MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND

BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds "Tender Prey" Cover

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Tender Prey

Mute, 1988

I was raised Catholic and went to church almost every Sunday for the first 16 years of my life. I was deeply spiritual from an early age, praying quite often, my heart a blossoming rose for Jesus, whose unfettered love for even the lowest of humankind, (lepers and whores, ya know?) conflated with my early understanding of non-violence espoused by my parents via the influence of Cesar Chavez and their work with the United Farm Workers, “el Movimiento,” to create such waves of intensity within me that I remember wondering if I was supposed to become a priest, my thoughts a constant churning hurricane, my heart rendered each time I had ‘sinful’ thoughts and begged for forgiveness inside, the inner monologue such a torrent of compulsion, “is this God’s voice,” I wondered, “O have I been Chosen?” Faith was at war with what my intellect, a cold sobering Reason, whispered and I knew it to be the light of Truth, and the summer I turned 16, I went to a Youth Summer Camp for Christian leadership and there I learned I was not like the other attendees, my spirituality was almost too broad for the parameters they wanted to set for me. I had been reading about Buddhism and American Transcendentalism as well and I thought I cannot do this anymore and I told my parents, because I had been ‘Confirmed,’ I was considered mature enough to make my own decisions, and to my parents’ credit, even though they were not happy with my decision, they respected it, and to this day I still feel very ‘culturally Catholic’ as my brother Julio puts it; the inculcated guilt runs deep but I’ve never looked back or regretted my decision to leave, it has only given me more strength and resolve over time.

A couple years later, I’m at Lollapalooza, I don’t know shit about shit, I’m there because Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins are headlining, and there’s a black-clad, sharply dressed band that is bringing serious fire-and-brimstone vibes, and the singer’s got his boot on the monitor and his baritone voice intones, “And the mercy seat is waiting/ And I think my head is burning/ And in a way I’m yearning/ to be done with all this measuring of truth/ an eye for an eye/ a tooth for a tooth/ and I’m not afraid to die” and I can hear the words perfectly clear and the older punks and goths, almost all heavily tattooed, dressed elegantly in black and blood-red, are banging their heads up front and the music is huge, and not just rock and roll or punk rock but something almost industrial, a maelstrom of noise but not exactly cacophonous, it is pointed and driving, the din and motion of machinery doused in some hellhound blues, (like, there’s a slide guitar in there for sure) or gospel; O this is Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, O I am a Bad Seed, O let me run with you, let us all outrun the hellhounds together, ‘the sick breath gathering at my(our) hind,’ and their entire set has this energy, this poetry, it’s primordial, anterior to religion but spiritual and holy, biblical and artful but not didactic.

Later, I have to find those songs that caught me, that “Mercy Seat” one and the one where I had to run, “City of Refuge.” They are here on this record. I now have maybe half of the records that Nick Cave has put out in a prolific career that spans several seminal bands, from The Boys Next Door to The Birthday Party to The Bad Seeds and Grinderman, and he now composes musical scores for film. He has aged well, both graciously and gracefully, although he has faced some of the worst personal tragedies a man can imagine. He’s a true poet, making a musical lexicography from the prosaic to the profane. He is erudite, well versed in the Judeo-Christian Bible but reads and researches other Holy Books, other epics of poetry, and other religions as well. He now has a subscription-based email correspondence with fans, called the Red Right Hand Files, (check it out!) that is lovely, brutally honest and funny, so as to be downright beguiling and disarming, because it’s so full of love, empathy and compassion. Nick Cave may not be a holy man but he exposes the holiness in life, in this mortal coil, in survival. Deeply spiritual, he’s the only Saint Nick I truly believe in.

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