"Now who will be the witness/ When you're all too blind to see." -- "The Witness Song"
Very likely, Cave cannot help playing the martyr: Hamlet, Elvis and Elvis' twin dead at birth, Huck Finn, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Dylan's Wanted Man, The Black Crow King, Yeat's Crow Jane, the Geeks in the Carny, Jack and his Shadow, the inmate on Death Row waiting for the Mercy Seat, and, finally, the Good Son, Cain playing Abel in the eternal family dramas of fratricide and patricide.
Sometime in the past two or three years, Cave must have come to grips with the fact that he did not want to die, that his life long, head long, rush into darkness was coming perilously close to extinguishing the one thing he kept doing no matter how bad it got: like the narrator in Samuel Beckett's THE UNNAMABLE, Cave had reached that final point of perfect paradox, the collapse of all epistemological and ontological fields into a single endlessly repeated statement: I can't go on... I'll go on.
A couple of arrests for possession and involvement in a more or less court mandated substance abuse program were merely the mechanical signs of Cave moving in another directs. Musically, since at least YOUR FUNERAL, MY TRIAL, Cave has been experimenting with a range of traditional musics and lyrics. It is, I believe, a mark of his confidence in himself that he no longer needs to define himself by the merely negative. Theodore Adorno has written that the negation of a negative does not bring about a simple reversal -- it shows that the negation was not negative enough. Certainly Cave's writing through MUTINY and THE BAD SEED EP's could be considered negative, an attack on the complacencies of the post-modern as imaged by rock n roll.
Now, instead of standing on the Outside and hacking away at the Lugbrious Beast, the bloated, mawkish Leviathan of Pop, Cave has begun to insinuate himself into the very body of popular music, worming his way into an anatomy riddled with the voracious carcinomas of hyper-consumerism and ravaged by a universal sub-cousciousness that manages, against the bleakest of odds, to grind its teeth in the midst of a slumber the Beast will never shake off.
Cave, of course, is that Beast himself: as each and everyone of us, to one degree or another, also are.
There is a disease that results in the uncontrolled growth of the nerves in the body. Some branch outward and must be trimmed like wayward stems and roots, as they push their way out of the body. But more turn inward and the body becomes a jar of snakes: until one, and it only nees one, breaches the heart's walls and the body drowns in its own blood.
Cave, the Good Son, has come home. His songs have smoothed out, the lyrics have taken on the diction and rhythm of folk songs and his voice has uncoiled and relaxed -- it has become a voice recognizably human.
The new material, songs like "The Good Son," "The Weeping Song," "The Hammer Song," "The Witness Song" and "Lucy," are deceptively simple. On stage, Cave appears at ease and healthy, dressed in a conservative dark suit, a white shirt and a narrow black tie. His voice is strong and confident; the band is controlled and careful. He seems to be actually "enjoying" himself.
But don't be fooled. Cave has taken up residence in the body of rock n roll. And he is still the Bad Seed, the wild nerve, and it is our hearts he seeks to pierce.
By Duane Davis, Copyright 1991.
Top photo is from King Ink II; Bottom photo is by Elizabeth Krause.
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