Art Creative Process Discussion of writing style music musicians Readers and reading

How to be kind to your fans – Nick Cave’s affectionate honesty (1)

The Red Hand Files, musician Nick Cave’s responses to questions from his fans, readers and listeners, has passed the 180 issue mark. In December 2021, he published Issue #178:

I want to thank everyone who has supported The Red Hand Files through this difficult year. This week has seen our 50,000th question and each and every one fills me with that very hope and radical optimism.” (Red Hand Files, #178)

Fifty thousand questions!

You’d think by this time people would have run out of things to ask, and he would have run out of patience, forbearance and answers, but no. As the questions become perhaps more abstract and more about creativity in general, rather than about his music, Cave has surprised and pleased me with his marvellously intelligent and – dare I say it? – loving responses. He ends all his Red Hand File posts – or letters – with “Love, Nick”, which I think is just perfect.

And if you read his responses, you realize he must spend ages writing and editing them because they are quite short, yet carefully considered, complete and clear. He concisely expresses quite complicated ideas, but so very personally, so honestly, and to a level of detail that exposes his struggles and his pain.

Incidentally, he does this while still touring and performing live.

Cave’s authorial presence

Authorial presence, also called author’s textual presence or the author’s voice, is strong in Cave’s letters to his readers. How much of the real person is in what they write? Cave refers to “we” and “our” in his letters, and to cope with 50,000+ enquiries must be a team job, yet, his voice is personal and consistent. (I see this because I subscribe to The Red Hand Files, and I do read them.)

Even an autobiography may not have 100% authorial presence since the real author may be a ghost-writer, with their own style and voice, or it may be heavily redacted or edited. A Sci-Fi novel may not have a high degree of authorial presence, but can reveal the true thoughts and feelings of the author through the themes, the sub-text or the climax and resolution of the plot. By contrast, a novel could read like a description of the author’s life and thoughts, with the same problems, conflicts, and locations, thinly disguised real people as characters, and use of language which mirrors the authors’ personal way of expressing themselves.

Sometimes the authorial presence overwhelms the reader, who may not like the image of the author which emerges. Other times, a reader can put together a mental picture of the author’s presence as they read, and respond to it as authentic, once they feel something in common with themselves.

So, the author’s presence in their writing can be a stimulus to evoke empathy in the reader. And empathy is one of the things that makes readers enjoy and value what they read.

There’s something to be said for kindness

Cave, though writing as if he were making entries in his diaries, maintains a distinct voice – there is still something of the avant garde rocker about him. The New Yorker referred to it as: “The Brutality and Tenderness of Nick Cave’s Newsletters“. Yes, they are tender, but they are also honest, and about his life, which has been tough. Therefore, some of the entries are brutal in the sense of being hard, uncomfortable, direct and not attempting to hide unpleasantness. He always contextualizes these parts, and mitigates the effect with nuanced explanations.

This is a man who has lived a complicated life, has suffered, has found a kind of peace, has found his voice as an artist and as an author. I might not agree with how he handles life, or what he believes in, but I love the kindness, the consideration and the honesty that come through in his words. The kindness, especially. Lord knows, these days kindness is in short supply.

The quality of the man that emerged in Cave’s Red Hand letters motivated me to go back to his music, and to buy his latest album, Ghosteen.

Kindness was on my mind when I noticed recently that the professional engineering and geoscience association to which my S.O. belongs had introduced a code of ethics, a response to a new legal requirement. You are now required by law to have a code of ethics and to commit to it. What’s more – one of the 13 ethical principles that you are supposed to stick to is summarized in their training as: “Do unto others” [as you’d want them to do unto you]. Remember that old mantra? Well, now it’s a legal requirement to be fair, polite, act in good faith and give credit where it is due. What has the world come to that this needed to be legislated?

His response to hundreds of letters from one fan

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

One of Cave’s recent Red Hand Files letters is particularly moving. It is to a fan who has written him hundreds of letters. Hundreds! Imagine that.

Dear Rebecca, I want you to know that I have read the hundreds of letters you have sent to The Red Hand Files — some ecstatic and full of angels, others dark with demons.”

The man is a sweetheart, honestly. In his response he does not preach at her, but rather opens the door to more, not less, dialogue with her. And he quotes from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And he ends it in such a lovely way: “Just to say I enjoy your letters, Rebecca, and I am very happy to receive them. Love, Nick.”

Aw, bless him.

I have to admit, it made me have a moment of the sniffles.

I’m re-publishing this post in part only. The person who wrote to him has problems, and what she writes is terribly sad – and all of her words to Cave are not to be mindlessly spread around the Internet, so I’m quoting just one of her comments from his post. I hope that Rebecca is OK and that things will get better for her. If you want to read the whole story, you can get it directly from the Red Hand Files website.

Thank you, Nick Cave, for this moment that made me think again about the value of kindness – even kindness to strangers.

The Red Hand Files, Issue #180

The Red Hand Files
ISSUE #180 / JANUARY 2022
This is ridiculous, I was fine for months.
I think that calling failure to overcome suffering the mark of the beast is demonic corruption again.
Are we damned for being in pain?
Do you have any advice for dealing with demonic possession?
I could try to get an exorcism but I doubt they’d listen and also I’d miss them.
Best advice is probably to stop sending messages.
Goodbye, I’m serious, last time.

Dear Rebecca,
I want you to know that I have read the hundreds of letters you have sent to The Red Hand Files — some ecstatic and full of angels, others dark with demons. Sometimes they appear as wisdom-poems and very beautiful. In answer to your question, personally, I think you should hold off on getting an exorcism, because you may not like what you are left with. Also, I have been reading the confounding ‘devouring lion’ passage in The Gospel of Thomas and am finding it difficult to understand — perhaps you could shed some light on it. Finally, do you know the passage in The Little Prince, where the prince meets a fox? Does this apply? I don’t know —
“Come and play with me,” he says to the fox.
“I cannot play with you,” the fox replies.
“I am not tamed.”
“What does that mean — to tame?”
He goes on to say — “One only understands the things that one tames.”

Just to say I enjoy your letters, Rebecca, and I am very happy to receive them.
Love, Nick
Copyright © 2022 Nick Cave Productions, All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: