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Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Séan O’Hagan

January 28, 2023

I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave’s music for decades, since he was putting albums out with his band The Bad Seeds. But it wasn’t until he and his composing partner Warren Ellis started working on scores for movies that I came to appreciate the remarkable range of his music talent, from punk to piano ballads to orchestral scores to the complex, ethereal, atmospheric music he and Warren are putting out now, including their latest album, Carnage.

In 2019, I went to a Nick Cave solo show that was billed as “Conversations with Nick Cave: An evening of talk and music.” I had no idea what to expect. It was one of the most memorable concert experiences ever — Nick in conversation with the audience, an open Q&A about topics ranging from his music to his religious views to grief, death, drug abuse, the life of a touring musician and more. He spoke about the death of his 14-year-old son, Arthur, who fell from a cliff in 2015. He gave advice to young musicians and writers looking for a path forward. He interspersed the talk with songs, some by request from the audience, including a very sweet request from a father there with his young son, who listens to Cave’s “The Ship Song” every night before bed. The show was transcendent.

Cave stopped doing interviews with the press years ago, but in 2018 he started an online experiment called “The Red Hand Files,” where he invites fans to ask him anything. He spends a lot of his time writing long, thoughtful replies there.

These experiments — the Conversations tour and The Red Hand Files — are Cave communing with his fans in a way that most musicians, most celebrities, are reticent to do. It’s raw, honest, unscripted, messy.

Faith, God and Carnage is a continuation of this experiment. Over the past few years, journalist Séan O’Hagan held a series of interviews with Cave, ranging through all the topics that Cave has been open to discussing on the other forums.

Like those wide-ranging conversations, this book is all over the place. It’s both its strength and, depending on how much you know or care about Cave’s artistic endeavors, its weakness. Cave has thoughtful, nuanced views on all the big topics — art, religion, politics, life and death. Many of his views are a surprising mix, the brash confidence of a rock star, an insatiable creative drive, but also the humility, doubt and wisdom of a searching soul. He is an artist chastened by incredible loss and tragedy.

When O’Hagan asks him if he agrees that it’s intrinsically human to doubt, Cave replies: “Well yes I do. And the rigid and self-righteous certainty of some religious people — and some atheists for that matter — is something I find disagreeable. The hubris of it. The sanctimonious, it leaves me cold. The more overtly unshakable ones beliefs are, the more diminished they seem to become because they have stopped questioning, and the not questioning can sometimes be accompanied by an attitude of moral superiority. The belligerent dogmatism of the current cultural moment is a case in point. A bit of humility wouldn’t go astray.”

It’s these exchanges, where he’s thinking out loud through the complexities of belief and doubt and his own search, that offer the most unique, provocative moments. It embodies the thought that he offers in this video interview with O’Hagan, that the value is in the search, not the destination.

He also dives into relationships with his bandmates, the creative process on his recent albums, his creative habits, the sculpture project he started during covid, and a handful of other topics that might be of less interest to readers who aren’t as interested in Caves creative work.

This is not only a book for fans. But readers not interested in Cave’s creative endeavors will need to cherry pick and will find themselves skimming through sections. But for Nick Cave fans, this is a fantastic book, a really unique and delightful read.

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