Last night I was part of one of these experiments in Birmingham. I was present and enchanted for 3.5 hours. In Conversations With Nick Cave was the best live event I’ve been to. I purposefully didn’t call it a performance because whilst he did perform some of his music, a lot of the event was far from performative — it was raw, intimate, improvised and held an inescapable vulnerability.
So many people I know are trying to design ways to build more connection between people, to make visible our interdependencies and what we have in common. Nick Cave did all of this in one evening.
He opened people up through the music he played. I’m alway so struck by what a generous gift it is when anyone gets up on stage and bares themselves in that way. He gave us so much, how could we not open up in return?
Based on the Red Hand Files (which if you don’t subscribe to I’d really recommend), the audience could ask Nick any question. I loved the faith Nick had in assuming the best of people — there were no content moderators or corporate comms teams to control what might be said in the room. His trust in the audience was received with respect.
Nick never knew what was coming — which he described as “terrifying” — the rest of us, the audience, never knew what was coming either. Some questions took us all to places of grief and sorrow — people shared such personal stories, with the whole of the Symphony Hall playing witness to them. A few questions were a bit banal, and some were more focussed on Nick with questions about his artistic process, what inspires him, how he collaborates etc. And when it all got a bit heavy or there were no words, he walked over to the piano and brought new feelings into the room with another song.
It was both arresting and exhilarating to see Nick up on stage, responding in the moment to whatever came his way with such humanity — sometimes tenderly, sometimes with humour, always with some wisdom. I think the kind of wisdom you only have if you’ve really lived.
And the more Nick revealed about himself in his responses, the more the audience revealed too — the slow stripping back of what can so often get in the way of really seeing one another. The person who asked the question was exposed, Nick was exposed in how he responded, but also each of us in the audience was exposed in how we reacted. You couldn’t not participate.
What I loved and appreciated most of all was Nick talking about Warren Ellis in the days and weeks after Arthur’s death — Nick’s son. He described the difference between compassion and empathy and how in grief you need the distance and big-heartedness of compassion. Warren showed compassion by not being in Nick’s shoes but by being steadfastly beside him.
And alongside compassion, what helped/helps Nick most in his grief is connecting with others. He said that losing Arthur smashed him and Suzy wide open. They could’ve started closing down for preservation, instead, through the making of One More Time With Feeling and then the Red Hand Files, they’ve stayed open and connected through experiencing others sharing their pain and grief too.
I loved the Twitter thread below — the author summarises the evening all so beautifully. And you can read the Guardian review here.