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Nick Cave: rock music has become “safer, more nostalgic, more cautious & more corporate”

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds at Barclays Center
Nick Cave at Barclays Center in 2018 (more by Ester Segretto)

The question of whether or not rock music is dead or alive and the question of how to reckon with music made by problematic artists are both questions that come up a lot lately, and both were posed to Nick Cave by fans via his Red Hand Files website. Cave answered, and on the state of rock music, he said in part:

My feeling is that modern rock music, as we know it, has anyway been ailing for some time now. It has become afflicted with a kind of tiredness and confusion and faint-heartedness, and no longer has the stamina to fight the great battles that rock music has always fought. It seems to me there is little new or authentic, as it becomes safer, more nostalgic, more cautious and more corporate.

As for music by bad people, he said in part:

Sometimes an individual’s behaviour is purely malevolent, and this surely needs to be exposed for what it is – and we must make a personal choice as to whether or not we engage with their work.

Other recent questions Nick answered included him listing the 10 songs that stand out to him the most and his top 10 love songs. He also recently said that a new Bad Seeds album is “nearly finished.”

Read Nick Cave’s full response below…

Rock music has lurched and shuddered its way through its varied and tumultuous history and somehow managed to survive. It is within the very nature of rock ‘n’ roll to mutate and to transform – to die so it can live again. This churning is what keeps the whole thing moving forward. As musicians we are always in danger of becoming obsolete and superseded by the next generation’s efforts, or by the world itself and its big ideas. Not so long ago the big idea in the world was freedom of expression. It looks like the new big idea is moralism. Will rock music survive this one? We shall see.

My feeling is that modern rock music, as we know it, has anyway been ailing for some time now. It has become afflicted with a kind of tiredness and confusion and faint-heartedness, and no longer has the stamina to fight the great battles that rock music has always fought. It seems to me there is little new or authentic, as it becomes safer, more nostalgic, more cautious and more corporate.

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.

Transgression is fundamental to the artistic imagination, because the imagination deals with the forbidden. Go to your record collection and mind-erase those who have led questionable lives and see how much of it remains. It is the artist who steps beyond the accepted social boundaries who will bring back ideas that shed new light on what it means to be alive. This is, in fact, the artist’s duty – and sometimes this journey is accompanied by a certain dissolute behaviour, especially in rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the nature of rock ‘n’ roll is dissolute. Sometimes an individual’s behaviour is purely malevolent, and this surely needs to be exposed for what it is – and we must make a personal choice as to whether or not we engage with their work.

However, in the world of ideas the sanctimonious have little or no place. Art must be wrestled from the hands of the pious, in whatever form they may come – and they are always coming, knives out, intent on murdering creativity. At this depressing time in rock ‘n’ roll though, perhaps they can serve a purpose, perhaps rock music needs to die for a while, so that something powerful and subversive and truly monumental can rise up out of it.

Love, Nick

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