In the next instalment of 200 Sad Songs, we are dragged into the darkest corner of Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’, documenting the split of a pair, and the emotional hell that rides in soon after it.
When Nick Cave searches for meaning, he really searches.
Consider this song, one of the darkest in a catalogue which contains an entire album called ‘Murder Ballads’. He cannot fathom how a woman he lost is yet to be found by another, such is her everlasting beauty and grace. Not simply content with the idea she may be enjoying her independence, he delves into the great tomes of history to gather a clearer understanding. Or maybe he killed her, and this is why she is nobody’s baby now. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time; I’m surprised more of his murderous claims haven’t been formally investigated, especially the well-publicised Elisa Day case.
Despite claiming in ‘Into My Arms’ to not believe in an interventionist God (and being the only writer to successfully cram ‘interventionist’ into a song), he nevertheless studies the scriptures to “unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ, the saviour.” He pores over anthropological texts, reads poetry, travels the world, but is bereft of anything approaching an answer.
This is a song about dark, driven obsession. He seems to conflate his all-assuming desire for her and the passion that drove this love off the cliff into one and the same. Verse two opens with the confessional, “I loved her then and I guess I love her still. Hers is the face I see when a certain mood moves in.” Hints at violence or infidelity soon enter, with the striking “But there are some things love won’t allow. I held her hand, but I don’t hold it now.”
She tore his many letters to shreds (if you date Nick Cave, one thing you can be assured of is being the recipient of many letters – certainly handwritten, probably in sweeping cursive, and possibly penned with a calligraphy set) and he understands the reasons for this, at least: “I was a cruel-hearted man.”
It is clear, as stated earlier, that he is still obsessed with her. If she isn’t dead, but merely no longer his – or anyone else’s – baby, then the anguish takes on an interesting new form. It’s one thing for someone to choose another over you – at least this can be rationalised by our silly survival-of-the-fittest monkey brain. But for her to leave him in order to be alone – that’s a direct result of the type of person he was and the way in which he acted towards her. She’d rather be by herself than with him. It’s a harsh, simple truth, and the questions he asks himself have no convenient answers – no wonder he couldn’t find anything in the Bible!