Nick Cave makes music for the people, for his fans. For the better part of 40 years now, the Australian musician has formed what is an unbreakable bond between him, his art and the people that live it.
In 2013, in Barcelona for an edition of the Primavera Sound Festival, I clambered to the front of the crowd upon hearing Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds rolling into their set opener ‘We No Who U R’. Originally content with my usual position at the edge of the crowd melee, beer in hand, I rolled back the years like an overly enthusiastic teenager and forced myself to the front. ‘Jubilee Street’ came and went, as did ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘Jack the Ripper’ and ‘Tupelo’. By this point I’m deep into the crowd, I’m hot, I’m sweating and I’m enthralled.
Then it happened. ‘Stagger Lee’.
Cave, typically tactile with his fans, reaching out to touch and hold the flailing arms desperate for a personal moment with the Bad Seeds frontman, looked directly into my eyes and gave a willing nod. Reaching out, Cave was stretching to get deeper into crowd and needed assistance. It was at that point his black leather boot was planted on my chest as I used both hands to keep him stable, his fans sweeping forward to be involved. A quick, glancing raise of the eyebrows directed at me in appreciation would follow.
While that incident occurred six years ago its still fresh in my mind as it were yesterday. Nick Cave has the innate ability to form a connection with his fans, to make them feel part of his process, an inclusive moment.
As The Bad Seeds’ stock has risen in the last decade, Cave has actively attempted to make the gap between him and his fans smaller. Whether it be his recent Q&A tour, or his newest fan-led platform Red Right Hand Files, Cave’s commitment to his following is unwavering.
In a recent post via Red Right Hand Files, one of his fans asked the question: “How would you describe a stereotypical Nick Cave fan? We all have a perception of you, how do you perceive us?”. Cave, typically free-flowing in his response, answered: “When I stand on stage I feel a tremendous need emanating from the audience,” he began. “I recognise this need because it exists within myself. I think we all see the opportunity for rapture and recognise its importance.”
He addeL “Ultimately, this is a relationship of mutual dependence, that surpasses simple entertainment and moves into the domain of the sacred. I say this because the performative act, for me, is a process of peeling away one’s ego and self-importance, of letting go and laying oneself open to the audience, in a mutual acknowledgement of each other’s humanity. In doing so, a simple but profound connection is made. This connection is the responsibility of both the audience and the performer – we take each other’s hands and move beyond ourselves to a higher place of spiritual reciprocity in order to restore each other. If we can do this together, we have achieved something sublime.”
The relationship between Cave and his fans is built on a single moment, a single feeling that can’t be replicated. Take, for instance, the my moment with the singer in Barcelona. In any other moment, a fully grown man landing his feet on my chest would be fucking disgusting. For that moment, however, we had an understanding.
“I feel that over time my audience and I have come to fully understand this relationship,” Cave continued. “I think we have brought each other to this heightened place, and we all feel a mutual and urgent call to traverse our individual suffering and just fucking lose ourselves.”
Cave continued: “Perhaps there are some performers who see the performative process as a one-way street, where the artist is dominant and simply delivers, whilst the passive audience receives. Personally, I do not see it in this way, at all. As the writer, Greil Marcus says, the performer needs “an aggressive, critical audience, with a conscious sense of itself as an audience, … one whose complexity and diverse needs can push an artist beyond comfortable limits.” This is how I experience it. I feel, on stage, that the audience is making me, just as I am making them, in an act of shared, primordial creation.
“Our fans have grown to be uniquely devotional, that is to say, devotional to the transcendent experience itself, just as the Bad Seeds and I are more devotional to the audience and their needs. We are all just completely needed and in need.”
In a closing note, I have to admit that people recording live gigs on their phone does come as a point of frustration to me. However, I’ll be forever grateful to the person who record the clip you will find below.
While you can’t see me, let it be safe in the knowledge that Nick Cave’s right boot is being propped up by the author of this article, a fan: