Nick Cave Introduces The Gospel According To Mark (Canongate book, 1998)

'The Gospel According To Mark' book artwork

canongate | book | 1998

Nick Cave supplied an illuminating introduction to this small book, which formed part of a series of £1 editions of Biblical chapters. Other works in the series saw Will Self scribing an introduction to Revelation, and Fay Weldon introducing Corinthians.

I consider this illuminating, principally because it seems to offer up something of an explanation for the transition that Nick Cave’s music underwent as The Bad Seeds extrapolated the visionary fire and brimstone works that fell easily out of The Birthday Party‘s howling reverie, stretched that until it snapped, leaving a more mellow, almost meditative sound. ‘Up Jumped The Devil’, so the song goes, but despite running amok through Murder Ballads, it was pretty clear he was running away from Nick Cave.

Cave’s initial disdain for everything New Testament stems, according to his introduction, from his time in the Wangarafta Cathedral Choir in his pre-teens, and he uncharitably describes the book as ‘wishy-washy’ at best and ‘the decaf of worship’ at worst. The interest in the vengeful God of the Old Testament, meting out punishment and retribution to the nascent residents of his planet came from Cave’s interest in violent literature in his early twenties, fully explaining the nihilism which dominated both The Birthday Party and Nick’s own self-abuse.

So, what prompted the shift in focus from the Old to the New, the angry to the reflective? ‘You grow up,’ Cave explains. ‘You do. You mellow out. You no longer find comfort watching a whacked-out God tormenting a wretched humanity as you learn to forgive yourself and the world.’

Cave attributes his turn toward the New Testament to a vicar who suggested he start with this very gospel, ostensibly because it was the shortest. He enthuses over Mark’s grasp of enthralling narrative gestures and mysterious simplicity, his portrait of Christ as a solitary figure and one focussed on the fate that he knew was ahead of him. Cave also cites Mark as continuing to influence his spirituality and religiousness: ‘The essential humanness of Mark‘s Christ provides us with a blueprint for our own lives, so that we have something that we can aspire to, rather than revere, that can lift us free of the mundanity of our existences, rather than affirming the notion that we are lowly and unworthy.’

It’s a long, long way from ‘Nick The Stripper’ but delivered with such a compelling grasp of theology that it may well have prompted a religious conversion among a few fans with its enthusiastic words, much like Mark did for Cave himself.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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