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Since Everyone Is Reposting The Red Hand Files, Here is My Best Of

the Red Hand Files

Nick Cave


I get the Red Hand Files in my mailbox about twice a week, and each one of them is a little treat that I save for a quiet moment during the day, as I certainly don’t want to read it in a hurry when I am getting ready for work or I am too busy.

In case you didn’t know, The Red Hand Files are written by Nick Cave, and each time he picks one or two questions sent by fans and shares his thoughts on the subject. Because he is Nick Cave, it’s always profound and thoughtful, honest and revelatory, often moving and funny, and so well written.

But when there is a new Red Hand File, you can be sure that NME, The Guardian, Brooklyn Vegan, Consequence of Sound and every other music blog that exists, is publishing the content. What kind of lazy move is that? If you are a fan of Nick Cave you have already read the content of the file and there’s no need to see all these duplicates on social media. If you are not a fan, you may even pass on reading or chose to read it, become an instant fan and subscribe to the Red Hand Files… which makes all these music blog posts useless. I don’t need to re-read what I get in my mailbox, but on the other hand, this keeps Nick Cave in the news and I am all for that.

Over the course of 57 Red Hand Files, I have enjoyed every single line of them, while they have covered many subjects with the same Cave-esque lyricism and clairvoyant depth. Sometimes one file covers several subjects, sometimes it focuses on one unique thing, but it’s never trivial even when he is talking about bands’ merchandise. Instead of reposting each file written by Nick Cave over a year, here is a ‘Best of’. Honestly, I could have made many other selections, and this is just a sample of the incredible goodness and richness that the Red Hand Files have to offer

On creation and lyrics:‘Lyric ideas are as illusive as fireflies. They are spirits flitting between the trees. The moment you give them your attention, they are gone.’

On absence and loss:‘Absence is not vacancy. Vacancy has no voice. Vacancy is empty and banal and atheistic. Absence, on the other hand, is a fertile ground where loss and love coalesce around memory to create ghosts that live among us. Absence is alive with energy.’

On Boredom:‘Boredom is often dismissed as a lack of imagination – this is not true. Boredom is a signal that we are indeed imaginative creatures, and that the existential distress of being in a state of blah is often the mind readying itself for the epiphany.’

On grief, spirits, and ideas: ‘Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.’

More on grief: ‘But, as you know, grief is also tidal. In time, it can recede and leave us with feelings of peace and advancement, only for it to wash back in with all its crushing hopelessness and sorrow. Back and forth it goes, but with each retreating drift of despair, we are left a little stronger, more resilient, more essential and better at our new life.’

On God: ‘My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is His presence or His absence.  I am a believer – in both God’s presence and His absence. I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry. As an extension of this belief, my songs are questions, rarely answers.’

More on God: ‘So, how do I really feel about God? Well, the more absent He feels, and the more indifferent the cosmos appears to be, the more fervent and necessary my search for meaning becomes. For me though, the actual existence of God is beside the point – the argument between belief and disbelief does nothing to assuage the sadness and emptiness I sometimes feel in the face of existence. Prayer and meditation, however, do help me hugely, even if I am praying to a phantom or a memory or an invention. These acts of devotion and investment in the unknowable define my life. Whether God is my witness or whether He is not, is not of my concern and has no real impact on the spiritual nature of my life. For me, the search itself is where the action is.’

More on God (sort of ): ‘Is this world cruel? I don’t think so. I think this world is indifferent and indifference is not cruelty.’

On signs and my favorite atheists: ‘Far be it from us to believe in signs; far be it from us to believe in spirits; far be it from us to intuit indications that the universe is not as it seems or, worse, that the dead are trying to tell us something – oh no! – because that would make us delusional (Richard Dawkins) or intellectually dishonest (Sam Harris) or in denial of death (Ernest Becker) or unreasonable (Steven Pinker) or cowardly (Bertrand Russell) or stupid (Ricky Gervais) or woo-woo (George from Alabama) – and we can’t have that! Yet here we are, with these lurking suspicions, these hunches, all around us. What do we do with them? […]For some of us, this is not simply wishful thinking or lack of nerve or being “stupid”, but a survival instinct that can bring great meaning to our lives, whether or not it conforms to the facts.’

On the current state of rock & roll: ‘As far as rock music goes, I think that the new moral zealotry that is descending upon our culture could actually be a good thing. Maybe, it is exactly what rock ‘n’ roll needs at this moment in time. Contemporary rock music no longer seems to have the fortitude to contend with these enemies of the imagination, these enemies of art – and in this present form perhaps rock music isn’t worth saving. The permafrost of puritanism could be the antidote for the weariness and nostalgia that grips it. Perhaps a painful reckoning is needed – a great crushing of creativity that descends and lays its self-righteous ice across art – so that in time, a wild, dangerous and radical form of music can tear its way through the ice, teeth bared, and rock ‘n’ roll can get back to the business of transgression.’

On bands’ merchandise: ‘So, to answer your question would I wear a pair of merch socks myself? The answer is well, yeah, I do – when I do Jane Fonda’s Workout with my wife, I wear a pair of Radiohead compression socks, RiRi sweatpants, a Leather Nun T-shirt and a Dire Straits headband. I am a star jumping, butt-clenching dervish of banality and exploitation. Look at me now!’

And a piece of advice from his own mother: ‘Head high and fuck ‘em all.’


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