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A case for the quiet voice – The writing of Nick Cave

Nick Cave, fourth from left, and his band, The Bad Seeds (From Charles J. Moss, How Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Perfect the Art of the Compilation Album Apr 29, 2017, Medium Magazine, A Medium Corporation)

In a world filled with loud, angry voices, there’s something to be said for the quiet, thoughtful voice. Nick Cave, lead singer and songwriter of the Australian band The Bad Seeds, and acclaimed poet, author, lyricist and screenwriter, decided a while back to get away from crazy click-bait stuff and online rants, and started a blog called The Red Hand Files. The title is from one of the band’s signature songs, Red Right Hand (1994) from the album Let Love In. The premise of the blog is simple – as Cave puts it:

“You can ask me anything. There will be no moderator. This will be between you and me. Let’s see what happens. Much love, Nick.”

Why a conversation rather than rants?

People submit questions about his music, the band, literature, politics, religion, the writing process and everything else. Cave answers seriously, deeply and sincerely, often sharing his poetry or lyrics. The results are surprisingly soothing and gratifying. Much of what is on the Internet is like a “supernormal stimulus” or “superstimulus” to our senses – ever louder, bigger, faster, sexier, more outrageous and easier to swallow. But these kinds of stimuli are like drugs to the human brain. They are exaggerated stimuli to which humans have an inbred tendency to respond to, to like, in other words. These sensations are supernormal because they elicit a response that is stronger than should be expected for what it is – like a kid running around high on sugar.

Nick Cave seated at a red hand (from The Red Hand Files)

But amid all the superstimuli, there is the original things which we perceive normally, and which, by their contrast, are powerful in a different way. This is the kind of stimulus you find on The Red Hand Files. Nothing extreme, but when you stop and think, always worthwhile and pleasing. It’s not saccharine or soppy – but you can connect with Cave’s honest responses.

From conversations to questions

In September 2018, he had told email subscribers of his plan to communicate outside “some of the more conventional ways of getting information across”. It followed the “Conversations with Nick Cave” events in 2018 where he explored a more direct relationship with his audience by just talking with them. Gosh, what an unusual idea.

Cave writes:

“When I started the Files I had a small idea that people were in need of more thoughtful discourse. I felt a similar need. I felt that social media was by its nature undermining both nuance and connectivity. I thought that, for my fans at least, The Red Hand Files could go some way to remedy that.” (The Red Hand Files, Issue #19)

The blog is “a shelter from the online storm free of discord and conspiracies, and in harmony with the internet vision of Tim Berners-Lee.” (The Guardian, Nov 27, 2018)

Has anyone, in 53 posts thus far, got nasty? Yes, even with swearwords, but since Cave is a supporter of free speech, he actually commented rather than shut the question down. I favour his point of view, since rage and vehemence (and responding to those supernormal stimuli) are tiring and ultimately boring. And besides, I hate when I know I am being manipulated – when I suspect what I’m reading has been hyped for clicks.

“The opportunity to act in a better way is one that is continuously afforded to us – to try to make the next thing we do the best thing, rather than the worst thing, the destructive thing.” (The Red Hand Files, Issue #52)

The intimate voice in literature

How this applies to literature is that, regardless of how good the idea, setting, characterization or plot may be, the author’s writing style reflects the thinking and point of view of the author directly. What’s in their head comes out in the words on the page. And if that is rage, discord, and a lack of skill, restraint or self-discipline, I, as your reader, get turned off. After all, readers vicariously experience what the author feels. The opposite also applies. I prefer, more and more, authors with an elegant, quiet, intimate voice, and skill enough to use economical prose. This is why I so much enjoyed these novels:

Authors have many explanations for writing like they do, particularly in Science Fiction and Fantasy. But setting those aside, there are novels that are emotional, syntactically and semantically complicated, and textually dense ( “wordy”) – the opposite of “economical prose”. The author’s voice is loud and impassioned:

This blog has a link to the RSS feed from Cave’s Red Hand blog. The questions on his blog are many and varied, so go check it out. He really does write lovely lyrics, no wonder they have been published as collections:

“I remember lying under the old Yew tree in Kew Gardens with my wife, Susie, in a vast field of bluebells. It was year 2000 and we would visit the gardens often that spring. It was a magical time, full of excitement and promise. Susie was heavily pregnant with the twins and we could barely contain ourselves, as we lay there in the shade of the ancient tree, with the children growing inside her, as the momentary bluebells looked on.

Now we sit beneath the knotted Yew
And the bluebells bob around our shoes
The task of remembering the tell-tale clues
Goes to my sorrowful wife
Who is counting the days on her fingers

Much love, Nick”


About the image of the bluebells

Selective Focus Photo of Purple-petaled Flowers” by Suzy Hazelwood, from pexels.com, ✓ Free to use.
✓ No attribution required.

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