Nick Cave’s palate is wickedly broad in scope. The veteran Australian singer, songwriter and bandleader is a complex storyteller, a master of the dark arts who’s equally adept at touching one’s soul with the tenderness of an “Into My Arms” or a “Ship Song”.
Political songs, however, just aren’t part of his DNA.
In a new entry to his Red Hand Files blog, Cave offered a thoughtful response to a query on whether he wishes he’d tackled “political” themes in his songs.
He would if he could. Cave’s songs, they almost write themselves.
“I have very little control over what songs I write,” he explains. “They are constructed, incrementally, in the smallest of ways, the greater meaning revealing itself after the fact. They are often slippery, amorphous things, with unclear trajectories — position-free attempts at understanding the mysteries of the heart.”
He could bring himself to write a protest song, “but I think I would, in the end, feel compromised in doing so, not because there aren’t things I am fundamentally opposed to — there are — but because I would be using my particular talents to deal with something I consider to be morally obvious.” Don’t hold your breath. “Personally,” he concluded, “I have little inclination to do that. It’s just not what I do.”
While Cave’s musical works don’t dwell on activism or political themes, the ARIA Hall of Fame inductee isn’t afraid to speak his mind. In 2018, he slammed the cultural boycott of Israel as a “cowardly and shameful” movement.
Cave shared an email he’d sent to Brian Eno, one of the artists promoting the boycott. Writing on his blog, Cave explained at the time: “I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies.”
The U.K.-based artist was criticized for playing two dates in Tel Aviv in 2017. The boycott “is partly the reason I am playing Israel – not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians”, he explain, and that shunning the nation “risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support”.