Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is there a doctor in the house?

In acknowledgement of Nick Cave's honorary degree of Doctor of Law from his alma mater, Monash University in Australia (at which he only completed two years), I have set out, dedicated and determined to explore this prolific (and a personal favorite) artist.

Bear with me. Like trying to navigate and contemplate Deuteronomy, Dr.Cave's career is tantamount to the Old and New Testament of the Bible. His poetry, writings, music and vision are intertwined with the gospel, it's effects on his and our collective psyche and the world around us.

A tall order for a little blog, but I'll give it a shot.

For starters, here's an easy one. The signature tune The Mercy Seat from 1988's Tender Prey, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds fifth release.

A prime example of 'Old Testament' Nick Cave, his conviction and ambivalence are clearly evident as he spins a tale of a man and his journey both physically and spiritually to a fate that awaits him in the electric chair. Cave wrestles with virtue, weighing and extolling it's benefits and consequences. I find it particularly interesting how the song ends. The protagonist, after continual professions of indifference and innocence, comes clean:

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I'm afraid I told a lie

This overarching theme, this dichotomy that grips Cave is prevalent in all his work, throughout his career.

In his own words, from the forward he penned for An Introduction To The Gospel According To Mark:

When I bought my first copy of the Bible, the King James version, it was to the Old Testament that I was drawn, with its maniacal, punitive God who dealt out to His long-suffering humanity punishments that had me drop-jawed in disbelief at the very depth of their vengefulness. I had a burgeoning interest in violent literature, coupled with an unnamed sense of the divinity in things and, in my early twenties, the Old Testament spoke to that part of me that railed and hissed and spat at the world. I believed in God, but I also believed that God was malign and if the Old Testament was testament to anything, it was testament to that. Evil seemed to live close to the surface of existence within it, you could smell its mad breath, see the yellow smoke curl from its many pages, hear the blood-curdling moans of despair. It was a wonderful, terrible book, and it was sacred scripture."

FYI, In biblical terms, The Mercy Seat is the slab of solid gold that sits atop the Ark of The Covenant. Cave's keen ability to address, incorporate and manipulate symbolism challenges the listener to think while listening. To hear what is being said beyond just the lyrics and music. This is part of Cave's genius, and his longevity.

Not to be outdone, I've included the Man in Black's cover from 2000's American III: Solitary Man. Amen.

I'm just sayin'.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- The Mercy Seat (Live).mp3

Johnny Cash- The Mercy Seat.mp3

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