Nick Cave Explains Why He Won't Change Old "Problematic Lyrics"

“I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”

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Legendary Australian multi-hyphenate and interdisciplinary artist Nick Cave has continued to offer up introspective and thoughtful answers to his dedicated fans’ questions through his website The Red Hand Files. The frontman of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ latest response dealt with an inquiry about his past lyrics now deemed problematic by a society’s ever-changing political and social stances. A user named Gavin from Dublin addressed a specific lyric from Cave’s 1992 song “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” – “a f*g in a whalebone corset dragging his dick across my cheek,” and asked “are you happy to preserve the lyric as a product of its time, and respect the original content?” Nick Cave then sounded off.

“These days, some of my songs are feeling a little nervous. They are like children that have been playing cheerfully in the schoolyard, only to be told that all along they have had some hideous physical deformity,” Cave began. “But what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humor, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?” He also grapples with songs having their own souls and the need to protect art at all costs.

Last year, Nick Cave revealed he recorded a song with the Flatbush Zombies. He also took part in the Swizz Beatz curated “DREAMWEAVERS” Exhibition. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released their seventeenth record, Ghosteen back in October 2019 to widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike. Read Cave’s full response below:

Dear Gavin,

These days, some of my songs are feeling a little nervous. They are like children that have been playing cheerfully in the schoolyard, only to be told that all along they have had some hideous physical deformity. Their little hearts sink and they piss their pants. They leave the playground burning with shame, as a scornful, self-righteous future turns around with its stone and takes aim.

But what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?

Perhaps we writers should have been more careful with our words – I can own this, and I may even agree – however, we should never blame the songs themselves. Songs are divinely constituted organisms. They have their own integrity. As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs. They must be allowed to exist in all their aberrant horror, unmolested by these strident advocates of the innocuous, even if just as some indication that the world has moved toward a better, fairer and more sensitive place. If punishment must be administered, punish the creators, not the songs. We can handle it. I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.

Love, Nick

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