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Nick Cave: An Australian On Love And Death In America

Nick Cave and his band The Bad Seeds are best known for their angry, twisted ballads. Four of Cave's studio albums, including The Boatman's Call and Murder Ballads, have just been reissued.


Other segments from the episode on June 17, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 17, 2011: Interview with Nick Cave; Review of the documentary, "Buck Brannaman."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Nick Cave: An Australian On Love And Death In America


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Musician and composer Nick Cave is on the far side of 50 now and has amassed
enough respect and output to see his entire catalogue of songs reissued slowly
but surely. This month, the latest volume of Cave's back catalogue, with his
band The Bad Seeds, is being released, covering albums originally issued
between 1994 and 2001.

Nick Cave is famous for his dark songs and for his rough voice, which brings
out all the dark colors of those songs Entertainment Weekly has praised him as
one of the few artists in rock 'n' roll who's managed to get better with age.
Here's "Song of Joy" from one of the newly remastered albums, the 1996 LP
"Murder Ballads."

(Soundbite of song, "Song of Joy")

NICK CAVE (Musician): (Singing) Have mercy on me, sir. Allow me to impose on
you. I have no place to stay, and my bones are cold right through.

I will tell you a story of a man and his family, and I swear that it is true.
Ten years ago I met a girl named Joy. She was a sweet and happy thing. Her eyes
were bright blue jewels, and we were married in the spring.

I had no idea what happiness and little love could bring or what life had in
store. But all things move toward their end. All things move toward their end.
On that you can be sure.

Nick Cave grew up in Australia and now lives in England. He wrote the
screenplay for the Western "The Proposition" and co-wrote the scores for that
film and for another western, the 2007 movie "The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford."

Terry Gross spoke with Nick Cave in 2008, the year that his Bad Seeds' CD
"Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" was released. Here's the title track.'

(Soundbite of song, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!")

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) Dig yourself. Laz'rus dig yourself. Laz'rus dig yourself.
Laz'rus dig yourself back in that hole.

Larry made his nest up in the autumn branches, built from nothing but high
hopes and thin air. He collected up some baby blasted mothers who took their
chances, and for a while they lived quite happily up there.

He came from New York City, man, but he couldn't take the pace. He thought it
was like a dog-eat-dog world. Then he went to San Francisco, spent a year in
outer space with a sweet little San Franciscan girl.

I can hear my mother wailing and a whole lot of scraping of chairs. I don't
know what it is but there's definitely something going on upstairs.

Dig yourself. Laz'rus dig yourself. Laz'rus dig yourself. Laz'rus dig yourself
back in that hole.


Nick Cave, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell me the story behind writing that song.
What made you think about writing a song that refers to Lazarus?

Mr. CAVE: I think I was getting some kind of revenge on my religious
upbringing. I was - particularly as a child, it worried me a lot, that
particular story, that Christ's greatest miracle was actually bringing someone
back from the dead, and that kind of, as a child, creeped me out somewhat, to
be honest.

It didn't exactly traumatize me, but it felt kind of nice to sort of redress
that in some kind of way and write a song about it. So I basically took the
biblical Lazarus and dropped him in New York City and kind of a half-comical
look at what would happen to him in a contemporary world.

GROSS: You said that you see the song as revenge for your religious upbringing.
So many of your songs refer, you know, have biblical references or references
to Jesus or God and some of them in a more straightforward way, some in a more
elliptical way, some in a comic way, some in a cynical way, some in a searching
or a loving way. Was that always true of your songs, or is this something more

Mr. CAVE: I think it was always true. I can remember as very young, writing
poetry, and the stories from the Bible always played a - you know, there was
always a strong element of that even in my very, very early poetry, which I'm
not going to...

GROSS: Recite for us now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: ...recite for - on radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: But there was a kind of fascination. There was a fascination when I,
you know, I was a choir boy at school and at the cathedral that I went to, and
I had to go to church maybe three times a week for about three or four years,
and I was actually kind of interested, especially in the biblical stories.


GROSS: Well, I want to play another track from "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!," and
this one also has a Jesus reference to it. It's called "Jesus of the Moon."
It's a beautiful song. I mean it's a love song. Would you talk a little bit
about writing this song?

Mr. CAVE: Well, you know, I mean I think that this particular record, "Dig!!!
Lazarus Dig!!!," despite the title is - it's probably the least obsessed or
religiously obsessed record I've made in years. It's really not about that. And
there is a song called "Jesus of the Moon," really, but I just felt it was a
kind of nifty way of describing a sleeping woman and a sleeping woman that I
was kind of departing from. It just felt good to describe her in that way.

But it's - I guess the reason why it's on the record, this particular song,
even though it's not really a ballad record, and this is very much a ballad, is
that it felt like to me a kind of fresh take for me on the leaving-a-woman type
of song that I often write. There seemed to be a kind of rebirth in the whole
thing that sounded kind of nice to me.

GROSS: Oh, I think it's a great song. Let's hear it. This is "Jesus of the
Moon" from Nick Cave's new CD, which is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus of the Moon")

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) I stepped out of the St. James Hotel. I'd left you behind
curled up like a child. A change is gonna come. The door whispered shut I
walked on down the high-windowed hall.

You lay sleeping on the unmade bed. The weatherman on the television in the St.
James Hotel said that the rains are gonna come. And I stepped out on the street
all sparkling clean with the early morning dew.

Maybe it was you or maybe it was me? You came on like a punch in the heart.
You're lying there with the light on your hair like a Jesus of the moon, a
Jesus of the planets and the stars.

GROSS: That's Nick Cave's song "Jesus of the Moon" from his new CD "Dig!!!
Lazarus Dig!!!."

You said that this was your least biblically obsessed record, in spite of the
fact that we've heard two Bible- or Jesus-related songs, but there's also a
song on here called "We Call Upon the Author to Explain" that's kind of like,
you know, asking God to explain why life and the Earth are such a mess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, well - yeah, I mean, you're kind of choosing three songs,
really, that deal with that sort of thing, but the rest of the stuff doesn't,
although I'm sure you're going to pull out another song and say: Oh, hang on...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: But it actually felt to me, while I was writing it, that I was on to
something different, it really felt, and it took a long time. This record took
a long time to write and to find something new to talk about and a new way of
using words, which I'm always kind of searching for.

So I felt like it was very much a departure, but I guess at the same time, I
have certain themes that I always come back to, and I guess I try and look at
them from different, you know, vantage points.

GROSS: Now, you also have another band called Grinderman. And you had a
Grinderman CD in 2007. What's the difference to you between the Bad Seeds and

Mr. CAVE: Well, I guess the Bad Seeds are kind of like the mothership or
something like that, and we're on our, I don't know, fourteenth album or
something like that. And to continue to make records like that, you have to
find ways to exist and ways to exist in a credible way, without just kind of
repeating yourself all the time. And I think Grinderman to me was, for me, at
least, was a way to write new and different songs with a reduced lineup.

The Bad Seeds, there's eight, maybe nine people in the Bad Seeds, and in
Grinderman, there's four, and I was able to write different songs and record
different songs with that, even though it's four of the same people of The Bad
Seeds. And now it feels like Grinderman kind of go out places where, you know,
and kind of find things out and sort of deliver them back to the mothership,
which is the Bad Seeds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: And the Grinderman record, I think, had a huge influence over this
new record.

GROSS: So what do you feel like you brought back from the Grinderman CD to the
Bad Seeds?

Mr. CAVE: Well, there's - it's much sparser, and there's much more space and
room around the instruments. It's also a lot looser. It's largely first-take
kind of stuff that you're hearing. It's much more improvised, more experimental
with the actual sounds that are being used.

I mean, when we went in to do the new record, I deliberately kind of made it
kind of difficult for the band in that I took away the instruments that they
normally play, and they played other instruments.

Mick Harvey didn't play electric guitar but played acoustic guitar. Warren, who
traditionally has played the violin, didn't bring his violin to the studio.
There was no piano. It was just a huge change for the Bad Seeds, I mean very
little piano.

GROSS: And that's your instrument.

Mr. CAVE: And that is my instrument, yes. So I was kind of playing organ. No
matter what we did, it had to sort of sound different because of that.

GROSS: You were playing electric guitar on this, too, right?

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, I do a bit, yeah.

BIANCULLI: Nick Cave, speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. More after a break, this

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2008 interview with Nick Cave of the Bad
Seeds. She's been talking with him about his work with another band,

GROSS: Well, so let me play a track, and it's a track who's - the track itself
we can play, but the title we can't say on the air. So I'll euphemize it a
little and call it "Not Getting Any Blues." Would that work for you?

Mr. CAVE: Well, you know, I think I said it better, but I'll let that go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yes, you did, and we can't say it. But we can play it because the title
isn't in the track, at least not what we're going to hear. So this is a really
very funny song, and I just wanted to show that side of you. So anything you
want to say about writing it?

Mr. CAVE: Well, I came up with the title...

GROSS: Which we can't say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: Which we can't say, but, you know, I mean, a lot of the Grinderman
stuff is kind of ad-libbed, lyrically ad-libbed, as well, and it's much -
lyrically much looser. And it's, you know, it's four guys in a studio for five
days with very little sleep, and I guess the kind of humor, you know, there's a
certain sense of hysteria about the kind of recording process, and that comes
through with some of those lyrics, I think.

GROSS: Okay, so this is Nick Cave from the Grinderman CD, and he's featured on
voice and guitar.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) I saw a girl in the crowd. I went over. I shouted out. I
asked if I could take her out. But she said that she didn't want to.

I changed the sheets on my bed. I combed the hairs across my head. I sucked in
my gut and still she said that she just didn't want to.

I read her Eliot. I read her Yeats. I tried my best to stay up late. I fixed
the hinges on her gate. But still she just never wanted to.

I bought her a dozen snow white doves. I did her dishes in rubber gloves. I
called her Honeybee, I called her love. But she just still didn't want to. She
just never wants to. Damn.

GROSS: That's Nick Cave's band Grinderman, and that's Nick Cave playing
electric guitar. What does it feel like to play that kind of distortion? It
must feel great. I mean, it must feel like a real release. Would you describe
what it feels like?

Mr. CAVE: Well, the guitar is something you kind of embrace, and the piano is
something you kind of - when you play it, you sort of push it away. It feels
very different. And as a guitarist in Grinderman, I feel much more involved in
the making of the music than I do as a piano player. I don't really know how to
describe that, but piano is - the way I play it is really about melody and, you
know, it just feels very different, and you've kind of got the history of rock
'n' roll in your hands with a guitar. It's - suddenly, it was like: Oh, that's
why rock 'n' roll is the way it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You live in England now but you grew up in Australia. Would you describe
the town you grew up in?

Mr. CAVE: It's called Wangaratta. I mean, it's about 18,000 people, and it was
- but with very much a kind of small town mentality, and to be honest, I was
quite happy to get out of there.

GROSS: Because?

Mr. CAVE: Well, it was very restrictive, and all the stuff that I find
difficult with Australia is amplified a thousand-fold in these small towns, and
that's if you kind of stick your head too high above the parapet it gets lopped
off, if you understand what I mean. Everyone has to be kind of the same, you
know, and hunker down, and I didn't - I wasn't kind of interested in that, so
it was quite difficult for me. It was quite difficult for my family in general,

And I got sent to Melbourne when I was about 12. It just wasn't working out in
this town for me.

GROSS: Sent to a boarding school?

Mr. CAVE: I got sent to a boarding school in Melbourne.

GROSS: And was that - that's a more metropolitan place.

Mr. CAVE: Well, a more metropolitan - I mean it had - that also had its
problems as well. But you know, I mean there's a lot about growing up in the
country that I loved, especially as a child, and my youth - my childhood was
spent, you know, down by the river and all of that sort of stuff, and it was
very free and very happy, actually. But as a teenager, you know, around that
time in Wangaratta, it was very difficult.

GROSS: Did you have access, either in Wangaratta or in Melbourne, to the movies
and music and books that eventually meant a lot to you?

Mr. CAVE: Well I did. You know, when I was nine or 10 we got "The Johnny Cash
Show," for example. That was shown in Australia on a weekly basis. So I watched
that and that had a huge impact on me.

GROSS: What impact did Johnny Cash have on you?

Mr. CAVE: Well, I remember distinctly watching "The Johnny Cash Show," and my
ideas about what music could be changing. You know, the gears kind of shifted,
and something happened with the whole chemistry. My whole chemistry kind of
changed watching that. There was something that I didn't really understand
then, I guess, that was so kind of edgy about that particular show.

GROSS: And Johnny Cash himself, you know, in addition to his just incredibly
moving voice, he was able to sing both about the spiritual and do really
convincing murder ballads and revenge ballads.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah. I mean the way I looked at him when I was young was that he was
an outlaw. You know, I'm talking about a young boy who was nine or 10 watching
this kind of stuff. But he seemed like - it seemed like that rock 'n' roll or
music could be an outlaw kind of thing that operated on the periphery of
society in some way.

I've now since watched those shows on DVD actually, recently, the Johnny Cash
shows. And they're actually, I mean, they're extraordinary. It's

GROSS: Did Johnny Cash in a way help point the direction for you to music that
both had a really dark and a really spiritual component?

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, I think absolutely. You know, I mean, the records that I had
before that were - that I bought were the Tijuana - Herb Albert Tijuana Brass

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: And I bought one of them, and then I went out and bought another one.
So they were the first two records I ever bought.

GROSS: That's really funny that that's - yeah.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, but I didn't know - you know, I was in this country town, and
there was something about that kind of music that I liked. But Johnny Cash kind
of changed all that.

BIANCULLI: Nick Cave, speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. We'll have more of their
interview in the second half of the show. Here's Nick Cave covering a Hank
Williams classic, singing with Johnny Cash. It's from Cash's "American
Recordings Volume 4: The Man Comes Around." I'm David Bianculli, and this is

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

We're listening to Terry’s 2008 interview with musician and composer Nick Cave.
The latest batch of reissues of his classic CDs has just come out, including
“The Boatman's Call.”

Here’s a track from that album called “Into My Arms” on which Nick Cave is
featured on both piano and vocals.

(Soundbite of song, “Into My Arms”)

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) I don't believe in an interventionist God. But I know,
darling, that you do. But if I did I would kneel down and ask him not to
intervene when it came to you. Oh, not to touch a hair on your head, leave you
as you are. If he felt he had to direct you, then direct you into my arms.

Into my arms, oh Lord. Into my arms, oh Lord.

GROSS: We were talking before about how, how you grew up in Australia in a
small rural town, ended up have real problems where you were sent to a boarding
school. You have been in the choir, in the church choir, and then ended up, of
course, in a band. When you started performing, did you create a stage persona
for yourself? Did you kind of refashion yourself Nick Cave the performer?

Mr. CAVE: No I don't think I did that consciously. But the thing about
performing for me, I feel very much that I can be that person I always wanted
to be and there’s something that's still very much about that to me. When I go
on stage and am involved in the music and I hear the band playing and lose
myself in the songs I do lose myself, and go to some other place and it's and I
feel that I become someone different. I don't think that I, it's a persona so
much as I'm kind of lifted up to be the kind of person that I'd always wanted
to be.

GROSS: And who is that person compared to the person you think you are?

Mr. CAVE: Well, it's kind of godlike, you know. It's not that ordinary person
and you go off stage and then suddenly you’re that ordinary person again, you
know. I mean I remember that from as far back as I can remember, really. But
especially as a young boy, you know, I would listen to music and I'd pretend I
was singing it and I would imagine being on stage and singing this stuff to the
crowds and all of that kind of thing, you know, and I would go into this other
world, this alternate world. But I'm the way a kind of rock person should be,
which is kind of have cartoon character, you know, that’s, it's kind of
necessary. We should be seen from afar, you know, and be able to be drawn in
strokes. And I think I've kind of managed that.

GROSS: I don't want to dwell on this at all but I do have a musical related
question about it. I know that earlier in your life you shot heroin. And did
that affect your sense of who you were on or off stage? Did it help you in its
own way be the person you wanted to be or not?

Mr. CAVE: I really don't know. I don't know what effect that had. It lasted a
really long time. I mean I was involved in that for a really long time. But it
was very convenient and it was very helpful but in the end kind of destructive
enough for me to stop it, you know.

GROSS: It must've been hard to stop because it took a long time.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, it was hard. I mean it was, actually, it wasn't hard. Once I
decided I'd stop it was actually quite easy. The problem...

GROSS: Would you be willing to talk about why you decided to stop?

Mr. CAVE: Well, the problem was was getting to that point where I wanted to
stop, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Was it in a way like waking up from a long sleep to be out of
the influence of the drug?

Mr. CAVE: Well, I don't really see it in that way. You know, I never saw it as
a bad thing. It just became impractical. I don't have a kind of moral issue
with drug taking it all. I just, I couldn't work anymore basically. I couldn't
work and I couldn't perform basic functions properly. I certainly couldn't have
a relationship, you know, that worked in any kind of way so it was necessary to
give it up.

GROSS: GROSS: Now, we talked a little earlier about growing up in Australia and
one of the things about Australia is that, you know, the white people there
basically came to start a penal colony and you wrote the screenplay for the
film "The Proposition," which relates to that.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah.

GROSS: And you wrote the score. You co-wrote the score for it too. So we're
going to hear the title clip, so to speak, the title scene in which the police
captain actually makes the proposition. But set the scene for us. This is very
early on in the film, just summarize for us, which brought us to this point.

Mr. CAVE: Well, the - the film opens with the kind of obliteration of the Burns
gang by the police, you know, a horrible kind of gun fight. And the two
brothers, there’s three brothers, but two of them have been captured.
Mikey(ph), which is the little one and Charlie, which is the main character of
the film. And the police chief presents these two brothers with a proposition
in regard to Arthur Burns, a kind of renegade brother who is departed from the
gang sometime before and is living up in the hills. And what you will hear now
is "The Proposition."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Proposition")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAY WINSTONE (Actor): (as Captain Stanley) I wish to present you a
proposition. And now where Arthur Burns is, it is God forsaken place. The
blacks won't go there or the trackers or even (unintelligible). I suppose, in
time, the bounty hunters will get him. But I have other plans. I aim to bring
him down. I aim to show that he is a man like any other. I aim to hurt him.

Mr. ROBERT MORGAN (Actor): (as Sergeant Lawrence) When you're ready, sir.

Mr. WINSTONE: (as Captain Stanley): And what will most hurt him? Well, I don't
know in my heart about that. And I have realized, Mr. Burns, that I must become
a little more inventive in my methods. Don't speak, Mr. Burns, listen to me
now. Don't say a word. Suppose I told you there was a way to save your little
brother, Mikey, from the noose. Suppose I gave you a horse and a gun. I
suppose, Mr. Burns, I was to give both of you and your young brother Mikey a
pardon. Suppose I said that I would give you the chance to expunge the guilt
beneath which you so clearly labor. Suppose I gave you till Christmas, I
suppose you'd tell me what it is I want from you.

Mr. GUY PEARCE (Actor): (as Charlie Burns) You want me to kill me brother?

Mr. WINSTONE: (as Captain Stanley) I want you to kill your brother. Arthur
Burns is a monster, an abomination. You were right to part company with him.

GROSS: That’s Ray Winstone in a scene from "The Proposition," which was written
by my guest Nick Cave who also co-wrote, "The Score." That must be pretty
exciting to write the screenplay and the music for a movie. It's a very brutal
film, and again relates to the origins of Australia as a penal colony. Since
you are interested in like murder ballads and revenge and songs about those
themes, are you particularly interested in the penal colony origins of your
country of origin?

Mr. CAVE: I mean, we all are. All Australians are to a degree. I mean, for a
long time we were, as a country, was considered a kind of shameful aspect to
our heritage. You know, the fact that we come from colonial stock and that we
were prisoners initially and criminals. But I think that that's kind of largely
changed and we're more kind of accepting of that these days. But I was actually
approached by the director to write this screenplay because he could manage to
get - he wanted to make an Australian western, just couldn't manage to get a
script that he liked or that was Australian enough actually.

But I was just very interested in writing a script anyway just to see if I
could do that. And I was lucky enough to be presented with the idea by John
Hillcoat about something that I knew a little bit about.

BIANCULLI: Nick Cave speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get to Terry’s 2008 interview with singer and songwriter Nick

GROSS: If you don't mind my bringing this up, your father was killed by a car
accident when you were 19.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm wondering what it did to your sense of justice of there being a God
in this world, of your sense of vulnerability and impermanence to have
something like that happen when you were relatively young.

Mr. CAVE: Well, I think it had a huge impact. You know, my world became
decidedly different almost overnight. It changed from being a relatively safe
world to being a very unsure place, and I pretty much left, you know, I lived
at home with my mother but I pretty much left home after that and went what we
Australians say is overseas, which is to England.

GROSS: Did it push you into adulthood and independence sooner?

Mr. CAVE: Well, you know, I wasn’t a child, I was 19. No I don’t think it did
that but I certainly kind of took off running in some way. You know, there was
an urgency after that creatively that I didn’t have before that, and I'm not
really sure what that’s to do with but, you know, and, you know, and a kind of
rage about things, you know.

GROSS: He had been an English teacher. Was he an influence on you in terms of
writing or the books that you read?

Mr. CAVE: I mean was a massive influence. You know, he was a smart guy and very
well-read and, you know, and I'd be sitting around at home and he and reading
something or other and he would say, you know, I'd be reading a crime novel,
let's say, and he'd say, well, look, if you really want to read a great murder
scene, here, check this out, and he'd kind of read the murder scene in "Crime
and Punishment" to me. Or, you know, he read me the first chapter of "Lolita,"
which had a huge impact over me. I mean for many reasons, but not just in that
he turned me on to a lot of great literature but I kind of saw the effect that
literature had on him and, you know, and kind of wanted some of that.

GROSS: And your mother was a librarian. Did she choose books for you?

Mr. CAVE: Well, not in the same way. But really, I'm - even though my father
was very much the flamboyant one and the one, you know, the family would kind
of crane towards when he would be talking at the dinner table, I'm very much
like my mother, actually. Most of my ideals and stuff really come from my

GROSS: Did you read the Bible with either of your parents since they knew a lot
about books and you talked about reading the Bible when you were young?

Mr. CAVE: No. No, they weren't particularly religious.

GROSS: I thought they might be into it like as literature.

Mr. CAVE: No. You know, I think after a while I started to look for things that
my parents didn't know about, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: I became very competitive with my father, particularly as a teenager
and actively went out and kind of started to look at areas of literature that I
knew that he didn't really know much about.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. CAVE: Well, like French literature. You know, I mean I remember pouring
over Alfred Jarry and stuff like that and going back to him and saying hey,
have you read Alfred Jarry?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: And he would go well, no, I haven't, you know. And I'm going well,
you should, dad, you know. So, you know, we became quite competitive later on,
you know, as we should.

GROSS: You know, we’ve talked a lot about your early life and your formative
years. Tell us a little bit about what your life is like now. I know you're
married. You have two children. You have a couple of children from earlier
relationships, two.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, I have four children.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah. What's my life like? I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: My life, I work a lot. I've got, I seem to have an enormous amount of
projects on the go and all sorts of different things. I've got a couple of
soundtracks pending and I'm working on a new novel. So it's, there's a lot of
stuff happening and it’s, just feels kind of, it feels like a good time in that

GROSS: Do you feel like when you were younger you were into a kind of
intentionally like transgressive image and that as you’ve gotten older that's
just kind of changed and the way you live life has changed?

Mr. CAVE: Yeah. The way I live life has changed. I don't think I particularly
had any kind of image. I was just the way that I was and interested in the
things that I was at that particular time. I don’t feel that there's much of a
logic to the kind of trajectory of my life. It's just gone the way it has. At
the moment it feels strong, it feels strong and that's a really nice feeling to
have especially creatively.

GROSS: I don't know if you've read your entry in Wikipedia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: No.

GROSS: If you don’t mind, I'm going to quote something that I think is really
hysterical. “Nick Cave has a reputation which he disowns for singing dark
brooding songs which some listeners regard as depressing.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I just think that's so funny. I mean the darkness of your songs is so
rich and I think it's wonderful when pop music or, you know, rock music or
whatever you want to call your music, can have the depth and darkness that your
songs do. And to think like, which some listeners regard as depressing, really,
I just think it's really funny. Do people...

Mr. CAVE: Well, you know...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CAVE: worries me. That's always worried me and it's something that
you're going to get if you make certain types of music. But the thought that my
music depresses people, you know, is horrifying. I would hate my music to
depressed people, unless there were certain types of people...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: ...I would like to see depressed.

GROSS: Who would you like to see depressed by your songs?

Mr. CAVE: Well, people who find my music depressing.

GROSS: There. They deserve it then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: Whoever wrote that Wikipedia entry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAVE: But, you know, I mean that's not what I – that’s, you know, the
creative process, it's a positive thing. To me I don't write when I'm
depressed. If I'm depressed, which is actually rare, I'm not doing anything,
you know, and I'm not able to do anything. You know, so there might be some
melancholic songs in there. But you can't write something unless you can't the
spirit sort of takes you, you know, and that's a positive and optimistic thing
in my view.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been great to talk
with you.

Mr. CAVE: Thanks very much.

BIANCULLI: Nick Cave speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. Four more of this classic
album with his band The Bad Seeds have just been reissued. “Let Love In,”
“Murder Ballads,” “The Boatman's Call” and “No More Shall We Part.”

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the documentary “Buck.”

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
'Buck': A Horse Whisperer Wrangles His Dark Past

(Soundbite of music)


Buck Brannaman has been likened to a real life horse whisperer. He travels the
country nine months of the year helping horses, he says, with people problems.
The new documentary about him called “Buck” won the Audience Award at this
year's Sundance Film Festival. It opens in theaters today.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Our therapeutic culture is lousy with stories of people
struggling to spin childhood traumas into something positive, something that
leaves the world a better place than the one that damaged them; but I've never
seen a film in which the link between a trauma and its transmutation is as
vivid as in “Buck.”

Cindy Meehl's shambling yet uncannily beautiful documentary tells the story of
Buck Brannaman, a rangy, bowlegged cowboy who travels the country 40 weeks out
of every year hosting four-day horse clinics. Brannaman was an adviser on the
film of “The Horse Whisperer” and the moniker is often attached to him, but I'd
call him the Horse empath. It's as if he sees and hears himself through the
animals' eyes and ears, feeling their childlike skittishness and fear.

That empathy, it turns out, has roots in his past as the child of an abusive
alcoholic who drilled him and his brother in the showbiz art of rope tricks,
and also, after their mother died, pulled them out of bed and forced them to
listen to his drunken ravings, and beat them mercilessly for inexplicable

Then a coach saw Buck's ravaged back, the sheriff stepped in, and he and his
brother went to live with a couple named the Shirleys, whose mode with the
terrified child was firm but gentle. One of the first things his foster father
taught him was how to shoe horses.

It's well and good to hear Buck and others tell his story, but the film
wouldn't come to much if you didn't feel the connection between his present and
past in every frame. Heartbreaking historical footage of horses being whipped
and broken gives way to Buck and the thin little flags he flutters hypnotically
in front of them, pausing between motions for the animals to settle themselves.

You could listen to him for hours. People do, as he sits atop a saddle and
talks through an attached microphone, the way one might about wayward children.

(Soundbite of movie, “Buck”)

Mr. BUCK BRANNAMAN (Horse Trainer): That’s the thing, with a horse you can't
just love on them and bribe out the carrots. Bribery doesn't work with horses,
no different than trying to bribe a kid, and all it does is make a contemptuous
spoiled horse. But you don't want him afraid of you.

(Soundbite of horse hooves)

Mr. BRANNAMAN: You can be strict but you don't need to be unfair. Like I say
it's not personal. I don't feel any different about him than I do my own horse
I just stepped off. We're not mad at you. One of the biggest challenges of a
horseman is to be able to control your emotions because a person might be quick
to get all mad. There you go. That’s better. Let’s go this way. I said that

You allow a horse to make mistakes. The horse will learn from mistakes no
different than a human. But you can't get him to where he dreads making
mistakes for fear of what's going to happen after he does.

EDELSTEIN: Other than “The Black Stallion,” which captured the magic of a horse
in motion, horse movies like “Seabiscuit” and “Secretariat” tend to be choppy,
edited around the animals, so that their natural rhythms are lost. But Meehl,
in her directing debut, is attuned to the rhythms of Buck, who's attuned to the
horses. Everything's a dance, he explains - and suddenly he and the animal have
launched into a sideways canter so graceful, so unified, that Fred Astaire
would stop and salute.

This portrait of Buck hints at darker sides to its subject. He's a loving but
absent father - although one of his daughters helps out in his clinics and
wields a pretty fair lasso. And there is one, climactic episode that breaks
Buck's easy stride: an encounter with a violent, brain-damaged-at-birth horse
that has been improperly raised and is now, Buck says, a predator.

Clearly struggling to control his voice, he tells the owner that the state of
the horse tells him quite a bit about her. The horse didn't fail us, says Buck,
with disgust. We failed him. He could be talking about the person he might have
become - or any child brought into a scary world of grown-ups who don't look,
listen, or feel.

BIANCULLI: Dave Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
And you can download podcasts of our show at

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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