially true. I’m sure he’s being very careful to make a “both sides” case here, but I note how the rest of the examples of people trying to silence or shame him came from one direction, and one direction only.

    1. To be sure.

      And yes. Absolutely. Like when Robby and others at Reason attempt to ridiculously claim ‘both sides do it’ on campuses.

      It’s one side that does it: THE ILLIBERAL PROGRESSIVE LEFT.

    2. Conor Friedersdorf had a good piece in the Atlantic recently showing that it is, in fact, “both sides.”

      Of course, one side is literally an order of magnitude worse.

  7. Eno and Waters can straight up go fuck themselves.

  8. ‘a fag in a whalebone corset dragging his dick across my cheek’

    Sheer poetry. You wouldn’t find John Milton attempting anything so daring as that.

    1. “Songs are divinely constituted organisms. They have their own integrity. As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs.”

      Fairly pretentious for someone who writes songs about fags in whale bone corsets etc.

  9. Roger Waters? What a Boring Douchebag Sad-sack (BDS).

    “making it harder for critics of the Israeli government to plead their case directly from the stage”

    Or they could just play their music, like Metallica in Israel:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=draPGbwdtzM

    1. “Wherever I May Roam” is actually about Moses and the Israelites wandering the desert. True Story (give or take).

  10. This past Christmas, I got the book “speeches of note”. One of the speeches was by Nick Cave, on the secret life of the love song”.

    Not really my cup of tea, but I can see the attraction.

  11. pul·chri·tude (noun): beauty
    “the irresistible pulchritude of her friend

  12. Old Man Gillespie listens to The Birthday Party on Edison Blue Amberol cylinder records.

  13. Murder Ballads is a treasure

  14. Always like Nick Cave and this is why ….

  15. I am making 7 to 6 dollar par hour at home on laptop ,, This is make happy But now i am Working 4 hour Dailly and make 40 dollar Easily .. This is enough for me to happy my family..how ?? i am making this so u can do it Easily…. Read more  

  16. Obviously Nick rocks, so I’d go for him.

  17. He’s probably a prog idiot anyway… But at least he has the sense to not want to be a censor.

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