TThe first thing Nick Cave says in his book Faith, Hope and the Altar is that he hates interviews. You can see that as a depressing start to a book that is essentially a 304-page interview — by Observer journalist Sean O’Hagan — but it’s not news. In the 1980s, Kaif’s relationship with journalists was highly charged and combative sometimes spilled to real violence. He then calmed down greatly, but he always remained agitated and wary. He eventually stopped giving interviews altogether, a decision that seemed understandably motivated by the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in 2015.
Giving up speaking to the press isn’t uncommon in the rich 21st century world of pop music with other means of communicating with your audience – a few big stars still succumb to old promotional interviews about a new release. But it’s usually rooted in a desire for tight control over the public image: it’s better to maintain a painstakingly curated presence on Instagram, digitally spraying each image to perfection, and each accompanying comment carefully vetted, rather than mediating your unfamiliar thoughts. Journalist. What is remarkable about the cave’s retreat is that it heralded a radical transformation in the opposite direction. He’s never been more open or available than he’s been in recent years. In 2018, he started red hand files, a website where he invited fans to “ask me anything”: Four years later, he’s written hundreds of candid, thoughtful answers to questions that range from deep to fun. He took the same approach during his 2019 talks with Nick Cave, a world tour that wasn’t about music but about audience questions and answers. In both online and live incarnations, the topic returned time and time again to his son’s death and its aftermath: assuming it was a topic Cave did not wish to discuss publicly was no more wrong.
The same is true of Faith, Hope and the Altar, which are essentially the texts of many of the long conversations between Cave and O’Hagan that began in the summer of 2020. Its 15 chapters cover a lot of ground – from Staffordshire pottery to God’s presence or non-existence. The book often acts like a memoir whose cover openly proclaims it isn’t, charting vivid, fond memories of Kev’s childhood, and his years as a heroin addict (recalls a roommate in rehab obsessively spraying himself with Lynx deodorant” as if who – which It’ll help”) and often combustible relationships within his band, Bad Seeds: One member leaves, expressing his displeasure with their musical direction with a sweet parting shot: “I didn’t get into rock ‘n’ roll to play rock ‘n’ roll.” “.
But, as Hagan notes in his final speech, Arthur “has a constant presence all the time.” While Cave has great things to say about the creative process, social media and “wake-up” culture (he thinks the latter may “reflect an unconscious desire to return to a non-secular society” where “tyrannical ideas of virtue and sin play”), the book’s most striking section is They are the ones that deal with grief. He speaks incredibly eloquently about its physical manifestations – “I can feel it actually rushing through my body and exploding my fingertips… a kind of self-annihilation – an inner scream” – and its lasting “transformational” effects: “In time you come back into the world with a kind of knowledge Which has to do with our vulnerability as participants in this human drama.” He is open about the impact it has had on both his work and his personality and is consistent in believing that by discussing it openly – finding “a way to talk about my own disaster and express my grief” – he can help not only himself, but others; The alternative, he says, is to stay “silent, trapped [your] Private secret thoughts … and the only form of company is the dead themselves.”
It’s a very harrowing read at times: even O’Hagan seems dumbfounded at describing how delicate and agonizing the day his son died. But it is ultimately an enriching, love-filled story, teeming with ideas, a document of an artist’s journey from holding the world “in a form of scorn” to a state of empathy and grace. Kev at one point says, “Despite how we are told that humanity is broken or corrupt, and how the world has become degraded, it continues to be beautiful. It can’t be helped.”