Faith, Hope and Carnage Book Summary - Faith, Hope and Carnage Book explained in key points
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Faith, Hope and Carnage summary

Nick Cave

A Meditation on Faith, Art, Music, Freedom, Grief, and Love

4.2 (133 ratings)
17 mins
Table of Contents

    Faith, Hope and Carnage
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    Section 1: Nick Cave on Creativity

    You’d think that after writing more than 250 songs, Nick Cave wouldn’t be scared of the blank page. You’d be wrong. The prospect of putting a new song to paper? Terrifying.

    So, why does he keep doing it? He’s 65 now. Many of his rock-star peers have gracefully retired or disgracefully dropped from view. What drives him to keep creating?

    He finds it hard to put his finger on it. Songwriting, in its early stages, can be nothing short of agonizing. Cave is wracked with anxiety. Sometimes he’ll have a vague image to guide him – his latest album Ghosteen grew from the image of a huge ice sculpture of a man melting slowly in the sun. Other times, he won’t even have that. He starts out writing “little piles of words” that never seem to amount to anything. He convinces himself they never will amount to anything – his wife, Susie, can always tell when he’s in this phase of the creative process.

    But – and perhaps this is why Cave persists – faint glimmers appear between the little piles of rubbish. They start to spark. And those sparks start to connect, forming patterns, messages. He likens it to cracking a code – there was something there all along, he just didn’t know how to see it.

    A lesser songwriter might stop there, at that ecstatic moment of revelation. But 40 years of songwriting have taught Cave to beware of what he terms the “residual idea.” This is the idea that pretends to be an epiphany but is, in reality, shallow. How can he tell which are residual ideas? They feel easy and comfortable. They sound like more of the same – that’s why record companies tend to go for them. But Cave is always reaching for something that feels new, even if that’s unsettling. He’s learned to wait patiently, holding his nerve until the residual idea fades and the original idea surfaces.

    This drive to sound new and surprising has cost him some of his fanbase, he concedes. But he doesn’t want an unwaveringly loyal fanbase. He wants an audience that changes and grows as he does.

    If there’s been a constant throughout Cave’s career it’s a commitment to provocation. As a grubby young punk thumbing his nose at authority in Warrnambool, Australia, he felt it was his “sacred duty to offend.” Now that he’s older and wiser, he feels just the same way. Art, he says, should be challenging, discomfiting, disturbing. It follows, then, that he has a complicated relationship with cancel culture. He sees the benefit in holding people accountable for their actions. But the impulse to cancel, rather than consider, has had a deadening effect on art, he thinks, creating an atmosphere where artists are too timid to tackle difficult, offensive ideas.

    All Cave’s songs, whether provocative or romantic, come to life on stage. As a performer, he can be charismatic, a swaggering rock god. He can be haunting, paring songs back to their pure emotional core. Whatever texture his performance has, though, Cave finds a near-religious thrill in the connection he feels with the audience. This, too, might explain why he keeps creating – because performance gives him spiritual sustenance. A good concert, he says, should feel soul-raising, just like going to church.

    What drives Cave to create? A word that he keeps coming back to is re-enchantment. Whether it's through creating a glimmering new lyrical image, pushing himself to express new ideas, or experiencing the ecstasy of performance, it's through creating that Cave can keep falling in love with the world.

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    What is Faith, Hope and Carnage about?

    Faith, Hope and Carnage (2022) collects a series of interviews between legendary musician Nick Cave, whose primal, goth-tinged music has captivated and challenged audiences for nearly half a century, and the journalist Sean O’Hagan. The pair touch on writer’s block, romance, addiction, and the internet – but always circle back to the topic of grief, specifically how Cave has dealt with the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in 2015.

    Who should read Faith, Hope and Carnage?

    • Die-hard Cave fans, who’ve been following along since The Birthday Party years
    • New Cave fans who’ve fallen in love with Ghosteen or the Red Hand Files
    • Anyone dealing with grief in any form

    About the Author

    Nick Cave is an Australian musician, who rose to prominence in post-punk band The Birthday Party and found global fame with The Bad Seeds. His music is marked by its intensity and his lyrics typically explore violence, religion, sex, and death. 

    Sean O’Hagan is a Northern Irish journalist, who writes on photography and music.

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