In a world where music is commodified, occasionally something comes along and surprises you. Inspires you and mesmerises you. For a moment you forget who you are and you live vicariously through an album. You become that album’s pain and happiness, and its melody and harmony. You are no longer autonomous but for a mere moment, exist dependent on that album for survival. And then you return to your body, your consciousness and your life, but that moment will remain with you because that piece of music has changed you, even if ever so slightly. You felt synchronicity with some part of what you experience and recognised that somewhere someone was feeling the same way you were.
Ghosteen, the newest addition to a long list of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds albums, reminds us we are human. Our emotions make us who we are and Cave bares his soul. This is not a new concept for him and the Bad Seeds though, but something that has been prevalent throughout their extensive catalogue of work and it is reassuring to see it yet again in this record.
Listening to the album though, it’s evident that something has changed for Cave; and how couldn’t it. The death of his son Arthur in 2015 would have challenged everything he knew and understood, dealing with the death of a child is, a tragedy unimaginable. The album is a confessional. It is a personal and honest account of the process of dealing with grief. But it is not wholly morose. In ‘Spinning Song’ the first on the album, the phrase ‘peace will come in time’ is belted by Cave in repetition and despite the tragedy that inspired it, there is a sense of hope and optimism throughout the album. It reminds the listener that for there to be grief, there must have been love and that when one takes the risk of loving something, we must accept that loss is inevitable.
The album is a double album, ‘The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit’ as cave told fans on The Red Hand Files. But, looking at the album holistically, it seems to deal with pain and heartbreak with an honesty that is accessible to everyone and connects with everyone. We all feel pain, on varying levels and on Ghosteen Cave seems to drop all pre-constructed walls and bare it all. On first hearing the album, one might be overwhelmed with the emotional response one feels, we were. There was a sense of awe while listening that had us questioning how something so horrible and heartbreaking could create and inspire the beauty that is Ghosteen.
The album does not stand alone in its beauty it is coupled with the integrity and compassion of a great artist. Ghosteen premiered globally on youtube on the third of October this year and instead of releasing the album in the traditional way it was live-streamed on Youtube. This created a shared experience that individuals all across the world could take part in, and interact with. The comments section of the video is flooded with praise of Cave, joy for the release of a new album, but most importantly it is full of users who express their great sadness and understanding for the pain Cave is expressing.
The comments tell stories of experiences similar to Caves, parents losing children, their pain is no longer a solitary experience but one that is empathised with. People express their heartfelt condolences and share their own experiences in a way that is meant to comfort, or perhaps they are simply sharing in order to illustrate that they know how it feels. Either way, a sense of community emerged due to Caves honesty and willingness to share his experience and bare his soul.
But Ghosteen isn’t the only place he’s baring his soul. On his website The Red Hand Files, he does the same. Fans write in and ask questions about anything and he responds with no pretence, no agenda, and an honesty that is both humbling and beautiful. The questions range from ones about music to those that are more personal.
In most recent, issue number 65, the fan opens up about their struggles with body image and self-esteem or in issue 61 where a fan from Poland ask the only too familiar ‘how long will I be alone?’. In turn, Cave responded and confessed his own experience with the same issues and reminded us that they ring true in all of us to a certain degree. Cave is breaking down barriers with his fans, creating a community of support, and honesty, as well as acceptance when we fall short.
This transpired in his latest tour ‘Conversations with Nick Cave’ where audience members were invited to ask completely unvented questions. We’re not sure what prompted Cave to embark on this journey with his fans, but we’re glad he has. His words have reinvigorated an already deep love for Cave’s music and reminded us of what it means to be human in a complicated world.
We believe that music can save people, can inspire people, and can be a window into a person’s soul; that’s what this album is. Sometimes we forget what a beautifully tragic thing life is, that humanity is the biggest contradiction, and we get caught up in life, distracted by the daily woes, forgetting to just exist. When these moments happen we often find that music brings us back, grounds us and makes us aware again of just how exceptionally sublime life is. Ghosteen is a momentary glimpse into the most tragic of griefs, but from the ashes of grief a beauty emerges and inspires us to be truly thankful for the complexities of human existence. And if this doesn’t, then Cave reminds us to own our feelings and to be unapologetically honest.
It is through his newfound attitude towards being open with his fans that we find Cave reinventing himself. Cave, like all artists, has evolved into a new phase of his career, and himself. Ghosteen has mesmerised us, The Red Hand Files inspired us and Caves as an artist has managed to both remain true to his art, and himself while also, inevitably, growing and changing.