Saturday, September 10, 2016

258 candles-58 days

Is hope possible to find in the interminable pain of intimate loss? As a hospice chaplain, I've been asked some variation on this question many times, and the best answer I have is that for some there can be, while for some there will never be. I have always heard the submerged wail of hope in the creak of Nick Cave's voice. Like Lou Reed, it's that undercurrent that it can be better than this that touches me and keeps me listening. As Pete Seeger taught us, "When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?"

My intro to Nick and the Bad Seeds came, like for many of my generation, through the lens of punk, and in my case their appearance in Wings of Desire. I've rewound and rewatched that scene so often those inches on my VHS tape show grey. (And there is no question in my mind why both Nick and Lou appear in Faraway, So Close, Wim Wenders' sequal.) But, unlike Lou's case, I have never been such a fan that I keep track of his life and what happens in it.

Which is why it was over a year after it happened that I heard about his son's accidental death. And I have only heard now in reading a, rather touching, article about his new album about, not his son's death, but about Nick and his family's grief. It may seem ironic, bitterly so, that a poet of suffering and death should have such an intimate experience of both, but why not? Death comes to us all, and sometimes it happens to our loved ones before it happens for us. When it happens to someone as thoughtful about it as Nick Cave, or to a lesser degree, a hospice chaplain, individuals seen as being, in some ways, celebrants or even friends with death, it doesn't negate our profound grief. Cave's The Skeleton Tree, of which I've only heard the three cuts included here, strikes me as an attempt to convey the odd way optimism struggles to dig itself free after burial in the ashes of grief. As Nick sings gently in the final moments of the album, "It's all right now."

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