Nick Cave and his family suffered an unthinkable tragedy in 2015, when his 15-year-old son Arthur died after falling from a cliff near the family’s home in Brighton. Cave was midway through recording an album at the time, Skeleton Tree, which was greatly shaped by the tragedy. The family ended up moving to Los Angeles, as living in Brighton ended up being too much to bear.
A Cave fan from Vermont named Cynthia recently wrote to him via The Red Hand Files, a site Cave uses to communicate with fans. She wrote: “I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that I have some communication with them, mostly through dreams. They are helping me. Are you and Susie feeling that your son Arthur is with you and communicating in some way?”
Cave replied, and did so gut-punchingly beautifully, describing the mourning process and the inescapable nature of loss:
This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.
I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.
With love, Nick.
Phew. Heavy. Beautiful. The 2017 documentary One More Time With Feeling documented the Skeleton Tree sessions, Cave’s thinking being that it could be put out in the world to contextualise the album without him having to do endless media appearances and promo.
Directed by Andrew Dominik (Chopper), it’s a must-watch for anyone with even a passing interest in Cave and the creative process. Here’s a trailer:
And here’s a clip, a prose-poem that didn’t make the album but which absolutely bleeds grief.