Nick Cave grew up in Wangaratta and sang as a choirboy in Wangaratta Holy Trinity Cathedral. Throughout his career he has startled his audiences with lyrics saturated with God and echoes of the Bible. He is not exactly a stranger here.
In his recent book of conversations with the music journalist Sean O’Hagan, Faith, Hope and Carnage, he speaks with raw clarity about how his creative energy has been fed by the experience of agonising grief and loss. At the heart of this is the death of Arthur, his 15-year-old son, in 2015, after falling from a cliff edge near Brighton — one of many bereavements in his life. Heartbreakingly Cave has since lost another son, 31-year-old Jethro. All this has come to be bound up for him with the awareness of the holy. He has been drawn back to some sense of belonging within the battered, inarticulate and compromised community that is the Church.
Few books have brought home more completely the way in which grief and creativity work together. The book also reveals the way in which faith, without ever giving a plain, comforting answer, offers resources to look at what is terrible without despair or evasion. Cave’s faith is not that of a man looking for shortcuts or consolations. At one point he speaks about the “spiritual audacity” that he felt coming to birth in the wake of Arthur’s death — “a kind of reckless refusal to submit to the condition of the world”.
He has rediscovered what can only be described as joy, through “an altered connection to the world”: “spasms of delight”, a brightness uncovered in things, coexisting with the “dark, vacuous space” of loss. This is a joy that has nothing much to do with “feeling happy” or with satisfaction. “It’s there, despite ourselves … not attached to anything.” This double vision, Cave says, is fundamental to the religious impulse. It explains why in church he feels able to hold together both the doubt and pain and the sense of anchorage.
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