When you think about the two towering musical figures of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave you might not necessarily see the connection between them. There’s of course a link shared between any songwriters, but there’s something that feels particularly at odds between these two.
One singer has made his name on the morbid and morose, the dark and dingy, the blood-soaked stories of old and the imagined murder ballads of the modern world. While the other pretty much wrote the book on folk, rock and pop songwriting, using personal expression and universal truths to colour his work—but you’d be wrong to not see that their mutual admiration for one another runs deep.
In fact, Cave and Dylan are a natural fit despite their differing public perceptions. The two artists are simply storytellers with different campfires. Cave even admitted that the one song he wishes he had written, across the entirety of music, is Dylan’s ‘Threw It All Away’. “I constantly buy the same record over and over again: I’ve bought so many versions of Nashville Skyline – I must be keeping Dylan in… whatever that is he needs keeping in,” Cave once admitted, not knowing that the adoration went both ways and that he could also count Bob as a fan.
A longtime fan of Dylan’s nearly peerless work, Cave once shared the biblical moment he met one of his dearest idols for the very first time. It’s a classic backstage story that is bound to make you jealous. Featuring Bob Dylan in a rowboat and Nick Cave losing his mind, it’s about as close to a bonafide classic as one might hope.
The scene was a rainy Glastonbury Festival in 1998, one which had seen Dylan, likely charmed by Cave’s macabre storytelling on the 1996 album The Murder Ballads, seek out the Australian to pass on his congratulations. Dylan even allowed Cave to add to the lyrics of his song, ‘Wanted Man’, which he later effortlessly performed with aplomb.
In an interview, Cave romantically recalled the moment Dylan appeared to him as if sent from the festival Heavens, “It was raining heavily and I was standing in the doorway of my trailer in the band enclosure, watching the water rise quicker and quicker, so that now it was running into my trailer.”
Cave theatrically continues as he does with almost all of his writing: “There was a crack of thunder, I looked up and saw a man in a hooded windcheater rowing a tiny boat across the enclosure toward me. The water is now up to my knees. The man pulls the boat in and extends a hand that has a long thumbnail. His hand in mine feels smooth and cold, but giving.”
He added: “The man, who is Bob Dylan, says something like, ‘I like your stuff’, and before I can reply, he turns the boat around and rows back to his trailer.” And a beautiful tableau concludes. While it might not quite reach Cave’s Ulysses (as per his rejection letter to MTV), it’s a beautiful image and one which we won’t ever try to get out of our heads.
With Cave never really one to play things down, we’re not sure how much of this wonderful picture to blindly swallow. The singer has a habit of spinning a few yarns for journalists to hang themselves with.
With Bad Seed frontman’s image of a musical Methuselah sailing across the rough and blood-red seas of bands past to bring him the good word a pleasing one, we think we’ll probably just take him at his word.
After all, we like ‘his stuff’ so why wouldn’t Bob? However much of this story is true, and we hope all of it, one thing is for sure: Bob Dylan and Nick Cave should sail the seven seas together more often.