Nick Cave discusses why he doesn’t write protest songs: “It’s just not what I do.”
Classic anti-racism and police brutality protest songs have re-entered the charts amid the current nationwide reckoning over systemic racism, and plenty of new protest songs have been released over the past few weeks, as well. The topic also came up on Nick Cave's Red Hand Files site, where he answers questions from fans. In the newest edition, JP from Aukland, New Zealand, asks Nick, "Do you ever look back at your anthology and wish you had been more overtly politically outspoken – referring to activism rather than politics per se – in your art?"
Here's Nick's answer:
Perhaps the thing you enjoy about my songs is that they are conflicted, and often deal in uncertainties and ambiguities. My better songs seem to be engaged in an interior struggle between opposing outlooks or states of mind. They rarely settle on anything. My songs sit in that liminal space between decided points of view.
Songs with political agendas inhabit a different space. They have little patience for nuance, neutrality or impartiality. Their aim is to get the message across in as clear and persuasive a manner as possible. There can be great value in these sorts of songs, but they are usually born from a particular combination of rigidity and zealousness, which I personally do not possess. My songs seem to be resistant to fixed, inflexible points of view. They have, as you say, a concern for common, non-hierarchical suffering. They are not in the business of saving the world; rather they are in the business of saving the soul of the world.
Sometimes my songs speak into the current situation and sometimes they do not. I am mostly happy with that. I am happy that people can come to my songs and — even though they may be challenging or confronting — they do not preach and do not divide, and are offered to everyone, without exception.
I have very little control over what songs I write. They are constructed, incrementally, in the smallest of ways, the greater meaning revealing itself after the fact. They are often slippery, amorphous things, with unclear trajectories — position-free attempts at understanding the mysteries of the heart. I guess I could write a protest song, but I think I would, in the end, feel compromised in doing so, not because there aren’t things I am fundamentally opposed to — there are — but because I would be using my particular talents to deal with something I consider to be morally obvious. Personally, I have little inclination to do that. It’s just not what I do.