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Nick Cave's Thoughts on Elvis Presley

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Gez, Apr 5, 2019.

  1. Gez

    Gez Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hopefully this hasn't been posted already (I searched) - but here is Nick Cave's take on Elvis. It is part of an interactive question and answer series he has been doing with fans called The Red Hand Files - very worthwhile following if you are a fan.

    The Red Hand Files
    ISSUE #34 / APRIL 2019

    What does Elvis mean to you?


    Dear Georgia,

    In early 2000, I saw Johnny Cash walk into a studio in LA, old and ill and temporarily blind (he had toward the end of his life a condition that affected his sight), sit down and sing a song, then transform into a higher being. I have seen Nina Simone climb a flight of stairs to the stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London, barely able to walk, sit down at the piano and be transformed. I have seen Shane MacGowan stand on stage at a concert in France after taking ten LSD trips, and not knowing where he was, shuffle to the microphone, begin to sing so very beautifully, and be transformed. These transformative moments encapsulate the religious nature of performance as they imitate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself. This narrative of suffering and rebirth is played out again and again within our own lives, but I believe it is captured most beautifully, within the musical performance itself. Through the boundless power of music, a performer transcends his or her own wretchedness by performing a kind of public exorcism and by doing so, transforms into a deity.

    In 1981, in London, I saw the movie This Is Elvis. I had always been an Elvis fan, with a special love for the songs he made in the seventies – Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto, Kentucky Rain, Always on My Mind – and had a particular obsession with the gospel album, How Great Thou Art that he recorded in the early sixties. The last ten minutes of This Is Elvis changed my ideas on performance forever.

    In the final minutes of the film, we see Elvis, on stage in Las Vegas, sing the famous so-called ‘Laughing Version’ of Are You Lonesome Tonight? The camera begins with a long shot and does a slow zoom in on Elvis’s face. Elvis is stoned and overweight and by the time he performs the disastrous central monologue, we can see the pure anguish of his performance, the drugged and mortified eyes, the terrible aloneness, the horror of the moment - his vast soul crucified on the cross of his own body as he blunders through the words. It is one of the most traumatic pieces of footage I have ever seen. This is followed by the medley, An American Trilogy. Elvis dies and as the world media reports his death, we hear him sing Dixie over shots of his funeral procession. We see the motorcade, the weeping crowds, the coffin, and the flowers, as the film returns to the Vegas concert and Elvis sings the eternally beautiful All My Trials. To me it is immeasurably moving, Elvis’s head bowed, his extraordinary voice steeped in sorrow - then the band rises, he lifts his head and sings The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Elvis is resurrected, triumphant. It is pure religion and as powerful as anything I have ever seen. The final shot of him, in slow motion, arms outstretched, the angel wings of his silver cape flung wide, shows his exultant ascent into heaven.

    As I walked from the cinema, I was left with these three images - Elvis’s mortified, tear-streaked face; his head hung in sorrowful acceptance; and his caped arms outstretched in triumph. These are the stages of Christ’s passage upon the cross, the anguish, the sufferance and the resurrection, a journey which welcomes us all, in time.

    Elvis continued performing until the end. In my eyes, he was some kind of angel; both terribly and awfully human yet divine in his meteoric reach that touched so many hearts. He was fallible and God-like at the same time. He crucified himself on stage in Vegas, at the supper show and the late show, hundreds and hundreds of times. His latter years on Earth were as sad and lonely as any can be, but his Vegas performances were epic triumphs of human transcendence, where the angels looked down on one who had fallen so far, then looked up to where he ascended.

    Much love, Nick

    Copyright © 2019 Nick Cave Productions, All rights reserved.

  2. blutiga

    blutiga Forum Resident

    OMG :biglaugh:
    bizmopeen and Gez like this.
  3. blutiga

    blutiga Forum Resident

  4. lucan_g

    lucan_g Forum Resident

    I see nothing funny about any of that. StNick is in very elite company when it comes to words and music.
  5. hutlock

    hutlock Forever Breathing

    Cleveland, OH, USA
    mark winstanley likes this.
  6. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    Nick overwrites but it's nice to see a recording artist with this much literary sensibility.
    bob60, RSteven, scobb and 5 others like this.
  7. ljohnfoxx123

    ljohnfoxx123 Lord Foxx Of Chorley

    Elvis singing American Trilogy... is like being in the presence of God.
    So speaketh an atheist.
  8. George Blair

    George Blair Forum Resident

    Portland, OR
    Nick and Bono must have a lot to talk about. Their over-the -top religious imagery is something I find a bit loony. :sigh:
    L.P. likes this.
  9. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley 5.1 should be mandatory for my favourite albums

    That's beautiful, and I agree.
    Love Nick and Elvis
    D.B. likes this.
  10. jpmosu

    jpmosu a.k.a. Mr. Jones

    Ohio, USA
    I don't find these entries to be overwritten in the least. They are provocative--often deliberately so--and never uninteresting.
    Iceman08, Rick H., ganma and 5 others like this.
  11. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley 5.1 should be mandatory for my favourite albums

    I'm going to steal that for my Elvis thread mate. I hope you don't mind.
    Rick H., D.B., Gez and 1 other person like this.
  12. lucan_g

    lucan_g Forum Resident

    Agreed. If ever there was a musician with a complicated relationship to religion it is Nick Cave. Fascinating.

    And I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Athiest. But I've always referred to playing Jerry Garcia Band on Sundays as going to church...
    vonwegen, L.P., Gez and 1 other person like this.
  13. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    Nick Cave isn't an atheist. This is from another of his blogs:

    “Does God exist? I don’t have any evidence either way, but I am not sure that is the right question. For me, the question is what it means to believe. The thing is, against all my better judgement, I find it impossible not to believe, or at the very least not to be engaged in the inquiry of such a thing, which in a way is the same thing. My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is His presence or His absence. I am a believer – in both God’s presence and His absence. I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry. As an extension of this belief, my songs are questions, rarely answers.”​
  14. unclefred

    unclefred Coastie with the Moastie

    Oregon Coast
    There are few things as spiritual or as transformative in our lives as music and as far as my experience, in performing it. A great performer has the ability to project that to the listeners.
    GillyT, D.B., blutiga and 2 others like this.
  15. Gez

    Gez Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Nick's comments about "performing a type of public exorcism" are interesting if you have ever seen early footage of Cave live with The Birthday Party - he is completely unhinged and at times it does not seem at all to be a calculated "performance in front of an audience" but closer to a fit.
  16. blutiga

    blutiga Forum Resident

    Yes, you are right. It's actually a very heavy perspective. Sometimes I forget that it's not all a Post-Punk pisstake. Yes, his literary take on lyrics is above and beyond most others. He is elite. I guess I am still too much stuck in that perspective that Cave's spiritual connection to Elvis and the Southern Blues tradition is similar to John Spencer's one. This is a good read too.
    Information - Nick Cave
    vonwegen, unclefred, Gez and 3 others like this.
  17. ljohnfoxx123

    ljohnfoxx123 Lord Foxx Of Chorley

    You misunderstood my post. The Elvis comment .. was my own.

    I'm the atheist!

    There is NO God. We are but a spark of light in the Universe, then nothing!
  18. Diamond Dog

    Diamond Dog Cautionary Example

    Holy Moley, Nick.... Holy Moley.

    Gez likes this.
  19. Raunchnroll

    Raunchnroll Senior Member

    Well a lot of artists - most - are overly dramatic by nature. It kinda takes that I think, to get up on stage in front of people and presume everyone there wants to see....YOU. The religious hyperbole is a bit much but it comes with the territory.
    Gez likes this.
  20. Diamond Dog

    Diamond Dog Cautionary Example

    Prolix ! Prolix ! Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix... ;)

    crazy eights, vonwegen and Gez like this.
  21. Dellarigg

    Dellarigg Forum Resident

    I like Nick a lot, but I imagine a whole range of subjects would have him talking about Jesus and/or Satan within two sentences.
    Macman, Fill Your Head and Gez like this.
  22. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    Ah, fair enough. But in retrospect you must see how your comment read the other way. I thought you might be assuming on the basis of Nick's lyric to “Into My Arms” where he says that he doesn't believe in an interventionist God, but there the emphasis falls on interventionist rather than God.
  23. BlueSpeedway

    BlueSpeedway Forum Resident

    The famous Vegas "laughing version" of Are You Lonesome Tonight is not the one Cave is describing. It was from 1969, isn't at all disturbing and only exists on audio.

    The Are You Lonesome Tonight horror that he's describing seeing in the This Is Elvis movie is from 1977.
    RSteven and vonwegen like this.
  24. The Killer

    The Killer Dung Heap Rooster

    I saw The Birthday Party in a tiny club in Oxford in 1981, I was 16 at the time. Unhinged? Not a bad description, despite my youth and innocence it seemed a spontaneous performance rather than a calculated one. It's one of those standout gigs for me, amazing!
    vonwegen and Gez like this.
  25. It's Felix

    It's Felix It's not really me

    Isn't he just high all the time back then in the Birthday Party? I find it interesting how drug use and Religious symbolism just go hand in hand all the time. I guess it gives artists like Cave, Jason Pierce, Dylan etc something to write lyrics about. Beyond that, they are all just part of the carefully curated brand.

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