My name is Nick Cave and I have a few things to tell you.
— Nick Cave, "The Secret Life of the Love Song"
Do you have a favorite love song? A top three or four? Here are some of mine: "Something" (The Beatles), "God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys), "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (The Police), "Tupelo Honey" (Van Morrison). There are lots of others, but what's hard to miss—whether you're listening to Percy Sledge or Hank Williams, Etta James or Taylor Swift, the Beatles or the Beach Boys—is that the very best ones tend to embody both the joy we associate with love and the yearning pain we connect with it, as well.
Nick Cave is an Australian singer, songwriter, poet, and author. When he was 19, Nick lost his father in a car accident, and it was this trauma that magnetized him to songwriting. "The way I learned to fill that hole, that void was to write. It provided me," Cave said, "direct access to my imagination, to inspiration, and ultimately, to God." About three years after losing his dad, Cave moved to London, becoming a part of the emerging Gothic Rock movement. As you might imagine from the name, it's dark. His band—Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds—continued to develop, though, drawing inspiration from Southern spirituals, the blues, and the Old Testament. And while his music has always retained a fascination with darkness and death, as his career and his faith evolved and he pushed the boundaries of his craft as a songwriter, themes of grace and hints of mercy began to emerge in his compositions. "The actualizing of God through the medium of the love song," he has said, "remains my prime motivation as an artist."
By 1998, Cave was widely regarded as one of the music world's most creative lyricists and was asked to speak at the Vienna Poetry Academy where he gave a speech entitled, "The Secret Life of the Love Song." The speech was so well received that the following year he was asked to give it again in London, during which he said this:
...the Love Song comes in many guises... [but] they all address God... it's the howl in the void for love and for comfort... it's in the cry of one chained to the earth and craving flight... the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world. The Love Song is the light of God, deep down, blasting up through our wounds.
That our best love songs tend to blend joy with longing reflects C.S. Lewis's observation that what's most beautiful and sublime in our world always seems to carry inside it a touch of melancholy, a hint of sadness. Lewis posits that this is because even the best of earthly pleasures, like our love for each other, is merely a "copy, or echo, or mirage" of the real thing—God's divine love for us and ours for God when we reach our "true country," that more-real-than-real eternal realm for which we were actually created. Reiterating a form of Lewis's idea in his speech, Cave said, "Ultimately, the Love Song exists to fill, with language, the silence between ourselves and God, to decrease the distance between the temporal and the divine."
While in each successive period of his career, Nick Cave has, in some sense, distanced himself artistically from the world of rock and roll, he's continued to mine its countercultural DNA, coming closer and closer to creating what might be considered a new genre of music that combines all his influences. In his latest offering entitled Seven Psalms, there's love, there's arresting beauty, there's longing, there's faith, there's suffering (Cave has tragically lost two of his sons in the last seven years), but at root, there's an acknowledgement of the true country of which Lewis spoke.
The cover art for Seven Psalms is Bible-black, the title printed soberly in gold, a cross above the artist's name at the bottom in small letters. It was published with these words from Cave himself: "The seven psalms are presented as one long meditation—on faith, rage, love, grief, mercy, sex, and praise. A veiled, contemplative offering borne of an uncertain time. I hope you like it."
I do. Ambient. Cave's remarkable voice. Beautiful, spoken lyrics from a modern Psalmist. It probably won't break into your list of favorite love songs, but maybe a new list is in order: Love Songs for the True Country.
God — "One bright day I will come and I will kneel within your boundless majesty so clear." Amen.
— Greg Funderburk