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Caved in

I’ve always enjoyed Nick Cave’s music, in much the same way I’ve always enjoyed Meatloaf’s music. Yes, really. In essence they’re two sides of the same coin: Cave’s music is a kind of slowed-down cock-rock, equally melodramatic in its imagery and just as catchy as the music of his colleague Meatloaf — but slightly more suited to your more mournful moods.

Yes, it is weird to read a post from me about music, isn’t it? Perhaps you’re wondering what on earth possessed me to try it this time.

Well, Anwyn Crawford possessed me, because over at Overland she busts a few myths about Nick Cave’s music & exposes some of what’s been bugging me about his position as a mainstream-acceptable misogynist.

To reaffirm my position as musically naive, let me say that I first came across Nick Cave when he teamed up with that bastion of esoteric musicality, Kylie Minogue, on the album Murder Ballads in 1996. This is somewhere over 20 years after Cave began his musical career (wikipedia informs me), so clearly I’m not fast on the uptake. But ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ got my attention. Quite simply, I loved how it sounded. Also pleasing: the lyrics, foreshortened by the limited vocal ranges of Minogue and Cave, make for an easy sing-along.

But I also remember being struck by the tension between the satisfyingly moody music with its brooding theme of destructive desire, and the portrayal of Minogue — this very successful (at least locally, at least by then) woman who allowed herself to be portrayed quite literally as an object. A dead object, by the end of the video, but no less pretty for that.

Isn’t it wonderful how death can preserve an attractive young woman? And not at all fantastical.

(Kiddies, I jest: there is no such thing as a beautiful corpse.)

The romantic setting and the horror of the slow-dawning discovery of just what, exactly, is going on in the video do provide a delightful frisson of pending disaster. Mmm, delicious! But the moment the snake (Freud would be pleased) slides suggestively across the crotch of Minogue’s virginally-white-dressed corpse (Freud would be ecstatically pleased, then he would need to smoke a cigarette and doze off for a time), I do remember thinking that you didn’t need a degree in symbolism to see through the obtuse phallic meaningfulness of the piece. Surely, I thought, they’re having a laugh? Surely there is some tongue-in-cheek or ironic *thing* going on here that I just wasn’t getting? Clearly I wasn’t in on the joke. Instead of mistrusting the appellation ‘ironic’, I mistrusted my own, apparently silly and over-sensitive reaction.

‘How odd,’ I thought, and continued to find the song and the singers (Cave for his coffin-chic earnestness and Minogue for her passive subjugation) fascinating. In effect, then, the song achieved what it set out to do. I bought some Cave music and each time I noticed the video on TV, I leaned in a little closer — looking for the punchline.

As to *that* book cover shown here in a more tasteful variation of the Australian version hilariously discussed over here (on a new favourite blog!), I did find myself drawn to the cover — and yet repelled when I spied the author’s name. But I couldn’t explain *what* it was about Nick Cave that repulsed and intrigued me. I kept thinking that Cave was so very mainstream, so very every-fcking-where, that I just wasn’t getting it. He writes music, and books, and stageplays, and movies. What *was* it that made me so suspicious? I could never quite put my finger on it.

But this is what interests me even more about Crawford’s essay:

His snobbery and towering ego both feed into our lingering cultural cringe: we think he’s smart because he’s popular in Europe, and we admire him because his bullish self-confidence is so different to the ritual self-deprecation that marks many Australian artists. He reads books! He lives in Brighton! The man’s a genius! In reality, Cave’s cartoon profanity is no more sophisticated or evolved than the bump’n’grind of gangsta rap

Because I’m beginning to wonder myself what price we’re paying in Australia for our tall-poppy syndrome? Through our self-deprecating approach, are we turning our artists, ourselves, into the burger-and-fries of the artistic world? Are we making it easy for the ego-maniacs to outwit us?

And would Nick Cave be any more attractive by Meatloaf’s dashboard lights?