Nick Cave has a taste for the macabre and the horrific. Later in his career, even when he developed more poetic sensibilities and a softer touch to his musicality, he wrote an entire album of murder ballads. The only difference between his original horror punk outfit, The Birthday Party, and his later vehicle for his mature songwriting, The Bad Seeds, would be the harshness of sound.
Although The Bad Seeds do know how to turn it up occasionally and provide that thrill that his audience has come to love him for, on the whole, the sonics are far subtler. But that doesn’t mean, Cave can’t turn up the menace whenever he needed to.
Cave entered the world of music and celebrity stardom under the guise as the anti-christ: donned in a black suit with a white buttoned shirt and stripe pinned pants with gold jewellery; if he were to walk into a building where nobody knew who he was, they would either think he was a big-time mobster or a high-class New York City artist. The uninitiated Cave fan would not know that he is actually a down to earth, highly mannered gentleman, and while he does possess a dark soul with heavy words to speak for it, he does not pretend that he is anything more than what he is — a human.
Born in Australia, Nick Cave came from the world of art and literature, one which he would bring with him where ever he ended up. From Australia, he and his band of misfits, The Birthday Party, travelled to Berlin, where they found a loyal crowd of outcasts and freaks awaiting their damned arrival. The early Birthday Party shows would exhibit thrusts of violence and explosive rhetoric, something which Cave would show some bitterness towards later in his career. He resented that his band became a novelty act for some to have an excuse to act violently.
The band did, however, thrive in such chaos for a while; behind the scenes, the members of the band had been hooked on heroin and their lives seemed meagerly dissolute in decadence and debauchery. It was explicitly represented in their forceful presentation.
It wasn’t just the music, however. The lyrics to some of The Birthday Party songs were mirror counterparts to the devilish syncopation of the punk styled instrumentation. “Oh ho ho ho ho, Dead Joe,” Nick Cave recites from the lyrics of The Birthday Party song, ‘Dead Joe’ in a rarely seen clip below.
Simple but effective, the song is off their Junkyard album and is co-written by Nick Cave’s girlfriend at the time, Anita Lane. Music critic, Ned Raggett, called the album a “scuzzy masterpiece” and stated, “Cave’s now-demonic vocals in full roar while the rest of the players revamped rhythm & blues and funk into a blood-soaked exorcism.”
‘Dead Joe’ is insulting, ravaging, and epileptic in its staccato rump. It will leave you bitter and confused and yet perhaps faintly in need of some more — listen to the demon within. The Birthday Party specialised in exulting the unexplainable and vanishing the slightest sense of repression. In their best form, they presented horror in the purest of raw expression; in their worst form, they were a bunch of drug addicts falling on top of one another, scrambling for their sanity while dodging fists and flights of fury.
Watch Nick Cave recite his punk lyrics to ‘Dead Joe’, below.