Nick Cave didn’t talk to anybody around the release of 2016’s masterful album Skeleton Tree. This makes sense on several levels. For one, Cave had just gone through one of the most tragic things a human being can experience — his teenage son died after falling from a cliff near their home. And on the other hand, he didn’t need to talk to anyone about Skeleton Tree‘s creation. That process was captured in the excellent making-of documentary One More Time With Feeling.
As well-crafted as the Andrew Dominik-directed Feeling was, however, it’s always nice to hear something directly from the source. So, months after the release of Skeleton Tree, Cave opened up about that album and the grieving process in a career-spanning piece in GQ.
Cave — who has a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeonly figure — starts off the piece by questioning the common interpretation of grief and the idea that it leads to better things.
“The whole grief thing, there’s nothing good about it whatsoever,” he said. “People will tell you other things, but it’s like a f*cking disease. A contagion that not only affects you but everybody around you. And it’s cunning. And you can feel good and you can be getting on with things, and then it just comes up and sort of punches you in the back of the head and you’re down and you’re out for the count for a while. I don’t just mean psychologically, I mean physically too. Grief and illness and tiredness feed off each other in a kind of feeding frenzy.”
Cave also addressed the nasty and creeping drive for parents to blame themselves when a child passes. Cave’s son Arthur passed while experimenting with LSD for the first time, which could lead Cave and his wife Susie down some particularly troubling roads, if they let it. However, the singer says that he and his partner have managed to remain “clear-eyed” about the incident.
“It was a terrible, senseless, tragic accident, that could happen to any high-spirited, curious young man,” he said. “We definitely don’t attach any sense of morality to it. But grief has a way of turning you against yourself and you can find yourself indulging in all sorts of irrational and self-destructive thoughts —
self-pity, self-blame — because they form a direct connection to the small but present part of you that just wants to die. But we are vigilant with each other about this sort of thinking, I watch out for Susie and she watches out for me, because even though we lost Arthur we are still parents, and as parents, we still have our work to do.”
Cave also talked about the creation of Feeling, a film he initially hated because it showed him at such a vulnerable moment.
“I was angry about it,” he said. “I could see from an aesthetic point of view it was an extremely accomplished and beautiful piece of work, but there were aspects of it that grated against what I am, as a person. Maybe it’s an old-school Australian thing, you know, a queasiness around public displays of emotion.… The film showed a very vulnerable person in a desperate situation and it was something that I thought that I would be embarrassed about for the rest of my life.”
He also worried that the film would do a disservice to his son’s memory and that it might be seen as exploitative. However, once he saw how the film was helping not only his own family but strangers around the world deal with their grief, he came around on it.
“The film has become really important to me, because of the kind of community that’s arisen around the film,” he said. “The potential it has had as a force of healing has been extraordinary for me and Susie, but for other people too. This was Andrew’s astonishing gift. It was completely unexpected.”
You owe it to yourself to give the whole thing a read over at GQ.