Category: Nick Cave

Holidays and heartbreak: The best non-Christmas Christmas song?

As a young'un, whenever I would hear Elvis Presley's take on "Blue Christmas," I would think, "A blue Christmas? How can anyone possibly be sad on Christmas?" "Maybe," I would think, "I'll someday be able to relate to the song," as if I was outlining some self-fulfilling path of gloom.

Alas, as a properly grown man -- my action figures today are neatly dusted and on display rather than strewn about my floor -- I find that the holiday season means something very different from what it did when I was 9. Everyone has his or her own personal memories and nostalgic thoughts, and to continue on this path would be nothing but pure indulgence.

To put it more simply, occasionally I want something a little more serious than "Outer Space Santa." From a master at romanticizing heartbreak, Nick Cave, "I Do, Dear, I Do" usually does the trick. Though simply an outtake from the 1997 album "The Boatman's Call," it has long deserved a proper release, and offers a hint of the kind of beautiful sadness that could someday be a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds holiday album. With themes of redemption and faith playing a central role in a number of Cave's songs, the idea isn't completely far-fetched.

Cave's "I Do, Dear, I Do" is a ballad of mixed emotions, a jumble of reminiscing and frustration at the memory of a loved one who is now with another man. Or as Cave describes him, "a gibbering goon." Very few can seduce with venom as Cave can.

So as he wishes his former love a "happy Christmas," and straddles the line between anger and devotion for seven minutes, Cave captures the grown-up mess of feelings that nails precisely what it means to have a "blue Christmas." 

-- Todd Martens

So how did a Nick Cave song end up in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1'?


Terms such as "Quidditch" and "Muggles" have essentially become part of everyday lexicon due to the "Harry Potter" series. Yet the weirdest and most unexpected addition to the world-o-Potter, one with magic schools, talking photos and violent trees, may very well be something as simple as a song.

Midway through "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1," the characters Harry Potter and Hermione Granger share a dance. The music for the movement comes from an artist whose work has been steeped in lechery, sin and redemption, characteristics not necessarily associated with a holiday-season family blockbuster. Yet there was "O Children," from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, playing a dominant role, with Cave's baritone of heartache at the fore.

How and why music supervisor Matt Biffa came to Cave's "O Children" is relatively simple, and no doubt similar to how many have discovered Cave's fire-and-brimstone rock and darkly haunting ballads: A breakup.   

"I was separating from my wife at the time," Biffa said Tuesday from his London home. "I came across ‘O Children’ in 2004 and I hoarded it. I knew it would be a great song for something, but I didn’t know what. I had forgotten all about it and started listening to it because I was splitting up from my wife. I was really terrified that we were going to hurt our little boys, who were 1 and 3 at the time. So it was like a love letter to my kids."

Lyrically, "O Children," which is featured on the 2004 album "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus," largely plays out like a song of atonement. The moment it comes in "Deathly Hallows" is one in which Harry and Hermione are struggling to carry on with the quest, looking for some sort of strength to emerge from their friendship. Cave's songs have an ability to walk a line between numerous emotions, and cuts such as "Into My Arms" could work equally well at a wedding or a funeral

"Exactly," said Biffa. "There was something really uplifting about that 'O Children,' with lyrics like 'rejoice / lift up your voice,’ and all that stuff. I was thinking of my kids. The lyrics are saying, ‘Forgive us for what we’ve done.’ It started out as a bit of fun, but then there’s weeping. It was horribly on the nose for me. At the same time, it was giving me hope. It’s not the same as writing a song for my children, but this is the closest I can get." 

Selling it to director David Yates wasn't much of challenge, although the filmmaker still had his music supervisor jump through numerous hoops. Remembered Biffa, "David called and said, ‘I think this song is just right, but is there anything better?’" 

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The art of seduction: Nick Cave offers a compelling lesson

Nick_Cave_EPA_2 It comes near the end of the upcoming Grinderman album. Song No. 7, to be specific, for those who still believe in the grouping of musical numbers as a collective work. It hits like a blindsided strike to the face -- a lyric that serves as a menacing put-down and an aggressively persuasive come-on all at once.

The vocals are hard to describe. Nick Cave doesn't so much sing as leer. The guitars, likewise, don't riff so much as scrape. The instrument streaks over the predatory rhythm, at times sounding as if it's mimicking a trumpet. It's dark, sketchy and a little uncomfortable. If Cave wasn't trying to seduce a married woman in her kitchen, it could be the soundtrack Darwyn Cooke's graphic-noir adaption of Donald E. Westlake's "The Hunter." 

"What's this husband of yours ever given to you?" Cave wonders just as the drums move in for in for the kill. "Oprah Winfrey on the plasma screen?" Then the tone of the song, "Kitchenette," starts to really get off the rails. At the start of the cut, Cave was digging into gingerbread cookies, but in a span of two minutes the pleasantries have long been forgotten. The lead guitar turns into a siren, and one braces for an explosion, but the music never gets too reckless. 

The chaos here is controlled, moving at a crawl's space. There's no violence -- the games are all in the head, and Cave is winning. He flashes his teeth even as he shows a bit of vulnerability, howling that he just wants the object of his affection to be his girlfriend, and then slams her children as "bucktoothed imbeciles" who happen to be the "ugliest" kids he's ever seen. Amazingly, it gets Cave even closer to his prey. After all, her no-good kids aren't her fault -- just a reminder of her poor choice in men. And being nice? There's no prize for nice in the world Cave is unraveling. 

The album, "Grinderman 2," is not all so warped and manipulative. The very next track, in fact, "Palaces of Montezuma," is a thing of beauty, and could even be a slow dance at a wedding. It's due Sept. 14 from locals Anti- Records, and Grinderman -- a Cave-led outfit that's a tad more lyrically direct than his work in the Bad Seeds -- will bring the emotional whiplash to the Music Box @ Fonda on Nov. 30. Tickets for the show, which was announced Monday, will go on sale Aug. 20, but there are sure to be pre-sales.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Nick Cave in 2008. Credit: Kiko Huesca / EPA

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