Nick Cave Interviewed by Larry Sloman at SXSW '13
I've had this SXSW post lingering in my drafts for two months. I wasn't going to post it but I figured what the hell - it's written, just post it.
Tuesday was my last day at SXSW Interactive, I had a late afternoon flight. I was able to catch one AM session and one afternoon session before leaving for the airport. Lucky for me, there was one "all access" session in the afternoon (usually the Music sessions are reserved fo those with Music badges). The afternoon session was A Conversation With Nick Cave - with Larry Sloman.
The best part of the "conversation" was probably when Cave first entered the room. Everyone got up and started taking photos with their phones - and iPads, like the dude above. People look so stupid when they take pics with their iPads. I opted not to bum rush the stage for a photo, but as you can see, others had no issue being a-holes. After 2 seconds of this nonsense, and without much thought, Cave blurts out something like, "Are you all going to be doing that the whole fucking time?" He then offers the audience an opportunity to all take photos for a few minutes. So, then I did.
The conversation went on for about 55 minutes, but I think most of us could have stayed in that room all day long listening to Nick Cave use his fancy words to describe his strange life. I did not know much about Nick Cave prior to that afternoon, but I was truly impressed with how eloquent and witty he was - especially for a junkie / alcoholic / degenerate. This session was most certainly a highlight of SXSW for me.
Want to read more details about Nick Cave? Keep reading... I managed to weave my personal opinions into details of the interview - because, well, it's my blog and I do what I want here.
The Johnny Cash Show. I didn't realize it was American, I just thought he was this weird guy who was Australian. In Australia, we never had our own cultural influences, we always looked over to seas to America and Britain. The Johnny Cash Show was really important to me when I was 9 years old because there was something very evil and dangerous about this particular character, and I responded to that.
Looking for culture
In Australia we dreamed of going to Melbourne for culture, and then when we got there, there wasn't any culture there. Then we dreamed of going to England, and when we got there, we found there wasn't any culture there either. Turns out looking for culture was always a bit of a disappointment for me.
I can relate, looking for culture has always been a let down for me too. I find most people are average. And, I have yet to find a society that is more cultured than the next. Maybe culture is found within.
School and failures
My friend Eddie Baumgarten had a still in his house and we formed The Triple A Club: Anti Alcoholics Anonymous (he was 12 at the time). I was expelled and sent to a private school when I was 13.
(Later on) I failed out of art school, and I was amazed because I thought I was actually really good. When I failed out, it really closed up something which I thought I was supposed to be doing (he wanted to be a painter), but I was shocked.
Our band would play in small bars and we were hated by the audience - we were hated in Australia. It was assumed we were gay, so in response we dressed in drag.
I got in a lot of trouble for robberies and stuff, I was in the police station with my mother when I found out my father died in a car accident. The Australian police were quite calloused at that time... and it was a time when the bottom of the bag dropped out and everything fell out.
I using heroin at the time, and it was considered a recreational drug, it didn't have the stigma it does now, it was the drug of choice for many people. It was easy to get, lethal, but highly effective.
The Boys Next Door
(The name of his band when he went over to England.) We were looked at by the English papers as this weird band from Australia.
Everyone was living in squaller in England, the rich were rich and the poor were poor. They still are. We were these middle class kids who came from Australia in the winter, with no money, we all lived in the same room. We were still using heroin in England but it was not part of the culture of music in England at the time, we were looked down on as a junkies.
I became the singer because someone in the band told me, "You're the unmusical one." I still feel very much an impostor in the whole music scene... which I am quite happy about, honestly.
This comment resonated with me too. I think people in every profession feel like an impostor at some point. For some of us, feeling like an outsider helps us keep our edge. We work harder because we're always afraid someone is going to find us out.
The most dangerous band in the world
There was a guy in the band "Bingo" an ex-Marine who used to look after us, unsuccessfully. His job was to confiscate weapons at the shows. The violence / interplay with band and the audience would often get out of hand. It got to the point where people came out to the shows because this (violence) was expected.
Berlin - the impetus of breaking up the band
It had just reached its time. I had a lot of difficulties with Roland, he was unhappy that I was singing his songs and he wanted to sing it.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Larry Sloman reads a one star review from Michaelangelo in the NY Post: "With Nick Cave it is simple, if he's rocking, it might be worth hearing. If he's not, it isn't." As Sloman went on with the review, watching the reaction on Nick Cave's face was not easy. He was visibly bothered.(Cave pauses) I had not read that review, you totally just bummed me out. Fuck him... Michaelangelo, what a name!
Writing a book
Berlin was an amazing time, I had three years that were absolutely amazing to me. England prohibited things for blossoming for me... Berlin, I was able to do things there that I wasn't able to do in England, I wrote a book there...
Writing a book was tougher than writing song lyrics. Song lyrics, you're driving back to the "pain of birth" with each line. When you write a book, you can get on a roll and keep going, with song lyrics, it doesn't happen that way. It isn't that way with song lyrics, writing song lyrics is like giving many births... to a watermelon out of the tiniest orifice. Whereas, writing a book is like giving birth to one really big watermelon - once it is open it just keeps going.
Cave on drugs and greatness
Larry Sloman: You were a great workaholic for a man who was taking a lot of drugs. You were more productive than William Boroughs.I take offense to that... (pause, laughter, pause). I meant the "great" part. I watched a lot of videos in rehab, not writing or doing anything. I thought, this is what being sober is like, just watching a whole lot of videos.
Biggest hit of his career - Murder Ballads
We didn't know what to do with it, so we put it on the album. But it was a hit - mostly because I did a duet with Kylie Minogue on it, a moment that still resonates very positively with me. She had a very lovely effect on things for a while. Through her own resilience, she has a great outlook and way of effecting things.
Cave spoke highly of Minogue, which made me tickle inside just thinking of how much this must have irritated the hipsters in the crowd. For those of you who don't know, Kylie Minogue is a breast cancer survivor, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36 - maybe the resilience to which he was referring.Song with PJ Harvey
We kind of fell for each other for a while... that kind of ended.
PJ Harvey is straight? Who knew?!? In any case, I don't see the two of them together. Even thinking about both of their really skinny bodies against each other kind of freaks me out.
MTV Music Awards
Larry stumbles when reading his notes regarding the MTV Awards, and as he says "Best Male..." Cave cuts Larry off and announces, "Best Male".
In 1996, Cave declined MTV's nomination for Best Male Artist with a letter to MTV. Below is an excerpt, or read the whole letter here.
My muse is not a horse, and I am in no horse race, and if indeed she was, I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes...
The end of the conversation
The conversation went on for a while, but the questions turned into answers more quickly. Cave explained that he turns down all sorts of commercial opportunities, including a sanitary napkin company that wanted to use the song, "Red Right Hand". Cave paused and said, "I mean the mind boggles."
The conversation ended with Cave discussing his current wife and his feelings towards her...
I feel that I know her better in the songs that I write about her... it makes me feel close to her, I feel somehow that I weld myself to her in those songs. It is very much an invented world that these songs operate in...
While listening to Cave for those last few minutes, my anxiety was building - the clock was ticking and my flight was getting closer. I left the Austin Convention Center that afternoon wishing that I had an invented world where I could operate. And when I boarded the plane, I realized I had no invented world where I could operate!
What I had was a super real world, with no choice but to operate. My world had 500 unread emails waiting for me. Plus, it was only F'ing Tuesday - I had to got to work for another 3 days after not having slept for the past 5. Until next year SXSW.