‘One More Time With Feeling’ Q&A With Nick Cave At The Egyptian Theater, Friday July 7th 2017
It was my second time watching Andrew Dominik’s movie about Nick Cave’s public grieving process, and I stand behind everything I have written about ‘One More Time with Feeling’… The movie is a heartbreaking piece of art and to all the Nick Cave detractors that I have encountered these past days, I would only said one thing: if you had attended the Q&A after the screening and looked at Nick Cave’s bright eyes, especially when he hugged a woman who had lost her child the same year his son Arthur died, you would be speechless right now, and you would probably have cried a bit if you have any heart.
I am saying this because I have read and heard a lot about it lately, and if the overwhelming majority of people were sincerely moved and touched by the movie, some have questioned Cave’s intentions, qualified him of pretentious and even qualified the movie of an exploitation of grief. I have even read worse than this and if I would never publicize cheap controversies made up by tabloids, nothing of this sort ever crossed my mind a second during the movie and the Q&A which followed. It was a challenge that Nick Cave accepted, the challenge to be grieving in public, in front of this ridiculous black & white 3-D camera, looking more vulnerable than ever. It was even a dangerous process and it took a lot of courage to do it. I disagree with people who think the movie has any intention of dramatization, or looks like an exploitation of a devastating event. As Nick Cave said many times, he didn’t know what he was doing at the time, and during the entire movie, he looked like a disoriented man, wandering inside an ‘emotional chaos’.
When Andrew Dominik started this project, the perspective to be grieving in public was more than a concern for Cave, not only he would have to do in public, but he was worried about the fact he would have to inflect his situation, his personal drama, on other people, and he also worried this process could be a disservice to his son Arthur. When he saw the movie he said he was horrified by it, however, the response that the movie received on the internet was overwhelming and Cave realized what it meant to a lot of people. ‘It was incredibly healing, and it had that kind of effect on me too,’ he said.
The process turned out to be hugely beneficial, as Nick Cave said several times, he feared that he and his wife Susie would disappear into memory of the past, but the movie actually did prevent them to dive into grief at the risk of never coming back. And more than anything else, performing live ‘Skeleton Tree’ saved him from this. Nick Cave warmly thanked us a few times, mentioning in particular his last performance at the Greek, a ‘communal event’: ‘Something happened that was hugely helpful to me,’ he said, ‘and this is new, usually I don’t create for myself’, when talking about the creative process he considers to be usually directed to be a service to people. ‘It was a surprise to me, it was hugely helpful, so thank you very much for that’.
The most striking thing when you see Nick Cave in person during a Q&A, is that he doesn’t look like the scary and impressive persona he embraces on stage. He is kind, attentive to questions, funny, and obviously very articulate. He still looks thin and tall in his elegant grey suit but he looks almost happy and even laughs a few times, admitting he even had extremely happy days in the last two years. However, trauma is still the problem at the center of his life, grief never goes away, and having a good day doesn’t mean trauma won’t creep up on you the next day.
he insisted, trauma is definitely not good for creativity at all, an idea he had already expressed a lot in the movie. The death of his son is the elephant in the room that takes a lot of time to show its real face during the movie, but it is so vast and terrible in its horror, that there was ‘no air for writing songs’… ‘There’s a lot of more air these days,’ he added, ‘Recording is a joyful thing, it has always has been fun, but I was not experiencing any of that joy for some time’.
The movie, which follows the structure of the album, has no real story, it’s a collection of moments and it captures very well this trauma, and Cave’s inability to function in the studio, in particular during this scene when he looks helpless, sitting behind his piano to record the vocals for ‘Jesus Alone’.
‘We were fucking ninjas, but we had no ideas what we were doing,’ said Andrew Dominik, ‘it was not a primary creative act, so it forced us to be ninjas!’ And, as a woman in the assistance pointed out, a lot is made of the role of Nick Cave’s brilliant and loyal collaborator, Warren Ellis, ‘Everything would collapse without him as a collaborator and friend’, Ellis is the preeminent genius who travels himself as a strong guidance through loss. ‘It’s a cosmic misunderstanding, I’m not sure how it works, but there’s something magical about it,’ smiled Nick Cave about his collaboration with his longtime friend.
As an artist, Nick Cave is still going strong, he said he is writing a new album, he has composed many soundtracks with the help of Ellis, while the old songs keep reinventing themselves when he performs them live. Cave regards his songwriting as a job, something he has to do each morning, and he acknowledges he is not a depressive person. ‘I have sadness but being a depressive person is a whole different thing’.
And if I had asked him a question – I have some regrets but my best ideas always come as afterthoughts – I would have asked him about the origin and strategic timing of one particular text he recites during the movie. He mentions Steve McQueen, an house fly and other exotic places, and if he sounds vulnerable all-movie-long, he has never looked so tough when he walks while saying: ‘Watch out you fuckers, I’ve got my six shooter and my house fly on a lead, I’m Burj Al McQueen and I’m coming to make every last one of you bleed, God is great chances are, god is good, But I wouldn’t go that far, I’m Steve McQueen the atrocity man, With my strap on blood bomb dream, But mostly I curl up inside my typewriter with my housefly and cry, I tell my housefly not to cry, My housefly tells me not to die, Because someone’s got to sing the stars, And someone’s got to sing the rain, And someone’s got to sing the blood, And someone’s got to sing the pain…’
Some people are of course weird and even insensitive, and if the majority of the Q&A went well with sensitive and intelligent questions (despite a few trite ones), one of the last women asked him the strangest and most awkward question: What he thought could be done to prevent kids from committing suicide? You would think someone asking a question to Nick Cave about this delicate subject would be more informed? ‘I don’t know’, answered Nick … and as she insisted he added ‘My son didn’t commit suicide, it was an accident’. He was very graceful and didn’t even change his tone but half of the theater probably hated her at this second, cringing at the awkward question, I even heard a few ‘Leave!!’ and despite a ‘I’m sorry’ from her part after she realized she had not quite understood what had happened, nothing could have been done to erase this awkward moment. I wonder whether this is why Nick Cave took off immediately after the Q&A, whereas he usually hangs around for signing autographs.
Beside this last episode, you could tell people were here because they deeply cared about Nick Cave as a person. ‘You guys are really nice!’ he even said at one point… ‘I should do this for a living’ he joked, when he was overwhelmed by people thanking him.
‘A lot of things got said to you,’ he said when talking about his interaction with strangers in the streets, ‘One thing that gets said is ‘I can’t imagine what it’s like’… but you can, it is what you imagine what it’s like’
But Nick Cave doesn’t feel concerned to be now regarded through this perpetual idea of grief, he is confident that, one day, these songs will live without their heavy burden, ‘They were written and work at this level’ told us Cave, ‘they were certainly written before the tragedy.’
‘Skeleton Tree’ is not very different from ‘A Crow Looked At Me’, an album that Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum recorded immediately following a 14-month agony leading to his wife’s death. Because this is what artists do, they deal creatively with whatever happens to them, this is what they are and this is why we survive.