Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave (book)

Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave

Edited by Karen Welberry, La Trobe University, Australia and Tanya Dalziell, The University of Western Australia, Australia  Contents | Introduction | Index

Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave (front)

Nick Cave is now widely recognized as a songwriter, musician, novelist, screenwriter, curator, critic, actor and performer. From the band, The Boys Next Door (1976-1980), to the spoken-word recording, The Secret Life of the Love Song (1998), to the recently acclaimed screenplay of The Proposition (2005) and the Grinderman project (2008), Cave’s career spans thirty years and has produced a comprehensive (and sometimes controversial) body of work that has shaped contemporary alternative culture. Despite intense media interest in Cave, there have been remarkably few comprehensive appraisals of his work, its significance and its impact on understandings of popular culture. In addressing this absence, the present volume is both timely and necessary.

Cultural Seeds brings together an international range of scholars and practitioners, each of whom is uniquely placed to comment on an aspect of Cave’s career. The essays collected here not only generate new ways of seeing and understanding Cave’s contributions to contemporary culture, but set up a dialogue between fields all-too-often separated in the academy and in the media. Topics include Cave and the Presley myth; the aberrant masculinity projected by The Birthday Party; the postcolonial Australian-ness of his humour; his interventions in film and his erotics of the sacred. These essays offer compelling insights and provocative arguments about the fluidity of contemporary artistic practice.

Contents: Introduction, Tanya Dalziell and Karen Welberry; Part I Cultural Contexts: The light within: the 21st century love songs of Nick Cave, Jillian Burt; Planting seeds, Clinton Walker; Nick Cave and the Australian language of laughter, Karen Welberry; Nick Cave, dance performance and the production and consumption of masculinity, Laknath Jayasinghe. Part II Intersections: An audience for antagonism: Nick Cave and doomed celebrity, Chris Bilton; And the Ass Saw the Angel: a novel of fragment and excess, Carol Hart; Red right hand: Nick Cave and the cinema, Adrian Danks; Grinderman: all stripped down, Angela Jones. Part III The Sacred: From mutiny to calling upon the author: Cave”s religion, Robert Eaglestone; Oedipus wrecks: Cave and the Presley myth, Nathan Wiseman-Trowse; Fleshed sacred: the carnal theologies of Nick Cave, Lyn McCredden; The moose and Nick Cave: melancholy, creativity and love songs, Tanya Dalziell; Index.

About the Editor: Dr Karen Welberry, School of Communications, Arts, and Critical Enquiry, La Trobe University, Australia and Dr Tanya Dalziell, English, Communication and Cultural Studies, The University of Western Australia, Australia [ASHGATE – June 2009]


The Light Within: The 21st Century Love Songs of Nick Cave  By  Jillian Burt (Pop Matters, 2 Feb 2008)


13 thoughts on “Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave (book)

  1. I just realised that Tanya Dalziell, co-editor and contributor of the last essay is my tutor for an English unit this semester, I’ll have to have a chat with her on Thursday

  2. I just realised that Tanya Dalziell, co-editor and contributor of the last essay is my tutor for an english unit this semester. I’ll have to chat to her on Wednesday

  3. The good son and the bad seed
    Nick Cave continues to probe the male psyche in his new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro

    BY Chris Bilton September 24, 2009

    When I’m first introduced to Nick Cave, he excuses himself to go out for a fag, which he promptly rolls while ordering more tea. Still rail-thin and deceptively youthful at close range (especially since losing the moustache) he is both expectedly brooding and yet incredibly charming. In his razor-sharp dark suit, he exudes the kind of confidence that has the other diners cranking up their TIFF-trained radar to try and figure out who he might be. Upon joining Cave at a dark corner table in the Hyatt’s Annona restaurant on the morning after his Sept. 16 book-signing appearance at Indigo, we embark on the following palaver about his new book, The Death of Bunny Munro.

    Have you seen the book that La Trobe University put out called Cultural Seeds: Essays on the work of Nick Cave?
    NC: Yeah, I even read it.

    What did you think?
    NC: I thought there were some really interesting essays in it. Some I didn’t go for.

    I wrote one of them.
    NC: Oh yeah, which one did you write?

    An Audience for Antagonism,” about your relationship to the audience during Birthday Party performances and how that relates to an idea of doomed celebrity that runs through some of your later work.
    NC: That wasn’t the one where it called my stage movements gay? *

    No. I was talking more about the violence in your stage movements.
    NC: Good. I rather liked that, actually. To me, it was interesting that people were looking at this stuff from completely different angles. I enjoy the way that it’s not often about me, you know. It’s sort of a springboard for your own imaginations and interests and to me that’s much more interesting. READ IT

    *MORGAN NOTE: The essay in question is: ‘Nick Cave, dance performance and the production and consumption of masculinity’ by Laknath Jayasinghe — Ch 4 in ‘Cultural Seeds’. I refer to it in a previous comment. Now that I’ve read the essay, I can write a follow up post that will (I hope) be of interest. Pending: look for it sometime this weekend.

    FYI: Chris Bilton’s essay is An Audience for Antagonism: Nick Cave and Doomed Celebrity (Ch 5 in ‘Cultural Seeds’)

    • I look forward to reading your response to the dance essay considering I was quite disappointed by it. I’ll be curious to read your opinions!

      Other than 2 or 3 bum essays though, I highly recommend “Cultural Seeds” to fans!

      • UPDATE: The essay I refer to in this comment – “Nick Cave, dance performance and the production and consumption of masculinity” by Laknath Jayasinghe – was revised for the publication of ‘Cultural Seeds’. As I understand it, Mr. Jayasinghe removed material relating to The Bad Seeds in order to restrict the essay’s focus to Nick’s Australian bands – Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party. Apologies to all concerned for the misunderstanding. I very much enjoyed his essay on Nick’s dancing style and appreciated the enlightening discourse on rock music and Australian masculinity.

        – Morgan Wolfe, Feb 8, 2012


        Hi Laura,

        I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. I was delighted to know that Nick read it and was pleased overall. Loved his comment that it wasn’t really about him but was a way for the writers to express their own insights and ideas about the world.

        Yes, I’m working on the longer response. From what I understand the essay was much longer when originally presented in 2004. That abstract includes the Bad Seeds years which this version does not, which is my #1 criticism. It is not a fatal flaw but it leaves the reader with a peculiar flatness, or irritation, as if pages were missing and you find the conclusion just sitting there. I kept saying, Hah? Hah? 🙂 My face is screwed into a massive frowny wrinkle and my head is turned upside down trying to understand.

        Here’s the abstract from the earlier version along with author’s notes and info on the conference theme.


        The kinesthetics of rock music performance : an examination through performativity, masculinity and Nick Cave
        Laknath Jayasinghe
        University of Queensland, Brisbane QLD

        ‘A bunch of snivelling poofs?’: Nick Cave, rock performance, and the question of gender and sexuality

        Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave first received critical acclaim through the post-punk rock scene that developed around St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom, in Melbourne, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a scene that was characterised by a bookish, introverted, narcissistic existence, and one that was greatly influenced by the idea of transgressive sexualities.

        Indeed, Cave’s early performances within the scene attempted to transgress normative assumptions about gender and sexuality in Australia. However, there is a very real sense in which Cave’s onstage performances, moving along the spectrum from the earliest to his most recent, also conformed strongly to more traditional tropes of masculinity within Australia.

        What this paper examines are three different aspects of Nick Cave’s rock music performance in order to argue that these aspects, on the whole, codified traditional discourses of Australian masculinity. Material will be drawn from analyses of television appearances and concert footage of performances from two of Cave’s more important musical vehicles, the explosive The Birthday Party, and his more recent outfit, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. First, the paper will discuss the connection between Nick Cave’s vocal performance and the enactment of his gendered identity. Second, it will be shown how Nick Cave has performed to, and gratified, male heterosexual fans; although there is evidence to suggest that Cave performed to and gratified across a range of non-normative sexualities as well. Finally, it will be argued that Nick Cave’s onstage performances be read as canonising rock music authenticity, an authenticity that is signified as thoroughly masculine.

        PRESENTED IN Masculinities on Stage a two day conferernce at UNE, Shafton Brisbane, 16 April 2004.

        Summary: It is now commonplace to speak of gender as performance, but what does this tell us about masculinities on stage?

        A phrase like ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ enfolds the nature of male action within a circular self-justification. Yet the injunction to ‘act like a man’ recognises how men may act otherwise.

        Does acting like a man come naturally to men? Or does the theatricality of acting denature the masculine project? What happens when ‘real’ men get up on stage? And how do female performers enact masculinity in ways that differ from men?

        This two day conference will explore issues in enacting masculinities on stage by drawing together scholars with interests in theatre, dance, gender and performance.

        The keynote speaker is Professor Michael Mangan from De Montfort University in the United Kingdom, author of Staging Masculinities: History, Gender and Performance (Palgrave 2002).

        The conference is organised by Adrian Kiernander, Bruce Parr and Jonathan Bollen as part of ‘Marking Masculinities’, an ARC Discovery Project based in the School of English, Communication and Theatre at the
        University of New England.
        What a Man’s Gotta Do? Masculinities in Performance.
        Eds. Adrian Kiernander, Jonathan Bollen and Bruce Parr.
        Armidale: Centre for Australian Language, Literature, Theatre and Screen Studies (CALLTS),
        University of New England, 2006, 268pp.
        ISBN: 1921208023
        Sec 3: Masculinities Theatricalised and Queered
        JASAL Vol 7 (2007)

        “There is a need for balance in masculinity studies. The field must be complicated with issues of gender, race, sexuality and class to avoid the risk of normalising white, male heterosexuality as the natural/essential norm of masculinity. The fourteen essays collected in What a Man’s Gotta Do?Masculinities in Performance aim to address these factors. The collection has excellent contributions from the fields of race, gender, queer and performance
        studies; most essays view masculinity as a performance whilst hinting at the enormous institutionalised and ideological pressures for men to perform “dominant masculinities”. Yet, there is inconsistency in the definition of “dominant masculinity” (with some contributors even simplifying the term to a universal “masculinity”, ignoring how race, sexuality and class structure dominance). The strength of the overall collection, however, is that in presenting essays from a wide range of fields contradiction emerges, highlighting the complexities within the field of masculinity studies.”
        – Benjamin Miller, University of New South Wales

        **Laknath Jayasinghe’s chapter reads vocal performance in Nick Cave’s music as at times disrupting and at other times confirming dominant masculinities.


  4. Sounds like an interesting book. I must admit, Nick is probably the only modern artists that I actually have to sit down, with the lyrics in hand, and read them to fully appreciate and understand them. Kudos to Nick for raising the bar on intelligence in music. It has certainly jaded me.

  5. Did you guys download the Intro? It is a worthwhile idea in case anyone out there has questions about the book’s contents and the author’s purpose. Cultural Seeds is high on my wish list, as well. I’m interested in so many of these titles, I have to read it.

    Jillian Burt’s essay is online, and a must-read. She has ‘an intellectual relationship’ with Nick, who actually read her drafts as she was working through the revision process. I don’t know what kind of feedback he offered but I thought that the sharing itself was remarkable.

    ‘The Light Within’ looks at Nick Cave’s love songs after 2000, beginning with ‘As I Sat Sadly By Her Side’. It is brilliant, deeply felt, and marvelously linked to Joseph Campbell’s theories in The Power of Myth. Through this exploration of his work, Nick Cave emerges as an man who understands his own destiny as an artist, writer, and thinker, and the unique timing of his most recent rise in popularity.

    I loved the title, which refers to the (Gnostic) Gospel of St Thomas, which the Catholic Church considers a ‘deviant text’ for its tacit refusal to cast Jesus as a Godly incarnation, but rather, as a man like any other, with a destiny, a purpose, and he has no other choice but to fulfill it. Jesus to his disciples: ‘There is light within a person of light, and it lights up the whole universe; If it does not shine, there is darkness.’ Wonderful.

    I’m also interested in ‘Nick Cave, dance performance and the production and consumption of masculinity’ by Laknath Jayasinghe, an essay that examines the changes in Nick’s dancing style from Boys Next Door era at the Crystal Ballroom to his performances with The Birthday Party at the Manchester Hacienda. This work speaks to the politics of dancing, to audience perceptions of Cave’s masculinity as ranging from queer to macho, and how Nick Cave’s performances challenge the traditional forms of masculinity considered normative in Australian and British culture. For example, Nick was often called a ‘poof’ while at school because of his long hair, a lack of interest in sports, and his unquenchable love of dancing. Even Rowland S. Howard seemed perplexed by it, citing Nick’s habit of coming around to his flat just to dance with Genevieve, often for several hours at a time. Howard referred to it in terms you’d expect to hear from a more typical Australian male: ‘that silly dancing.’

    That’s just for starters … 🙂

  6. This item is very high on my wish list.

    I attended the Nick Cave conference in 2008 at Westminster University and I believe that some of the presentations that day (such as Cave and the Presley myth)feature in this book.

  7. i would love to read this. bit out of my price range tho’. as my birthday is close to christmas i will put it on my wish list. 🙂

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