Nick Cave & Seán O’Hagan: Faith, Hope And Carnage (book 2022)
The title of the book got it righ. Faith, Hope And Carnage is a book about faith and hope, but also about grief, guilt and processing Arthur’s passing in 2015. Arthur was one of Nick Cave’s twin sons from his current marriage to Susie. In May 2022, Cave also lost an older son from a previous relationship, that is not the subject of this book.
Of the music books I’ve read in the past year, this book of conversations between The Observer/The Guardian journalist Seán O’Hagan is undoubtedly the most interesting. The two have known each other for forty years, and it becomes clear early on that they have a trusting relationship and that O’Hagan has experiences that make him understand part of what Cave has gone through with grief and guilt in later years. It is emphasized on the book’s cover that this is a conversation, and not a memoir. And thank you for that! It is not always as exciting with chronological biographies that start with a long review of the main character’s childhood. The book’s idea was born after several phone calls between Cave and O’Hagan at the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, and the finish line for the afterword is in May 2022.
Easy to read and engaging. One could imagine that a conversation over 280 pages on such topics could well become heavy and demanding. But, no, rather it is easy to read and engaging. Cave himself emphasizes that he is not a professional either as an adviser to others or in major existential and philosophical questions. In recent years, Cave has run his Red Hand Files on the internet, where many people ask questions and comment on their own life challenges, and many do not even have a relationship with Cave’s music. Cave spends a lot of time both reading and answering letters. This has been important for his own processing of the grief over Arthur, at the same time that he sees that the Red Hand Files gives him a great responsibility. The series Conversations With Nick Cave, which could also be experienced in Oslo Concert Hall in 2019, had much of the same purpose. Here, Cave performed without a safety net and answered the audience’s questions between songs performed by Cave alone behind a grand piano. Cave sees this series as important so that he can now live a better life than before.
Better human beings. I have previously written about several of Cave’s latest albums. Cave has a slightly strained relationship with Skeleton Tree (2016). With one exception, all the songs on that album were written before Arthur’s death. Nevertheless, the songs on the album – including for Cave himself – sound like they were written after his son’s death. Ghosteen (2019) is an album created as a space where Cave and his wife Susie can meet their son and say their final goodbyes. Carnage (2021) is again something completely different. I see no reason to rewrite my reviews of the records after reading the book, but then Cave himself writes that he has no ambitions to be a mysterious figure. He does not make music just for himself, but hopes that the music and meeting the audience can make both himself and the audience better humans. Maybe it sounds pretentious, but I believe it when it comes from Nick Cave.
Religion that obliges. Cave realizes that on the big stages he has qualities that can be reminiscent of religious seducers – I let myself be seduced at a fantastic concert last summer – but at the same time in many settings he is just one of us. Like artists such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Cave uses many biblical images in his lyrics. He is strongly fascinated and attracted by the Bible and Jesus Christ. He strives towards what he calls a conservative religiosity that obliges. Or something along those lines.
I also understand that he thinks music is an expression of something religious, where people meet on the basis of something we cannot fully grasp. He talks about a belief that can be truth enough, if it is useful for people. An interesting discussion in itself: Whether faith gets you out of drug addiction is more important than whether you are completely or to some extent literally wrong in your faith? Faith can still be metaphorically true, right? Cave and O’Hagan also look back on Cave’s longtime herion addiction, an addiction that was worse than I thought.
Digging deeper. The book can be perceived as a bit jumpy, but that also helps to make it so fascinating. We constantly return to themes we have visited before. Perhaps you can experience this as repetition, before you discover that the authors are discussing the matter from a slightly different angle, digging a little deeper than before. This portion-wise approach also contributes to making it easier to deal with the big and difficult questions, for the reader, but perhaps also for Cave and O’Hagan in their conversations.
Cave and O’Hagan also discuss how Cave creates music. If you think Cave as a writer begins with the words, you are wrong. He starts with images in his head, and tries to create music from the images he envisions. Listening to the Ghosteen album, I think I can tell what he means.
Book of wise reflections. You don’t have to agree with Nick Cave on everything. In any case, he speaks with wisely about the big questions that may not have good answers. Perhaps the book can make the reader reflect on his own life; how to get through a grief, what is important in your life? Cave says that the most touching thing has been seeing his wife Susie come out of the darkness and continue to live. You will learn more about how Cave’s life has changed after Arthur’s death, although in many ways he believes he is still the same as he was 40 years ago. I’m not entirely sure about that.