Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:35 a.m.
In the minds of most people, a cave is a dark, foreboding locale. It seems somewhat appropriate then that Nick Cave is a somewhat scary guy.
What other way to describe an artist who is best known for his mercurial ruminations and anguished pontification. To the uninitiated, Cave's music -- with or without the Birthday Party, Grinderman, the Good Sons and the aptly-named Bad Seeds -- can be intimidating, an unceasing journey to a treacherous underworld where there's little to cheer and even less with which to tether a connection. It's a place frequented by artists like Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Mark Eitzel, Jim Morrison and Mark Lanegan, a realm where cheerless circumstance breeds a brilliance all its own.
Born September 22, 1957 in Warracknabeal, a small provincial town in the state of Victoria, Australia, Cave has, over the course of his career, expanded his parameters and delved into acting, screenwriting, literature and soundtrack scores. Yet the common bond finds an air of mystery and sobering circumstance, derived from both bad behavior and a determination to keep his real life persona at arm's length. It was a pattern of behavior that began early on, when he clashed with local authorities. That led to a spate of criminal activity, which culminated with his mother bailing him out of jail on the exact same day his father was killed in a car crash.
With drugs and alcohol providing the impetus, Cave channeled his angst and intensity into the Birthday Party, a post-punk band whose anarchistic attitude and gothic underpinnings proved a perfect match for Cave's rebellious regimen. Once that group combusted, he formed the Bad Seeds and created an ill-tempered sound that took their branding to its logical extremes.
In some ways Cave has refined his posture in recent years. The course rumblings of his latest incarnation, Grinderman, aside, he invested his more recent music with an inherent drama, an articulate theatrical flair that brings him to the same orbit as classic 20th century composers like Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht. Cave's somber repertoire, seems to take on a life of its own with Cave acting the role of a fidgety Pentecostal preacher, exhorting the masses as he prances around the stage in a Jagger-like strut. Other times he takes repose at the piano, looking like the weary lounge singer, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
The consummate performer, Cave still manages to salvage a humanity and conviction that brings his songs an overriding sense of urgency, and even, on occasion, an unexpected accessibility. To be sure, Cave is capable of trolling the depths of depravity and defiance, but when he fuses the showman with the shaman, he can be utterly compelling.
Was he always this way? Be the judge based upon a photo of Cave from 1960.