By Martin Vogel
Nick Cave has initiated an interesting project answering questions sent in from his fans. The questions are searching. The meditations Nick Cave composes in reply are works of artistry in their own right.
Last year, I wrote about the transcendent experience of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concerts that followed the death of his son. The first of his epistles addresses this very theme. He describes how immersion in work and – in so doing – recovering a sense of wonder helped him find community and accept his grief:
“I kind of realised that work was the key to get back to my life, but I also realised that I was not alone in my grief and that many of you were, in one way or another, suffering your own sorrows, your own griefs. I felt this in our live performances. I felt very acutely that a sense of suffering was the connective tissue that held us all together.”
In another post, he addresses the unusual sense of connection that exists between him and his audience in live performance:
“When I look into the audience, I feel I can connect with each of them individually on an acutely personal level. I can see inside them. The more attentive I become, the stronger the feeling. To physically engage with the audience is important too – actual touching builds both a real and a metaphorical connection and it is an essential component to the live shows. I am stealing energy when I do that – as if the audience are a power source. Perhaps I am giving it out too.”
He is discussing here things we talk about in the development of coaches: the discipline of being fully present to the person before you, attuning to what is arising in them and what is arising in you in response. There is a real exchange of energy that, in coaching work, is far more salient than the content of the session. Maybe this is true of the concert too. After all, we know the songs inside out. The salience comes from their realisation in the moment, in the unpredictability of live performance, in community with other followers.
When I wrote last year, I wondered if I was pushing too far in describing the experience as transcendent. But perhaps not. The shows reach others in this way, as Nick Cave realises:
“A dear friend of mine, who is essentially an atheist and has no time for religious institutions, says she finds her spiritual transcendence at a Bad Seeds show. I believe her. I feel it too. It feels open and urgent and honest, and ultimately uplifting, moving us towards a sense of betterment and meaning. I arrive at this place, not by the music, but by the energy transmitted from the audience. I am awed.”
I am awed too: by his ability to find words to express this experience – an experience which, landing with the brain’s right hemisphere, essentially defies language. But then he is able to describe the creative process by which this happens:
“Sit down. Be yourself. Be prepared. Be attentive. Defy the voices. Be the thing you want to be. Write. Be playful. Be reckless. Remember that you are uniquely designed for the idea that is moving toward you. You are good enough. The idea is about to arrive.”
Most recently, he has described an orientation of not knowing that resonates strongly with me:
“I have, for better or for worse, a predisposition toward perverse and contradictory thinking. Perhaps this is something of a curse, but the idea of uncertainty, of not knowing, is the creative engine that drives everything I do.”
Not knowing and being predisposed to contradictory thinking strike me as sensible attitudes to hold in an age that leans to polarising binary views. Nick Cave seems to have found an aesthetic stance that not only meets with elegance the bewilderment of our era but engenders the connection that enables others to do the same.
Image courtesy Bertrand Chamarty.