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Nick Cave Digs Himself a Singular Niche

Singer-composer Nick Cave composed the soundtrack for last year's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; he also wrote the screenplay and the soundtrack for The Proposition. Now, Cave has released a new CD with his band the Bad Seeds: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

44:23

Other segments from the episode on April 28, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 28, 2008: Interview with Nick Cave; Review of the anime "Death note."

Transcript

DATE April 28, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Nick Cave on his latest album, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Nick Cave, is famous for his dark songs and for his rough voice,
which brings out all the dark colors of those songs. In an article about him
in Entertainment Weekly, Chris Nashawaty described Cave as first becoming
known for raw, live shows that set a punishing new standard for
self-destructive mayhem, then developing into a sort of doomed Weimar cabaret
crooner in a black undertaker's suit. Nashawaty writes, quote, "Over the
years Cave's songwriting has become more intricate and challenging, almost
literary in its ambition. He's one of the few artists in rock 'n' roll who's
managed to get better with age," unquote.

Cave grew up in Australia and now lives in England. He wrote the screenplay
for the bloody Western "The Proposition" and co-wrote the scores for that film
and the 2007 film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert
Ford." Nick Cave's new album with his band The Bad Seed is called "Dig,
Lazarus, Dig!" Here's the title track.

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

NICK CAVE: (Singing) Dig yourself
Lazarus, dig yourself,
Lazarus, dig yourself
Lazarus, 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 dog-eat-dog world
But 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, Lazarus, dig yourself
Lazarus, dig yourself
Lazarus, dig yourself
Lazarus, dig yourself
Back into that hole

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: 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: Now, you've said that you could 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 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 loving way. Was that always true of your songs,
or is this something more recent?

Mr. CAVE: I think it was always true. I can remember as, very young writing
poetry, and the stories from the Bible always played--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?

Mr. CAVE: ...recite for on the radio. But there was a kind of fascination.
There was a fascination when I--you know, I was a choirboy at school, and at
the cathedral 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: How old were you when you started reading the Bible?

Mr. CAVE: I kind of got into the Bible because I went to art school and
became very interested in religious painting.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: And a lot of that was because I understood the stories. I knew
what those paintings were about, and I took a great interest in them. And
then I think after that I started to read, particularly the Old Testament, a
lot, and I did that for quite a few years, and that had a huge influence over
the way I saw the world, really, and also the songs that I wrote at that time,
you know. And then I kind of gave that up and looked at the New Testament
after a while.

GROSS: So what are the differences...

Mr. CAVE: It's only kind of one element of what I'm doing, really.

GROSS: But what's the difference between your old Testament and New Testament
songs?

Mr. CAVE: Well, I think that there's a kind of more humanistic approach to
the characters in my songs, a more forgiving approach to the narratives.

GROSS: Well, I want to play another track from your new CD, "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 probably the least obsessed, or
religiously obsessed, record I made in years. It's really not about that.
And there is a song called "Jesus of the Moon" on it, but I just felt it 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 I
guess the reason why it's on this 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 "Jesus of the Moon")

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) I stepped out of the St. James Hotel
And I left you behind, curled up like a child
Change is going to come, and as 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 rain's a gonna come
And I stepped out on the streets
All sparking clean with the early morning dew

Maybe it was you and me
Maybe it was me
You came on like a punch in the heart
You lying there with the light on your hair
Like a Jesus of the moon,
Jesus of the planets and the stars

(End of soundbite)

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.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, well, it is--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, `Hang on a bit. Listen.'

GROSS: You lied.

Mr. CAVE: But it actually felt to me while I was writing it that I was onto
something different.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: It really felt--and it took me a lot of time to get there.
Usually I can spend a few weeks in the office where I write kind of anguishing
over things, and I kind of get this out my system and find something new to
write about. This 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 that 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: My guest is songwriter and singer Nick Cave. His new album with his
band The Bad Seeds is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is singer and songwriter Nick Cave. His new CD with his band
The Bad Seed is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"

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 Grinderman?

Mr. CAVE: Well, I guess The Bad Seeds are kind of like the mothership, or
something like that. And, you know, we're on our 14th 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 sorts of 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 can kind of go out places where, you
know, and kind of find things out instead of deliver them back to the
mothership, which is The Bad Seeds. And the Grinderman record I think's 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, 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.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: 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, which is a huge change for the The Bad Seeds. I mean, very little
piano.

GROSS: And that's your instrument.

Mr. CAVE: 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.

GROSS: Well, so let me play a track and it's a track--the track itself we can
play, but the 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.

GROSS: Well, you did, and we can't say it. But we can play it because the
title isn't in the track, 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.

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
lyrically much looser, and it's, you know, it's four guys in the 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: OK. 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 ran 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,
That she just didn't want to

I read her Eliot, 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

(End of soundbite)

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's 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 it's--you kind of got the history
of rock 'n' roll on your hands with a guitar. You know, suddenly it was like,
`oh, that's why rock 'n' roll is the way it is.'

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 thousandfold 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 wasn't kind of interested in that.

GROSS: It...

Mr. CAVE: So it was quite difficult for me. It was quite difficult for my
family in general actually.

GROSS: Well, it's hard for me to imagine you fitting into a place like that.

Mr. CAVE: Well, I didn't, and I got sent to Melbourne when I was about 12.
It just wasn't working out in this town for me. And I got sent...

GROSS: Sent to a boarding school?

Mr. CAVE: ...to a boarding school in Melbourne.

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

Mr. CAVE: Well, a more metropolitan place. I mean, 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, in Australia. That was shown in Australia...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: ...on a weekly basis so I watched that, and that had a huge impact
on me. My brother, who was four years older, was very into music and listened
to a lot of kind of great music, and so I was very much influenced by what he
listened to. A lot of English progressive music, you know. So, you know, I
was around music a lot.

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, but that was so kind of 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 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 Show"s, and they are actually--I mean, they're extraordinary.
It's all like that.

GROSS: So 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 it--yeah, I think, absolutely. You know, I mean,
the records that I had before that were, that I bought, were the Herb Alpert
Tijuana Brass records, and I bought one of them and I went out and bought
another one so they were the first two records I ever bought.

GROSS: That's really funny, that's what...

Mr. CAVE: And then I kind of--and then I kind of...

GROSS: Yeah. Uh-huh.

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.

GROSS: Nick Cave will be back in the second half of the show. His new CD
with his band The Bad Seeds is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with songwriter and singer
Nick Cave. He has a new album with his band The Bad Seeds. He writes dark,
literary songs, many of which have been inspired by stories in the Old and New
Testaments. In spite of the title of his new album, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"
Cave describes it as the least biblical of his recent CDs. His music is
sometimes intentionally discordant, especially when he plays with his other
band, Grinderman.

Here's another side of him. He's featured on piano and vocals on this track
from his 1997 CD "The Boatman's Call."

(Soundbite of "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
But 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

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: We were talking before about how, you know, you grew up in Australia
in a small rural town, ended up having real problems where you were sent to a
boarding school. You had been 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 re-fashion yourself to be 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 onstage and I'm 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 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 offstage 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 onstage 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 half cartoon character, you know.
That's kind of necessary, where we should be seen from afar, you know, and be
able to be drawn in broad 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 offstage? 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 have been hard to stop because it took a long time.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, it was hard. I mean, 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 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 at 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: 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 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...

Mr. CAVE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the rest, what's brought us to this point.

Mr. CAVE: Well, the film opens with the kind of obliteration of the Burns
gang by the police in a horrible kind of gunfight, and the two
brothers--there's three brothers but two of them have been captured--Mikey,
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 has departed from the gang
sometime before and is living up in the hills. And what you will hear now is
the proposition.

(Soundbite of "The Proposition")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAY WINSTONE: (As Captain Stanley) I wish to present you with a
proposition. I know where Arthur Burns is. It is a godforsaken place. The
blacks won't go there, not the trains, not even wild men. 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's a man like any other. I aim to hurt him.

Unidentified Actor: (In character) When you're ready, sir.

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Captain Stanley) And what will most hurt him? Hm. Well,
I've thought long and hard about that. And I've realized, Mr. Burns, that I
must become a little more inventive in my methods.

(Soundbite of horses clopping, neighing)

Mr. WINSTONE: (As Captain Stanley) Now, don't speak, Mr. Burns, listen to
me now. Don't say a word. Now, 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. Suppose, Mr. Burns, I was to give both you and your young brother Mikey
here a pardon. Suppose I said that I could give you the chance to expunge the
guilt beneath which you so clearly labor. Suppose I gave you till Christmas.
Now suppose you tell me what it is I want from you. Hm?

Mr. GUY PEARCE: (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.

(End of soundbite)

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, it 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
couldn't manage to get--he wanted to make an Australian Western. Just
couldn't manage to get a script that he liked 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.

GROSS: My guest is songwriter and singer Nick Cave. His new album with his
band The Bad Seeds is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is singer and songwriter Nick Cave. His new CD with his band
The Bad Seeds is called "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!"

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 as "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, no, I don't think
it did that, but I certainly kind of took off running in some way. You know,
I mean, 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 a
kind of rage about things, you know. Yeah.

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, he 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 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. Not just
in that he turned me onto a lot of great literature but I kind of saw the
effect that literature had on him and, you know, 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, 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 mother.

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 he didn't really know much about.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. CAVE: 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?' and he'd go, `Well, no I haven't,' you know, and I'm
going, `Well, you should, Dad.' 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, too...

Mr. CAVE: Yeah, I have four children.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAVE: Yeah. What's my life like? I don't know. My life--I work a lot.
I've got--I seem to have an enormous amount of projects on the go on all sorts
of different things, and it's a very exciting time at the moment. You know,
I'm about to make another Grinderman record and go on a major tour with the
"Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" record by The Bad Seeds. I've got a couple of
soundtracks pending, and I'm working on a new novel. So there's a lot of
stuff happening, and it's--it just feels kind of--it feels like a good time in
that respect.

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 on Wikipedia.

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." 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--yeah?

Mr. CAVE: Well, you know, it worries me. That's always worried me, and it's
something that you 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 depress people--unless there were certain types of people 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.

Mr. CAVE: Whoever wrote that Wikipedia entry actually. But, you know, I
mean, that's not what I--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 the sort of spirit takes you, you know? And
that's a positive and optimistic thing in my view.

GROSS: Nick Cave. He has a new CD with his band The Bad Seeds. It's called
"Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" Here's another track from it called "Today's Lesson."

(Soundbite of "Today's Lesson")

Mr. CAVE: (Singing) Little Janie, she wakes up from a dream
A gun like a jawbone down the waistband of her jeans, oh, yeah
Mr. Sandman, he can recite today's lesson in his sleep
He says `there ought to be some kind of law against me going down the street,'
And little Janie pipes up and she says
She says we're going to have a real cool time tonight
Yeah, tonight...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Coming up, critic at large John Powers reviews the animated TV series
"Death Note." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: John Powers on the anime "Death Note"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Although Japanese animation has been coming to America for years, it's
exploded in the digital age. One of its hits here is a TV series called
"Death Note," which plays on the Cartoon Network. Volume four comes out on
DVD this week. Critic at large John Powers says if you haven't seen the
earlier episodes, it's worth taking the time to catch up.

Mr. JOHN POWERS: A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a Tokyo film
producer, who told me that the best thing to come from Japan in the last few
years wasn't a movie, it was an animated TV series called "Death Note." I
decided to check it out and instantly discovered that, as usual, the teenagers
had gotten there way before me. It turns out that "Death Note," based on a
Japanese comic book, or manga, is a worldwide phenomenon, a cult whose members
extend from Tokyo to Tasmania to Texas. The English language version of the
manga is already in its sixth printing. The TV series has been showing on the
Cartoon Network, and the whole thing is being rolled out on DVD. In the
process, it's created a fan base, including many of my friends' kids, that is,
well, obsessed. Not only do international Web sites hum with passionate
discussions of the story's characters, there are now "Death Note" notebooks,
"Death Note" backpacks, "Death Note" necklaces and, because it's a series for
fanatics, there's even a book on how to read "Death Note."

The reason for its popularity is simple. "Death Note" has an almost
infinitely seductive premise: A bored high school senior gets his hands on a
notebook with a strange power. If you write someone's name in it, that person
will die. The student's name is Light Yagami, a brilliant young man who feels
superior to those around him. Vain, but never petty, Light decides to use the
notebook's power to eliminate evil, casting himself as both judge and jury.
He starts killing off criminals in hopes of creating a new world and, not
incidentally, turning himself into a kind of god.

The police soon realize that there's a special kind of killer out there. They
call him Kira. To track him down, they enlist the help of the world's
greatest detective. He's known simply as L, a boyish, long-haired misfit who
always sits clutching his knees. L and Light begin a dizzying cat-and-mouse
game that eventually involves Light's policeman father, L's sidekicks M and N,
a ditzy pop idol named Misa, various crooked businessmen and, of course, the
run-amok media. Here, early on, Light/Kira discovers from the Internet that
most people secretly support his murder of the criminals, and he reflects on
what this means.

(Soundbite of "Death Note")

Mr. BRAD SWAILE: (As Light/Kira) Although this would probably never happen
in school, let's say that students were asked to discuss whether bad people
deserved to die. Well, you can bet that everyone would give the politically
correct answer.

Unidentified Actress: (In character) It's just wrong to kill people.

Mr. SWAILE: (As Light/Kira) That's what they're bound to say. Of course,
that's the correct response to give, right? Humans will always try to
maintain appearances when they're in public; that's just how we are.

But this is how they really feel. Most are too afraid to support me if
they're worried about what others will think. Many would rather deny my
existence. But on the Internet, where you can remain anonymous, support for
Kira is growing. Maybe people are afraid to say it out loud, but they all
understand what's happening. Someone's making the bad guys disappear one by
one. Those who have done no wrong are cheering for Kira in their hearts
because they have nothing to fear, while those who have done wrong are on the
run. They're forced to hide from an unknown enemy. This is how it should be.
It's perfect. Everything is going just like I planned.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. POWERS: "Death Note" was created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, who
have a real knack for capturing the adolescent psyche. For starters, the
battle between Light and L is the struggle between two models of teenagers.
Light is the socially adept overachiever. He gets good grades, wins at tennis
and snags lots of chicks. He believes he can bend the world to his will. In
contrast, L is something of a nerd--the Japanese term is otaku--an obsessive
outsider who doesn't fit into the world. Both he and Light quickly grasp that
they're actually dopplegangers, two lonely souls who should be best friends;
instead, they're deadly enemies. And because each of them feels that he truly
represents justice, they both actually embody a familiar, slightly comical
teenage arrogance. `If only I ran the world, not those mediocre fools, things
would be a whole lot better.'

Although it's filled with ideas about conformity and the ends justifying the
means, "Death Note" is not exactly Dostoevsky in its exploration of good and
evil. But it is a wonderful piece of pop storytelling that's at least as
addictive as a show like "Lost." It's filled with brilliant twists,
cliffhanger endings and schemes within schemes within schemes.

When my wife and I first began watching, we didn't know how long the series
ran, and at episode 10 we were raving at how skillfully the show was building
to its climax. Oops. We discovered there were still 27 more half-hour
episodes, nearly all of them riveting. But the show's appeal goes beyond the
fact that it's enormously entertaining. For the brainy kids who like it--and
it is a series for brainy kids--"Death Note" offers a tantalizing variation on
the idea that underlies "Harry Potter" and "The Matrix." It's all about a
young chosen one possessed of awesome power who wants to wipe out evil. But
unlike Harry, or Neo in "The Matrix," Light Yagami is an antihero, a rebel
with a cause that's misguided. Even as we identify with his desire to make a
better world, we see that he's led astray by his lack of experience and of
mentors. There's no Dumbledore to be found. Light may want to be a god, but,
in fact, for all his intelligence he's still only a teenager.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue. He reviewed the Japanese TV
series "Death Note," shown on the Cartoon Network's late night Adult Swim
block. Volume four comes out tomorrow.

I'm Terry Gross, and we'll close with music by the composer, saxophonist and
clarinet player Jimmy Giuffre. He died Thursday, two days before his 87th
birthday. He was best known for writing "Four Brothers" for the Woody Herman
Band and for leading his own small groups. Here he is playing his most famous
composition, "The Train and the River."

(Soundbite of "The Train and the River")
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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