As Nick Cave again takes to his keyboard to share another response for his Red Hand Files, the Aussie singer was this time reflecting on an industry built on the back of “stealing” each other’s work.
Cave, who recently shared a brilliant cover of T. Rex’s ‘Cosmic Dancer’, was asked about Rising Signs’ claim that a song by Cave and Warren Ellis project Grinderman was incredibly similar to theirs. The singer handles the question with typical grace and honesty.
The song in question, ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ saw Rising Signs make the claim that Cave and Grinderman had perhaps stolen some moments from their song ‘Grey Man’ and whether or not truly “original music” can even be written.
After hearing the claim Vave admitted to semi-confronting his friend and collaborator Warren Ellis. “So, I phoned Warren, who is in lockdown in his studio in Paris, and asked him outright —
“Did you steal ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ from Rising Signs?”
“Fuck, no!” he says, “I stole it from The Laughing Clowns.”
Cave continued, “The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation — everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time,” Cave wrote. “It’s a feeding frenzy of borrowed ideas that goes toward the advancement of rock music — the great artistic experiment of our era.”
“Plagiarism is an ugly word for what, in rock and roll, is a natural and necessary — even admirable — tendency, and that is to steal.” Cave’s words are erudite and succinct, “Theft is the engine of progress, and should be encouraged, even celebrated, provided the stolen idea has been advanced in some way.”
Cave, however, did offer “a word of caution, if you steal an idea and demean or diminish it, you are committing a dire crime for which you will pay a terrible price — whatever talents you may have will, in time, abandon you. If you steal, you must honour the action, further the idea, or be damned.”
It concludes the only way he knows how, with a joke, “What else have you stolen?” I ask Warren.
“Everything,” he says, “Absolutely, everything.”
Find the full letter here. And make sure you read some of Cave’s previous Red Hand Files.