Nick Cave, Overland and sociology 101: a response to Anwyn Crawford

The piece below came via email. It was intended for the journal’s correspondence section but, given the online discussion sparked by the Crawford essay, it seems more appropriate to reproduce it (with the permission of its author) here.

What is going on? Is this Overland – a substantial contributor to Australia’s otherwise anodyne literary culture, and my favourite lit publication?

Anwyn Crawford’s piece on Nick Cave is pure undergraduate feminist critique from the 80s – worse, it smacks of Anglo puritanical, sexless debasement of the art.

It says nothing of the Duende that Cave has in his songs, of the sex, the darker romance, the blood and violence, the addiction to love and other things.

He is the closest thing to pure Rebetica (Greek blues), or Flamenco we have in the contemporary world and he is made in Australia.

He brought out one of the great Cretan lyre players last year, Psarantonis, and Cave is considered as a serious artist, not a pop musician in Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, etc etc…

I saw Cave in Athens in 1986 in front of thousands of people, when in Australia he could hardly amass a crowd in Fitzroy.

Ms Crawford writes, ‘like many women, I have troubled relationship with the sexism and, yes, misogyny that continues to shape pop music’- she must mean like the very few sexless Anglo middle class women I represent – as most of the Greek, Spanish, African and Italian women I know love Cave’s sexually dark malaise, his overture to death and lust .

My wife Charito Saldana, one of Australia’s most renowned Flamenco dancers sees him as a  poet ala Lorca.

On the issue of sex, as it seems that’s what Ms Crawford is really worried about, what would she have pop music, art, culture, myth, literature do?

Wash it’s sins away! Maybe Zeus can negotiate his relationship with Hera rather than rape her …

Ms Crawford should head up a central planning committee on getting rid of all darker sexual elements from our music and dance.

Puritanism and left wing remnants of Trotskyisms should be left where they belong in the late 70s.

Avid Overland reader and subscriber

Fotis Kapetorpoulos

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. Oh! What a provocative letter! No doubt intended as such.

    I’m a long-time fan of Nick Cave… since I was, what, 15? that’s about 20 years. I’ve loved his work since Nick the Stripper etc…

    For those who have lived a little, and whose experience ranges beyond fumbling adolescent readings of Bukowski or Michel Houellebecq, the darker sides of Nick Cave’s work can disturb.

    Of course he plumbs the depths. Murder, jealousy, passion, lust… the very fuel for the fire. But this stuff is real. Murder, jealousy, lust, violence, Fotis, this does actually exist, and not only in post-graduate Friday night university seminars.

    Of course it disturbs. That’s the point.

    Why shouldn’t Crawford point this out? And surely such a debate, such comment, is more of a compliment to Nick Cave?

    I live in the heart of Flamenco world, if I could call it that, and while it’s surely a gorgeous artform, Flamenco itself has a fewdubious undertones we could also debate (men and women, the posturing, the gameplaying, rapport de force, submission, passion…)

    “Anglo puritanical”? Lets not be intellectually lazy and give in to easy exoticising. It’s not because something has a whiff of Europe that it’s necessarily sacred.

    These questions are commonly discussed and debated in Europe, Fotis, as you should apparrently know, and I do not see why we shouldn’t debate it in Australia.

  2. I am not sure where the heart of Flamenco is – but the notion of it being a ‘gorgeous artform’ is a little colonial, no?
    It has Duende, a ‘darkness’ – when you hear Omega doing hard core metal and Flamenco with Morente signing Cohen and Lorca in Spanish – I doubt you’ll call it ‘gorgeous’ – that’s a term reserved for tourists.
    And yes, Australia is overtly puritanical – I prefer the Australia of Cave, Talking Heads and Necks, maybe even the Funkroars – rather than the Australia of well meaning post modernists.

  3. hey jenjen, i found murder ballads boring! but i’m a big fan of much of his other work and i loved anwyn’s article because it confronted my feminism and made me consider questions like ‘do i separate my aesthetic tastes from my political ones? or should i?’. i’ve been having the same dilemmas of late about polanski films, though shamefully i never considered this properly until he was arrested.

    i find points of agreement with both the crawford piece and the letter above, but in a way, they’re in some agreement too. much like the polanksi case, if we somehow exclude the issue of talent/genius/charisma from the equation with nick cave, you’re left with a fairly pretentious egomaniac who kind of hates women.

    i don’t want to sound as though i’m having a bet each way, but i love a lot of his music. i’ve never been so enamoured of him, although i never saw it in such explicitly feminist or political terms til i read anwyn’s article. that’s why it’s such a good piece!

  4. I love the darkness of Nick Cave’s music, more of the older stuff. ‘From her to eternity’ is such an angry song. I get really tired of women saying that particular art is misogynistic. The other day a friend of mine said that ‘The Slap’ was misogynistic – I couldn’t believe it. Anyone creative will tell you that art stems from a dark place – that’s what makes it awesome. Why should artists hold back? We’re expressing the human condition. Has a woman even not written a song about a man they have just wanted to tear to shreds? Wanted to rape? Or murder because they fucked them up so bad? I admire that he can just put it all out there and not give a shit. Nick Cave has influenced so many bands. I can see Fotis’s point about the Greek music Rembetika since I am also Greek myself. The music is so melancholy, and words could be interpreted as inappropriate, sexist, but so what? Since when does love fit into a tidy little box? Love is fucked sometimes. Okay so Nick has done some stupid things in his life but he’s not the only one. Why do artists have to sensor the truth – bring it on I say.

  5. Well Edgar Allan Poe was a violent alcoholic and he is still my hero.
    But that’s missing the point either way, I like Nick Cave’s music and feel that if I delved too deeply into the “meanings” of the whole thing it would just ruin it for me.
    I get eargasms when the piano hits the right key, when the voice hits the right volumn for the right words and softens for the right words. I listen to the words, I understand what they’re about, I just don’t care.
    For me Nick Cave isn’t about murder and darkness, although he often associated with these things. For me Nick Cave is about music that I can listen to over and over again without getting sick of it.

  6. So true Marc – can’t live without my music. In fact, I am always listening to music when I write my novel, especially stuff that’s really loud, angry, confronting. It inspires me. Art inspires art.

  7. I must say that a Nick Cave fan accusing a critic of being afraid of sex and representing “sexless anglo middle class women” rather proves the point…

    I take no issue with those defending Cave’s music but to do it in such a sexist childish way is rather repugnant. When will people learn to respond to polemical, engaged intelligent women without reducing them to sexless stereotypes? i just love that there is a complete lack of response to the author’s actual argument, and an abundane of offensive stereotypes about her personal life. It’s unacceptable for people who consider themselves radicals or left-wingers to conduct themselves in such a sexist way, completely reinforcing all the dominant modes the right uses to silence and dismiss women. Oh, and I suppose this makes me ‘sexless’ and middle class and frigid and repressed too?

  8. I’m so pleased there’s discussion about Crawford’s essay on Nick Cave. Although I’m surprised that it’s elicited a mostly negative response. I am a lover of Nick Cave’s music, lyrics and performances (of course he’s all about sex, death and murder). I’m uninterested in his novels. And always provoked, discomforted and stirred by his portrayals of sex and women.
    I think Crawford’s essay is one of the most intelligent, incisive, feisty, sharp and exciting pieces of writing I’ve read all year, and certainly the best thing I’ve read on Cave this year. (I completely agree with her analysis of the nauseatingly reverential, almost unreadably stupid essay on Cave by Peter Conrad.)
    Crawford picked up all my unspoken misgivings about Cave, especially in his post Lazarus incarnation, and lay them out in plain view where I can no longer ignore them. After reading her piece I tore the Nick Cave poster off my studio wall. I’ll still be listening to Nick, but with different ears.
    So thanks Overland and Crawford for some provocative writing.
    And for what it’s worth, I think ‘The Slap’ is one of the best novels written in Australia this decade, and I think it’s deeply misogynistic. As is Cormac McCarthy’s runaway bestseller ‘The Road’, which is also a mini masterpiece.

  9. Fotis :”I am not sure where the heart of Flamenco is – but the notion of it being a ‘gorgeous artform’ is a little colonial, no?”

    “I doubt you’ll call it ‘gorgeous’ – that’s a term reserved for tourists.”

    It seems nobody can win, Fotis, if you’re the only one with the right to these “authentic” ideas of yours. Set yourself up as a gatekeeper if you like, but it’s a shame no-one else is allowed the right to debate anything, it seems, in your world…

  10. I am not Anglo, and I am a sex FIEND…the class status bit is complicated… but anyway, I disagree with you wholeheartedly. Please don’t claim to speak for me or generalise about the other women you ‘know’.

  11. Crawford talks about the sexism and misogyny in pop music – as others have implied, Cave’s music mostly doesn’t fit the pop music bill.

    I tend to find whatever sexism occurs in pop to be simultaneously sexless and ineffectual.

    The complexity and craft of Cave’s songwriting provides a solid canvas for exploring some of the taboos that mere pop music doesn’t have the constitution for.

  12. Anwyn, the passion your article has illicited is testimonial to a great essay. I found it to be rare, gutsy & intelligent. It pointed out things about Cave that need to be aired. Fact is he HAS threatened critics in the past though it’s okay for HIM to pull out the ‘Freedom of Speech’card when it suits him. I personally love the dark side of art eg. Jacques Brel’s ‘Port of Amsterdam’ paints a very dark & disturbing picture but it is an illustration of the human condition rather than a provocative or personal attack. It is not merely written for the shock value…It is beautiful,rich poetry & works on many levels as do songs by Tom Waits, Nina Simone & Leonard Cohen, they ring true & offer an edge of resolve to the listener. To me comparing the songs of Nick cave to these greats of literature just illustrates the difference between erotica & pornography. Sure there is a valid place for pornography & people are free to choose but I would hesitate to call it art.

  13. How Fotis draws rembetika or flamenco into any kind of relevance is the feat of a master magician waving his hands around as he makes the woman behind him disappear.

    If we look back at Crawford’s article, (which is what we’re talking about right) she shows us that Cave has moved passed the stage of a simple musician; which most of us love. Because lets make that clear → he’s a musical fucking genius.

    That’s not the point. Crawford is drawing our attention to the ways in which he’s becoming a national icon; that his portraits are being mounted in our most significant galleries, and what he’s saying is being treated with the reverence we usually reserve for a Nobel Laureate.

    A reality check is well and truly called for.

    1. Hear hear
      And I think the same can go for other artists like Mike Patton who is idolised as a god by the few people who like his music.
      Although in his case it’s not a whole nation but a select number of headbangers.

    2. Have not read all of this, however Alec’s comment reminds me of an amusing anecdote: when going through the Nick Cave exhibition at the Arts Centre last year? early this year? in search of a bite to eat after some theatre, I heard other punters saying to each other in that blessedly mystified city visitor way, ‘all the pictures are of the same guy, aren’t they?’
      So plainly he’s not quite there yet.

  14. Crawford doesn’t really understand the historical context from where much of Cave’s writing comes from, which represents a continuation of a folk tradition of pure storytelling in song. She should check out some of the early Joan Baez albums, which were identical in theme and subject matter to Cave’s songs about sticking knives in women; I doubt anyone would dare call Joan Baez a misogynist.

    How Crawford connects the dots from an assumed ‘confusion about women’ into ‘an ‘idealised hatred’ is a reasoning I don’t follow – I’m confused about women myself, and I’m not the only guy. Her argument that Cave is trying to become an Antipodean Elvis Costello shows her lack of music knowledge, her unsupported argument that he is a snob means she hasn’t been to any of his concerts for a while, her statement that he uses big words and ponderous syntax means she hasn’t researched his lyrics. His profanity is never cartoon profanity. I think she needs to learn about concepts such as art, post-modernity, satire, irony – and that doesn’t mean I’m telling her to ‘lighten up’ or that I’m calling her a ‘bitch’; just saying she should get educated, maybe put her brain in gear before she writes.

    Cave has been provoking for years and finally found a sucker. Crawford calling Cave lazy is a stone throw from a glass house. Does she think Australians are stupid and still hold those ideas of Europe being the be-all-and-end-all of artistic taste anymore? We are more educated than that, and if she wants to write about the Australian cultural cringe, she could start with the tall-poppy syndrome and maybe visit home a little more often.

    1. If you believe the Costello reference is a *musical* one I think you’re the one misreading.

      Look at the Costello of ‘Oliver’s Army’ and the tiresome, music-for-oldies faux-crooner of today and tell me that there hasn’t been a transition to mediocrity and safety there? It’s the same with Cave: let’s not forget that famed turning-down-awards, my-muse-will-spook shamming he went on with previously – that Cave would kick to death the ARIA-inducted Cave in a heartbeat.

      Crawford’s article is one I generally agree with, and think Cave can be generally described thusly: former punk junkie recasts self as Renaissance Man slash Elder Statesman.

      Have you been to one of his concerts lately? ‘Cause the Grinderman ones are midlife crisis beardy dadrock, while the Bad Seeds ones are increasingly like Vegas tributes.

      I like the guy, but the howls of heresy whenever his schtick is prodded are all a bit much.

      1. Whilst I do agree that Nick Cave’s best, most exciting work was during the Berlin years of the 80’s where his creations exuded ferocious, literate depictions of shunned characters lashing back at the society which shunned them, one fact needs to be recognised: Nick Cave is 52 years old.

        To see Nick revisiting the themes he so brilliantly explored in songs like ‘Mutiny in Heaven’ or ‘From her to Eternity’ would be ridiculous as he’s simply too far from this stage in his life now to credibly write on such topics. And he did such a great job depicting his character’s challenges with these issues initially, even misguided people like Anwyn Crawford still appreciate it.

        Blixa Bargeld summed it up best in an interview when asked; “How do you avoid being a burnt out rockstar?” To which he replied “There are a few options: a)Dont Burn or b) Still Burn, but recognise that there is another side to life….I choose b) and I think Nick does too”.

        It is incorrect and lazy to sentence Cave or Costello for the crimes of “Dad rock”. The fact is they are both immensely talented artists who must first and foremost be true to themselves, in order to be able to honestly write anything of value- which they both continue to do. That their topics of interest have changed is to be expected given they are both at very differnt stages in their lives now than they were back then. This makes their work no less valid, their magnificent voices no less impressive nor their song writing ability any less communicative. Do you honestly believe when crafting new material, they entertain notions of how their fans of the 70’s/80’s will view it? Bollocks.

        Anwyn Crawford’s assertion that ‘From her to eternity’ was only within Cave’s reach due to Anita Lane is conveniently selective. “Its all take, take, take with Cave, and from the women who really deserve the credit” seems to be her argument. What is deliberately overlooked is that Cave shared lyric credits with Lane on this song (something he has hardly ever done with anyone-whether they have a vagina or not), that Lane and Cave wrote this song in bed together one morning (he must not be the evil prick she makes him out to be after all), and that despite Lane not contributing anything apart from this one co-written lyric, she received equal photo space to all the other Bad seeds on the album itself. What an absolute bastard!

        The scar on Cave’s face inflicted from an enraged Anita Lane herself after she took a knife to him in the 80’s, serves as a poignant reminder to those who would hang Cave for his apparent mysogeny and hatred of women, that aggression in song or physical form is not the exclusive domain of men.

        1. It’s lazy for a consumer of both artists’ music to have an opinion on their output? That’s an interesting suggestion, given that both of them are on large labels and obviously are courting the buck – why else the reissues, the expensive tours? Come off it.

          The deification of Cave, of all Crawford’s criticism (some of which I don’t agree with) is the most telling: when someone who is a Cave fan (ie: me) is called lazy for having an opinion on the guy’s work, surely that’s worship taken a bit far? Or do you honestly believe that he’s made no mistakes, no missteps, no faux pas during his career?

          Magnificent voice? Nick must have been keeping that one in the roadcase at Mt Buller earlier this year. Cave appeared like a puppet, desperately trying to entertain – though I don’t doubt that some will write this off as a conscious choice. You know, making himself look ridiculous with that mo and the pimp hair and performing in an average manner is all part of a BIG PLAN. I don’t think it is. I think it – like Grinderman – is the action of a bloke who’s not used to the fact that he’s in his fifties. You want us to take that into consideration when looking at his work – maybe Cave himself should take it on board?

          Bargeld is an example of how to best approach this part of life: Einsturzende Neubauten has been recast into something completely different over the course of the last ten years, whereas Cave has been circling the same spot, like a dog looking for a comfy place to sit.

          1. The laziness lies in the belief that big labels, large expensive tours and meaningful creative output are mutually exclusive concepts. They are not. It is also lazy to equate the necessary toning down of lifestyle excesses which would’ve killed many others (my heart aches for the brilliant Rowland Howard, for whom it appears it has) with “Dad rock”. Have an opinion sure, but think about it first.

            I was at ATP Mt.Buller too, however my take on Cave’s show wasnt ‘pimp hair or a puppet like performance’ as you put it. Having the immense energy which other performers laud him for isnt being a puppet and if your focus couldnt be swayed from Cave’s moustauche in spite of the unholy din Grinderman created, then it appears music doesnt appear to be your priority- image must be.

            If anything, my concern with the Bad Seeds ATP performance was the perception that guys like Mick Harvey and Thomas Wydler were being marginalised as Nick seemed to grant all his interaction, at the exclusion of all else, to Warren Ellis. It was reminiscent of the 2002 tour just before Blixa left, only much more obvious.

            Contrary to your response, I dont ‘worship’ Cave, nor see him as avoiding all error in his career- the above paragraph highlights 2 examples where I think he’s fucked up massively (losing Bargeld & Harvey).

            Artists like Cave & Costello have done the hard yards for over 30 years, so the notion that they are simply “courting the bucks” is laughable. Give me one profession where experience isnt valued highly, and those with it are decried when asking a premium for it. Tell me that if you were in such a position of professional longevity in your chosen field, would you knock back such financial rewards in favour of maintaining your cred or appearing not to have sold out?

  15. I found a lot wrong with Anwyn’s article and my first read through did also think it was a bit undergraduate and bit like old style leftist polemic (example: its characterisation of The Monthly, the odd stuff about him being middlebrow, which i guess is code for “bourgeois”). On the other hand, maybe Cave and his fans (yes me) need to be called out on the themes of sexism running through his work and that’s exactly what the article does manage to do(I don’t buy into Fotis’s nonsense above which says raising these questions is a sexless debasement of art etc).

    Honestly, I like Cave’s music — and I’m probably not cool or sophisticated enough to make a distinction between his older and newer music. I have also felt disturbed by aspects, but also have to admit that this disturbance is part of its power and what makes it compelling. I’ve always assumed that anyone listening to it is not going to treat it as some kind of anthem to misogyny but rather recognise that Cave is inhabiting a persona and through that is exploring darker and disturbing aspects of human experience, ideas of sin and redemption, the return of the repressed etc. At some point the article talks about the way pop music is “a space for self mythologising and emotional excess” Well yes… exactly. I think Anwyn struggles a bit with having liked Cave and coming to the conclusion that to do so is to have been implicated in sexism or even misogyny. The result is a kind of denial of Cave’s achievement: it was really Lane responsible for his best song, Cave had mediocre album sales (!), he had precious little talent to begin with. I was also kind of surprised that the article doesn’t fully engage with the breadth of Cave’s themes and ideas. In fairness, the article does hint at what is compelling in Cave but largely undermines the force of its criticism when it engages in a kind of reductive hunt for sexism. … Oh and the article rather strangely seems to suggest irony and seriousness are opposites. They’re not.

  16. I guess one of the tricky things about art is that it engages you on more than just an intellectual level. There are lots of songs that I love the sound of, but when I actually check the lyrics (I’m not a lyrics person) I’m quite shocked by what they say. I still listen to the sounds, but try to ignore the message!

    There are writers who have a way with words that stirs but whose beliefs I abhor. And think of all those beautiful paintings of nude women being ‘ravished’ in art galleries – they are gorgeous, and brilliantly painted, but on one level so deeply annoying!

    Artists of any kind should feel free to express their beliefs or ideas through their chosen medium. But we should all equally feel free to debate and question those ideas. Nobody gets a free ride just because they can express their ideas prettily.

  17. I, like Kalinda, get frustrated that issues of sexism and mysogyny can’t be discussed without the women who raise them being called sexless, or prudish. There was a strand of that position over on the Meanjin blog ( when we talked about the Cave cover. I was called conservative for disliking the cover, whereas, I would argue, it’s the tired old cliche of the shot up the woman’s skirt that was conservative.

    Audrey Apple wrote a good post on this subject, and this debate, today. (

    As Alice, and Gary, say, there is a lot of art that is moving that, on reflection, is playing with ideas we may not agree with. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t like the art – but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine the ideas that underpin it, either.

  18. Well I’m on Anwyn Crawford’s side on this one. I don’t necessarily agree with everything she writes in her piece (I think she highlights one particular side of Cave’s work, without considering some of the others; I think his is an ‘original’ artist; I think he can be quite a good lyricist and storyteller in song; I think there is a humour to some of his work that she doesn’t mention), but I will say a few things:

    I’m somewhat taken aback by the consistent refusal among those critics of her article to deal with her actual arguments. Saying it reads like an “undergraduate” essay is one such example. Clearly those who make that claim haven’t been reading undergraduate essays lately. I just marked a whole bunch of them and believe me, if even one was of the sophistication of Crawford’s piece …! Equally specious are those claims that she should be educated. Please … that kind of ad hominem insult is both ignorant (a more educated music critic would be hard to find) and useless (it’s irrelevant to the argument at hand).

    One of the key ideas in Crawford’s piece is that Cave has an immature and stereotypical picture of women. She points out that all the way through his work, he consistently adheres to a form of madonna/whore construction (or idealised hatred). It’s not just a matter of this song or that one – it’s a recurring theme. This, she says, tells us little about real women, or real sex, or real desire, in the complexity that a mature consideration demands. Are people seriously denying this? Really? Where are the examples that prove this wrong?

    In fact, the matter is more complex than this, because Cave’s world-view is actually a conservative one. In Cave’s view, life is, in Hobbes’ words, ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and it is a ‘warre of all against all’. This conservative attitude, added to his religious themes, are the background to his attitudes towards women. In conservative christianity, the world is falling apart and one of the reasons for this is loose morality – and of course that is often the fault of women. (As an aside, at least conservatism shares with the Left the notion that there is something wrong with the world – a far more convincing proposition than your basic liberalism which thinks everything is pretty much ok.)

    Having said that, I think there IS a case – though I’m not sure how convincing it is – that Cave sometimes undermines this worldview with irony. (Post-modern irony if you like). But like all irony, it doesn’t really take us far from where we started.

    There may also be at some exceptions to all this – I think his film, ‘The Proposition’, has a slightly more complex view of the world. And I’m willing to accept that there are other examples I can’t think of here. But it’s on this terrain – of actual examples – that Crawford’s critics are going to have to rely if they are going to be in any way convincing.

  19. Here is my poem ‘Rock Tosser’ while it makes no personal connection between Nick Cave and rape I would like to question maybe it is some men who are not only the rapists but also puritanical and sexless.
    From an Anglo not very middle class woman I’d like to keep my sexuality personal if that’s o.k.
    I performed this poem at The Nick Cave Exhibition in Perth, W.A.

    Rock Tosser

    His cold eyes
    his metallic
    pig iron eyes
    his Croatian eyes
    that just
    don’t care

    I was raped
    in a
    Nick Cave
    when I was
    only 19

    My father
    the blues
    out of me
    my desire
    for rock’n roll
    out of my

    When he said
    over coffee
    I can’t wait
    to change my
    guitar strings
    I wondered if he
    was rejecting me
    or if
    I was
    already played

    like a sex magnet
    when he went
    against me
    I wanted to fuck him
    even when
    he told me
    to back off
    he aroused me

    His tight
    black levis
    that will
    fuck you

    My father
    is a sadist
    but your cruelty
    can be
    at times
    delightfully subtle
    making me
    wanna play
    a different type
    of Daddy-girl

    As he kissed
    his girlfriend
    as I entered
    the gig
    I tried to
    but couldn’t hide
    my age
    and hatred
    Australian pub culture

    a star fuckers
    are made
    to be crushed

    An eternity
    of wasted
    the holy price
    of the Other-woman
    the guitar
    that hangs
    the rock star’s

    like a girl
    who has had
    too much
    rock ‘n roll
    I can trash
    just as hard

    lets trash
    especially david jones

    I didn’t want
    to whip
    dead horses
    only living men.

  20. Being in the same kind of position as Anwyn – once a fan, but increasingly more repelled by Nick Cave’s public persona – I was very happy to read her article.
    What is disturbing, much more so than Nick Cave himself, is his veneration, and I think this is the real issue here. Listening to and enjoying his music, or reading his books are one thing, blindly defending him is another. Should any artist, especially ones who, like, Cave, obviously enjoy being contentious and seeing how much they can get away with, be absolved from critical attention?
    After reading this article and the resulting discussion, I stood washing the dishes and thinking about a female version of Nick Cave. Let’s call her Nicola Grotto. Well known for her violent, dark, misandrous, man-slaying songs and outspoken beliefs on the boundaries of men’s role in society, her popularity continues to increase. You can’t open a magazine or visit a portrait gallery without finding her there, and she is broadly considered to be a kind of national treasure.
    Difficult to imagine?
    As I suspected.

    1. “What is disturbing, much more so than Nick Cave himself, is his veneration”
      I would have to agree with that Vanessa. I was shocked one day when I was having a discussion with a friend of mine and told him I loved Cave’s music but thought he was an arrogant bastard. My mate replied with something along the lines of “considering his career he’s probably got the right to be arrogant”

  21. Yes agree that the discussion should stick to the issues. But will note that If you publish an article intended to be deliberately provocative and littered with scatter-gun shots at targets evident in phrases like “the heroin-ravaged empire of his own mind”, things “beloved among a certain hippie-ish subsection of the Left”, “the Monthly, that over-earnest, reliably dull bush telegraph”, “Europhiles like Peter Conrad” etc etc and then put it up open it up for comment on your blog then its entirely possible you’re going to get some robust rebuttal. Nothing wrong with provocation of course and I’ve already said that it’s worthwhile calling out Cave over sexism/misogyny. It’s just that I think that the critique misfires because of — yes — its undergraduate and polemical aspects and that actually in my view Cave’s work is entirely defensible.

    Will just say on Rjurik’s more substantive point maybe Cave’s intention isn’t to give us real women or real sex or real desire in its complexity and as mature consideration demands etc etc but to give us a kind of repressed, deformed outburst of angst and violence and fear? And yeah you might ascribe this to a kind of a Hobbesian view of life as ‘nasty, brutish and short’ but then we just circle back to the discussion about whether Cave is inhabiting a persona, invoking something within contemporary reality (not entirely unknown to artists and musicians) or whether Nick Cave is a fairly evil sounding person with poisonous views. Not sure if we are progressing much here.

    1. Well put. I was also put off by the way certain quotes in magazines were taken completely out of context and misrepresented to manufacture the notion, expressed above by Vanessa, that Nick Cave has “outspoken beliefs on the boundaries of women’s role in society.” I’m talking specifically about the comparison between child birth and the song writing process, which when read in context is both amusing and a sort of veneration of the whole thing.

      Similarly, the condemnation based on his new novel is simply ridiculous. The Death of Bunny Munro is a feminist novel, as written by the necessarily inexpert hand of a man. If, as Crawford suggests, the main character has inherited the author’s fixations and world views, then the novel as a whole is nothing less than a ruthless self-flagellation. Whatever the man’s character, and I think it’s important to remember here is that this debate is ultimately concerned with the essential character of the man as revealed (or otherwise) through several decades of intensely personal songs and other writings, if he views himself in the same way as he views the protagonist of that novel then he has a lower opinion of himself than even his harshest critic. Speaking of which…

      Unfortunately, our great country is littered with creatures like the below Jack Robertson, who are positively rapid in their delight whenever they sense the chance to put somebody in their place, always keen to join in the chorus of “the Emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” just as it begins to swell, and dance on the graves of reputation. The post below is full of bile but very little substance, much like the vomit of an alcoholic. Certainly I can see how people can question the artistic value of Cave’s work, though I would disagree with them, but such venomous delirium as witnessed below can surely only spring from the deep seated insecurities of the dreaded cultural cringe and is a far less attractive blight on our cultural landscape than a snotty untalented kid getting undeserved recognition.

      Finally, it’s interesting that there are actually some parallels between what Crawford is accusing Nick Cave of and what she is doing herself. She is apparently fine with ‘misogynist’ pop music so long as it’s kept within the strictly defined limits of the genre where it can be looked down upon in condescension. What seems to really rile Crawford is that Cave has begun to move beyond his assigned boundaries to permeate the broader cultural sphere. He’s no longer the junkie rock star that people idolise in their teens and then grow out of to look back on in scorn and pity. He’s now looked at as a credible artist, and a significant one at that (whatever Jack Robertson might think). And what is her objection to this? That he’s bringing his misogynistic, ‘women should stay in the home’ attitude into the REAL cultural sphere, where he clearly doesn’t belong.

  22. That Crawford piece is electrifyingly good. Wow. One of those rare bits of writing that tells you something you didn’t already know but recognise at once as true the second you see it; that finally locates the source of an itch that’s been driving you nuts for years – and scratches fuck out of it.

    Nick Cave’s full of reactionary piss and wind, has been for years, a nice bored wordy middle class country boy for whom playing guitar very badly and making a spectacle of himself on stage was the natural arty extension of flashing his barber-pole painted cock at long-suffering, underwhelmed teachers from behind his flip-up desk-lid. He’s just the latest in a very long and very dull line of self-manufactured ‘genius’ figures whose key common denominators are an almost total absence of technical capability in their medium, and a self-issued license to invert that incompetence and make of it a creative cod-virtue by hiding it inside a contrived, debauched artistic vision. In essence Cave’s embraced the destructive, misogynist, death-sex-hate-blah-blah absolutist shtick nailed brilliantly by Crawford here for the lamest of reasons: he can’t sing for shit and his guitar and piano playing, like, totally suck. How unsurprising that he (literally) covers his equally clunking, try-hard thesaurus-prose with yet more cod-transgressive c**t, too. (If he was the real deal bloodrich goth god, that woman would be menstruating…but no, Our Nick’s got his middle class CWA constituency to be going on with, hasn’t he…k-ching!)

    The 20th century is littered with technically sub-standard clods who pulled the same cheap PR trick to cover their colossal ineptitude (and laziness – too cool to practise your scales, young Nick?), dupe the well-to-do into swallowing the label ‘great artist’, anyway. Usually it’s harmless. Often it’s even passing diverting (for as long as you can enjoy watching teenagers poo in the pews, at least; so, like, five minutes, while having that fag-and-coffee morning break, I guess). But the logical trajectory endpoint is always one that sees you hit the deck going backwards, towards your roots; backwards, in a reactionary, Puritan backslide, ramping up the nasty in the ‘cool-but-nasty’ pose to the point where it ain’t cool at all anymore (and it’s not even really ‘nasty’, either, except in a panto way). Mostly – at Cave’s stage, now – it’s just artistically dull, not to mention faintly embarrassing in its audacity and hypocrisy, like Elvis the Pelvis complaining in his late eat-the-furniture phase about the ‘dirty’ way ‘kids today’ had taken to dancing. That Dapin GW profile was hilarious in its embryonic glimpse of Cave-The-Sanctimonious-Blimp-Fart. You watch, give it a few years and Devil Spawn Nick will be whining about how the young ‘uns just don’t listen to their daddies these days, blaming The Drugs, popping up back in Warnambool or Waracknabeal or Wherever to get behind the local campaign of some RM&chambre-wearing ‘basic values’ ‘Independent’…

    Strip away the needle and the few years in Berlin and, what, Rio was it?, hanging out with other tortured arty globo-heads, and his genius credentials start to look exceedingly thin. Far too many gullible, biddable women have lined up for too long to swoon at the throne and part their sighs, rendered brain-dead spazzy and simpering by the rock star death god spindly byronic goth poet crapfest. Thank Christ one’s called bullshit on him at last, with impeccable precision, pizazz and wit.

    Wow writing, Anwyn Crawford. Fantastic piece.

    1. I think you’re the Anti-Cave, Jack. And that’s a good thing… but kicking the shit out of Nick with this kind of rampaging enthusiasm, would ironically probably impress his royal Gothness. Talk about live by the sword, die by the mother-fucking-sword!

    2. Thanks Jack – you so eloquently expressed what I felt after reading the above article. I think it would be enjoyable to get a beer with you sometime?

  23. jenjen – yes, fair cop. Tho’ really the CWA reference was more a loving (even possessive!) one. I’m a country boy myself, not so far from Nick’s home town, certainly close enough to recognise (or at least suspect) what really makes him tick. And I reckon I know how the average CWA member would handle a rude little brat like him, too: pull down his breeches and give him a good spanking on the bare bottom with a wooden spoon.

  24. By forcing us to see only one certain aspect of Nick Cave’s work, Anwyn Crawford effectively slashes the canvas making sure that she leaves his work as a whole, meaningless. This is a peurile and subjective act, and has no place in any grown up discussion.
    Crawford actively celebrates the murder lust/misogyny in Nick Cave’s work as that’s all she can talk about. What she seems to be intent on censoring, on the other hand since she says nothing at all about them, are themes like yearning and loss – humanising elements – that permeate Cave’s writing. This is for one of two reasons: either she refuses to acknowledge or explore these aspects as she is afraid that in so doing the “magical” little world she constructs around herslf will go up in a puff of smoke; or she quite genuinely fails to have any connection to or experience of such depth of human existence. Maybe she needs to spend more time getting in touch with herself rather than wasting it on snarkabratory attacks that can never be intelligent in any way.
    When Nick Cave turns his gun on the thinkers, Anwyn Crawford has nothing to worry about. I, on the other hand, will definitely be keeping my head down.

  25. Slashing the canvas? Is it within the power of any one person to slash Cave’s canvas now? Look at the world at large, Rosie. Nick’s an international superstar; a rock god that has even achieved literary standing. It would take a movement the scale of a revolution to bring down Cave. Yet adoring fans will still not tolerate criticism.

    When you write ‘she needs to get in touch with herself,’ it takes us along that woman bashing road we’ve seen during the whole course of this debate. The most basic idea of a discussion is that we deal with the arguments presented. When we start calling each other stupid, just because we don’t agree with each other, it’s no longer an intelligent argument. It’s low grade abuse.

    ‘Yearning and loss’ may be themes Cave touches on, but even hardcore fans wouldn’t say he’s overly prone to these reflective emotions. There’s not a lot of regret in general. There’s much more ‘fuck you’ in Cave’s oeuvre. It’s a liberating catharsis for people that live lives of continual compromise; governed by the heavy hand of social niceties. The blood soaked romantic images Cave throws out to the suburban rockers and their lounge room lobotomies can seem very alluring.

    Even though I’ve often enjoyed Cave’s music myself, he’s always been theatrical to me. The overblown dimensions of his music more like rock’n’roll opera. It’s become repugnant to many of us that now he’s being held up as some kind of literary/musical god that must not be defiled with serious questions as to what he actually stands for. Let’s face it, he’s the thinking man’s Johnny Farnham. Don’t worry about keeping your head down Rosie.

  26. Ok so think the tone of this discussion was set by the article itself so I guess the horse bolted from the outset and in any case maybe everyone is tired of discussing it now. Did want to say though I agree about the yearning and loss in his work, even the risks and vulnerabilities – what you are calling the “humanising elements” — which didn’t get much attention in this discussion and now apparently are to be denied outright in favour of a construction around mindlessly repetitive murder and violence. Peter Conrad’s Monthly piece is overblown but have been thinking that underlying much of Cave’s music is a popular music version of a pretty familiar aesthetic in which things like sin, the outsider, primitivism, the deviant imagination, the eternal, the savage God are directed against a secular, clean, safe, anodyne world. I think this is as productive and coherent a take on things as any in a popular music context and impressive in its own way that he has so successfully translated it like this and given it his own stamp in a popular form. I also think it pretty unsurprising that there would be limits to this kind of enterprise — this world that Cave is rebelling against often seems constructed as a feminine one. That is to say it intersects with sexism and misogyny in various ways but is not reducible to it. I’m pretty sure an approach that relies principally on ideology critique is not going to get any adequate or convincing handle on any of this.

  27. 80’s feminism, thanks for the warning Jeff. Undergraduate, post graduate or women’s studies diploma, feminism sucks, 70’s 80’s 90’s 00’s, 10’s, it just plain sucks. Feminism wobbles on a shaky foundation of sexism, misandry and political correctness. I was looking for more articles by Anwyn because I was impressed by an article she wrote about summer music festivals, but any scent of feminism is enough to give her a wide berth in the future.

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