Allegory of the Cave:
Nick Cave on Indians, Old Whores and Hollywood
by Tony Phillips
“I’ve never felt more like an old whore in my life,” says the dashing rocker ‘come screenwriter Nick Cave. The occasion is Mr. Cave’s inaugural Sundance Film Festival. The locale is a Park City hotel room. I am assuming it’s Mr. Cave’s own, judging by the snubbed cigarette and single match in the ash tray and the comfortable way he plops into a chair next to me after having just nixed a sunnier, poolside venue. Mr. Cave, despite his Aussie origins, is not exactly the ‘drinks by the pool’ type.
He’s here with a film he’s penned called The Proposition. It’s a thinking man’s spaghetti Western that features Guy Pearce and tackles Cave’s obsessions that VH 1— of all people — catalogs as “religion, death, love, America and violence.” He’s also moonlighting with two music projects at the festival, the score for The Proposition and a singing and talking spot in the love letter doc to Canadian singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen called I’m Your Man. But Cave actively rejects the typical Sundance marketing mojo of shoving anyone on-stage who’s ever picked up a guitar — or his “proper job” as he calls it — to fill one of the festival’s always-hungry “music café” slots.
“I was asked,” Cave begins, “but, I mean, come on, even these interviews are like some sort of act of consensual rape. It’s staggering just to hear the conversations around you. It is very different from rock and roll because so many people are relying on you and there’s so much money involved that you have to do them.” He then stops himself to add that, of course, he doesn’t mean this interview, but there’s something to his casual élan that allows him to get away with it. Maybe it’s the crisp dress shirt and grey flannel blazer, but one can almost imagine Mr. Cave wearing a tuxedo to the local crack house.
“You get a certain kudos in the rock world, in not accepting awards and such,” Cave agrees, “you can make a career out of that.” He’s so quick to reject his former bad-assing, it’s hard not to wonder if the infamous bad boy is settling down? A glimpse of that answer lies in his return to his native Australia for The Proposition shoot. “I grew up in a small town in Australia,” he says, “but I didn’t grow up in the Outback. And I got out of there as fast as I could. The whole small town Australia thing: I love it, but then I hate it.”
There’s really been no looking back for Cave since getting straight out of Oz in 1980. He launched the first of his two successful bands — The Birthday Party — during the “me decade,” before reinventing his band as The Bad Seeds in the 90s. During that time, he also lived in locales as far flung as Berlin and Sao Paulo while dating fellow musicians as polar as Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey.
“Right now, I’m married,” Cave says of his diminished wanderlust, “I have kids, so in that respect my situation is a lot better than it used to be. Coming back from a tour and going back into what used to be my permanent state of affairs was pretty much a nightmare, but Brighton is actually really nice so that kind of wandering thing is really sort of disappearing. I just like being there.” These days, he’s playing house with Brit model Susie Bick and their twin sons Arthur and Earl. “I just stayed in one place until people got sick of me OD-ing in their toilets,” Cave laughs of the hard-living days, “and then it was time to leave and go somewhere else.”
He’s just as flip about his introduction to screenwriting, detailing his complex first attempt that eventually ended up as a novel. “I had no idea how to write a screenplay at all,” Cave explains, “I never even read one.” He then recalls the opening scene that included an aerial traveling shot over a valley consumed by a firestorm milling with thousands of extras. He excuses his baroque tendencies by saying, “I was taking a lot of speed at the time.”
Still, Cave’s not about to write off rock and roll or its trappings. “Out of all the arts, it’s seen as the one at the bottom,” he complains, “like anyone can do it and it’s done by drug addled kids, but I see it really differently. The act of writing a song is something that’s a really noble enterprise and it’s fucking hard. I’m alone and no one’s given me a theme. It’s just you and your heart and that’s really difficult. People think that writing a screenplay, because it’s a longer thing, is a step up the food chain when actually you don’t even have to know how to write. You just have to write, ‘The Indians came over the hill.’”