Like David Lynch’s films, I once thought people could only love or hate Nick Cave, and his Bad Seeds.
He was most definitely for me. But, with his voice like an Old Testament prophet, Biblical references all over the shop, and his songs about death and murder and the deep addictions of love and sex and drugs and rock n roll and alcohol, with burning images of good and evil fighting toe-to-toe, he wasn’t for everybody.
He didn’t give a flying one. His fans loved him. Yet despite himself, perhaps, he became something like commercially popular. There was the duet with Kylie, “Where the Wild Roses Grow”. The song in the Harry Potter movie, “O Children”. And, of course, the dynamic intro to ‘Peaky Blinders’, “Red Right Hand”. The beautiful “Into My Arms”, which featured in the film ‘About Time’, was another gem.
Then, in 2015, his son Arthur died, aged 15. Fell off a cliff near Brighton.
Four years later, he has written and released ‘Ghosteen’. Ghost Teen? It’s a pouring out of a vast, intensely personal grief. With achingly beautiful melodies and harmonies, pushed by piano, strings and synthesiser, taking his voice to its furthest limits. Almost no guitar or drums.
To draw you in, then completely break your heart, it is split into two parts. First, slowly building out the ghost’s viewpoint, patient, still there.
I am beside you, look for me
I am in you, you are in me
I’m by your side and I’m holding your hand.
Peace will come, while a spiral of children climbs up to the sun.
I’m just waiting for you to return.
After the briefest of intermissions, part two. The parents’ grief.
There goes the Moonlit man
Got his suitcase in his hand
He is moving on, down the road
Things tend to fall apart, starting with his heart
But he kisses you lightly and leaves your sleeping body curled and dreaming
Around your smile
These words melt me.
The three bears watch the TV
They age a lifetime, O Lord
Mama bear holds the remote
Papa bear he just floats
and baby bear he is gone…to the moon in a boat
The past, with its fierce undertow
Wont ever let us go
If I could move the night I would
And I would turn the world around if I could
There’s nothing wrong with loving something you can’t hold in your hand
There is little room for wonder now
Little room for wildness too
We crawl into our wounds
Towards a climax
And I’m just waiting now for my time to come, for my place in the sun, for peace to come
Darling your dreams are your greatest part
I carry them with me in my heart
And then the killer verse.
Now I’m standing on the shore
And the animals roam the beaches
Sea creatures rising out the sea
Everyone begins to run
The kid drops his bucket and spade
And climbs into the sun
All love must turn to suffering, then transmute back to love.
Everybody’s losing someone
It’s a long way to find peace of mind
And I’m just waiting now for my time to come, for peace to come
It’s an old idea that artists can dig into their pain, put it out on display, and find catharsis, and forms of redemption. Hope it worked for you, Nick.
‘Ghosteen’ is penetrating all my mental orifices at present. I’m singing and humming snatches when I meditate, cycle and walk. When I go to sleep and wake up.
It’s a masterpiece. Mandatory listening. A compassionate musical hug for all those who have mourned, and who will grieve.
As a reference point, the nearest thing that comes to mind is David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’. But that was dark, laden with occult signs. ‘Ghosteen comes from the heart. And you can listen to it again and again, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwlU_wsT20Q
Ghosteen dances in my hand
Slowly twirling, twirling all around
Glowing circle in my hand
Dancing, dancing, dancing all around