Nick Cave’s Place of Longing

15 Apr

Nick CaveWe all experience within us what the Portuguese call ‘saudade’, an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul, and it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration, and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the love song. Saudade is the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world … [T]he love song is never simply happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love, without having within their lines an ache or a sigh, are not love songs at all, but rather hate songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our human-ness and our God-given right to be sad, and the airwaves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the whispers of sorrow and the echoes of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker reaches of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, magic and joy of love, for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil, so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.

(Nick Cave, ‘The Secret Life of the Love Song’, in The Complete Lyrics 1978-2007 (London: Penguin, 2007), pp. 7-8.)

This is Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave addressing an audience in 1999 on the subject of ‘the secret life of the love song’. As well as talking about saudade, Cave speaks about duende, the Spanish word associated with the heightened emotional world of flamenco and bull-fighting. He quotes Federico García Lorca on the subject and claims that rock music, the field Cave operates in, generally lacks the qualities of saudade and duende: ‘Excitement, often, anger, sometimes – but true sadness, rarely … [I]t would appear that the duende is too fragile to survive the compulsive modernity of the music industry.’
 
My point here is not necessarily to invoke Cave as an expert on saudade, or to question the intricacies of a lack of distinction between duende and saudade. Rather, what I find interesting is the simultaneous locality and universality in this analysis of writing love songs. This tension is set up in the words ‘we all have within us … saudade’; a universally recognizable feeling is presented via recourse to a very specific term from outside the language the speaker is using. This is, of course, a common rhetorical device and perhaps we should not take it for anything more than that. But I think it is provocative, especially coming in a discussion of the love song as something that must be happy and sad, partaking in a dialectic that is akin to the ‘episode of the interval’ that Pessoa used to define fado. Cave’s love song seems to be precisely such an interval. It becomes even more provocative when one is asked to think of Nick Cave as a fadista. This is what had happened in 1994 when the controversial novo fadista Paulo Bragança recorded a version of Cave’s song ‘Sorrows Child’ with the guitarrista Mário Pacheco. In an interview, Bragança maintained the validity of his choice: ‘Throughout his life Nick Cave has been a fadista in the broadest sense of the word and the lyric of “Sorrow’s Child” by itself is already a fado.’ (More on Bragança here and here; the second link requires a little extra navigation.)

Cave and Bragança’s opening out of the discourse echoes that of Lorca, who had the following to say about duende:

This ‘mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain,’ is, in sum, the earth-force, the same duende that fired the heart of Nietzsche, who sought it in its external forms on the Rialto Bridge, or in the music of Bizet, without ever finding it, or understanding that the duende he pursued had rebounded from the mystery-minded Greeks to the Dancers of Cádiz or the gored, Dionysian cry of Silverio’s siguiriya.

This suggestion of a larger context in which to place duende is akin to both the ‘longing for uniqueness’ that Svetlana Boym speaks of when discussing the synonyms of yearning (all of the things Lorca mentions are unique, just as all grammars of nostalgia are) and a longing for negotiation (Umberto Eco’s definition of translation is ‘negotiation’).

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2 Responses to “Nick Cave’s Place of Longing”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lágrima (I) « The Place of Longing - April 20, 2010

    [...] Nick Cave’s Place of Longing [...]

  2. The Road to Novo Fado (I) « The Place of Longing - May 9, 2011

    [...] ‘Adeus’. The bringing together of Cave’s lyric and Pacheco’s guitarra, as mentioned in a previous post, was designed as a way of showing how saudade and a fadista worldview could reside in musics [...]

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