By Jeremy G. Butler (Author Page, Twitter Page, Facebook Page)
What I’m Thankful For:
When I was in middle school I wrote a poem – it was about a man who discovered his wife was having an affair. So, in a moment of blind fury he killed her. Once he realized what he had done he took his own life and all that was left was an empty house and the spectre of violence – the result of a seemingly normal person gone mad. I don’t remember if it was any good or not, but it certainly reflected my sensibilities. I’ve always responded to really dark things – it’s why I got into rap as a kid. I wasn’t old or worldly enough to really understand what it meant, but I really responded to the anger and the aggression, even though I wasn‘t an angry or aggressive person myself. 18-year-old me thought DMX’s “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” was the best thing on Earth, because that shit got DARK (30-year-old me finds it kind of quaint, but I digress…). It’s the same reason we all got into horror movies, it’s why I did my 5th grade book report on Cujo instead of some other age-appropriate shit.
There’s something terribly interesting about the dark corners of humanity. Be it extreme sexuality or violence or what have you – people are capable of some pretty fucked up shit and it’s always fascinated me to look into it and to examine it, even if only on the surface, as it was when I was younger and didn‘t know how to look any deeper than the surface. It’s not a celebration or a fetishistic thing, it’s just something I’ve always seen as an intrinsic part of the human condition and I really respect people who aren’t afraid to hold it up as a part of who we are without apology.
That said, a couple of weeks ago I finally decided to get into Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I got through a couple of records, decided I liked them and pressed on.
Then I listened to “Murder Ballads.” And holy shit.
I guess you could say it’s a concept album, but in a looser sense of the phrase as the tracks don’t come together to tell a single story. Instead, every song is its own story, and they’re all tales of murder. Unflinching, unapologetic and unafraid to examine every facet of it. It’s an album full of characters who have succumbed to their most primal urges, it’s an examination of the psychological connection between sex and violence, it’s sad, it’s schizophrenic, it’s full of swagger and tragedy.
But these aren’t stories in the traditional “Point A to Point B” narrative sense. It’s poetry and it’s fable and the points of view and the tones change from song to song. And after an entire album full of the worst humanity has to offer, the final track comes along, designed to be an uplifting spiritual take on how death is not the end, only a means to transcend all the emptiness of life. But – and maybe it‘s just because I choose to – when I hear it, all I can hear is a man trying with everything he has to convince someone to kill themselves. Yeah – hi-five, Nick Cave.
Musically it’s all over the place, with no one style dominating the album and my favorite track on the album, “The Curse of Millhaven,” has Cave as a 14-year-old girl named Loretta singing her confessions to serial murder with the proclamation that “all God’s children have to die” over an organ-driven bed of evangelical revival music.
And for THAT, I’m thankful.