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Humans of Nick Cave: A Very Bad Seeds Ethnography

"I thought he was this amazing mash-up of Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and Satan."

by Zach Schonfeld
27 July 2014, 4:07pm

Nick Cave is an intense individual, as anyone who’s listened to ten seconds of his music or gazed into the stare on one of his album covers can attest to. Nick Cave’s devoted fans are also quite intense (I’d know, I’m one of them). Few of his fans are subject to the attention, mystery, and intrigue that’s defined his public persona since the early 80s–that’s why we turned the lens on them. Just before Cave’s remarkable performance last night in Prospect Park, I roamed through the crowd, seeking out some of the most striking or bizarre Bad Seeds fans and interrogating them about their stories and their obsession.

The result is directly modeled after that Humans of New York project and Facebook page that everyone is obsessed with, though this is a little different. This is Humans of Nick Cave (which I invite Mr. Cave to use as the title of his next novel, perhaps on the subject of a cloning experiment gone terribly awry).


Kris
“I’ve been trying to see Nick Cave for years. Every time I’ve been on tour myself. I play in a band called Pile.”


Rick
“I snuck into the show last night in Philly. We just hopped the fence. It was amazing. The highlight was he had a platform that was maybe 10 feet from the crowd [and] he basically walked into the crowd.”


Tony
“Listening to Murder Ballads alone is really intense. His vocals are just scary sometimes and really, really maniacal.”


Tessa
“We live in North Carolina. I’ve never been to New York before and we just wanted to travel. We’re staying in Brooklyn now, which is cool. We’re vegan and it’s really easy to be vegan here. I’m such a huge music fan and it’s just cool to see the places described in songs.”


Eric
“[I most want to hear] ‘Do You Love Me?’ because my future wife is next to me and I want to sing it to her when it comes on.”
“That’s a pretty violent song.”
“Very violent. I want to hear the dark side of love.”


Quinton and Michele
“They don’t always seem like songs. [They] seem more like poetry. ‘Jubilee Street’ just speaks about the way people judge other people but not even getting themselves correct.”


Adam
“I think probably the coolest thing ever is my dad likes Nick Cave and when I was a kid he was playing this music and I never thought my dad was cool before. He put on ‘Red Right Hand’ and it’s this evil, murder-type ballad and he’s really into it. It was the first time I realized my dad was actually, like, cool.”


Brytny
“I was high on acid 10 years ago. I was maybe 17 years old. My friend played [Nick Cave] and usually I wouldn’t be into that. I was all high and [laughs] that’s the only time I’ve done acid, by the way!
“What album were you listening to?”
“We listened to the very first album to the very last album.”
“You listened to all Nick Cave albums?”
“On repeat the whole acid trip for 48 hours. It was pretty awesome.”


Frank
“When I try [singing like Nick Cave], people tell me to shut up and just play the guitar instrument.”


Angeliska
“We were hanging out in a bar [in 1999] and I was looking at the jukebox and picking out songs. There were Bad Seeds CDs in the jukebox. A guy came up behind me with an Australian accent and said, ‘Nah, nah, you don’t want to play that.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I do.’ I turn around and it was Mick Harvey and all the guys were hanging out in the bar.”
“Was Nick Cave there?”
“He was not. I think he was conceiving his sons that night.”
“What make you think that?”
“The next time he played in New Orleans he mentioned that the last time he played [there] he had conceived his sons. [But] I became friends with some of the Bad Seeds that night and it was a magical time. I wiped a booger on Conway [Savage]. I think Blixa [Bargeld] and I talked about baby carrots.”


Ross
“When I saw him at the Independent Music Awards, he performed ‘Stagger Lee’ and I was right at the front and he was staring at the person next to me during ‘Stagger Lee.’ Staring them dead in the eyes. Everyone gave a kind of radius to the guy because we were all kind of scared of being in Nick Cave’s view.”


Sharky
“I didn’t like The Birthday Party, so I came late to it. It was too far away from Chuck Berry. The farther something gets away from Chuck Berry, the less I like it. It’s the same reason I can’t stand Joy Division.”
“How old were you then?
“I was a film student. It’s what people with questionable tastes listened to at the time.”


Christine
“I think he’s dark and sexy. He’s dark and sexy and a little scary. I think he’s got a little mystery and he’s just really dedicated. What’s that song about ‘Come on over to my place?’ It’s on that Midnight Lazarus-something album…”


Damian
“It depends on my mood, but I do tend to gravitate a lot more towards his romantic side lately. I go to those songs a lot more. I like to feel like they’re part of me and part of my relationship.”


Ann-Eliza (with friend Georgette)
“I saw him in Tennessee. I happened to go to a record store when he was doing a signing I did not even know about. He was only doing record signings for people on a preset list. We didn’t get on the list because we didn’t know he was doing it. We drove from Florida to Tennessee and we told the woman and she said, ‘Let me talk to Mr. Cave’ and I said, ‘Listen, it’s my birthday, I’m here to see Nick Cave.’ He was very gracious to let us on the list. I met him and then after the show we were having drinks at a bar and at the end of the show, after he walked out and signed autographs, I got to meet him again. He said, ‘You again!’


Melissa
“When did you first discover Nick Cave?”
“In the ‘90s. It was the time. And he was like some kind of God, who spoke to me and my friends.”


Joe
“A friend introduced me to him. Saw him live at the Ritz right around that time in ‘91. I thought he was this amazing mash-up of Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and Satan.”
“What’s your tattoo?”
“My tattoo is—when I started listening to Nick there was no particular symbol that was associated with him, but Blixa Bargeld, who was in the Bad Seeds for years and years, had another band called Einstürzende Neubauten. That’s the Einstürzende symbol. I would love to see Blixa play with them again, as well as Mick Harvey.”


Natalie
“He [points to boyfriend René] lost his father last year. Right after that happened, he took his family to see Nick Cave. This is his next time being back, so it’s a very volatile, turbulent band for him.”


Robert
“What’s the most intense experience you’ve had at a Nick Cave show?”
“Doing a lot of drugs! Twenty years ago! The Birthday Party! It’s hard to remember most of my shows back then.”
“What song are you hoping he plays tonight?”
“6” Gold Blade.’ Or ‘6” Knife.’”
“He doesn’t usually play Birthday Party songs anymore.”
“No, never! But it’d be cool if he did.”

Zach is an expert on all things Nick Cave. He's on Twitter - @zzzzaaaacccchhh.

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