I first came across Nick Cave and his music not through listening to The Birthday Party, but believe it or not, from MTV and Kylie Minogue. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds did a song with Kylie Minogue called "Where The Wild Roses Grow", and it was haunting and beautiful and not at all what I'd expect from Kylie Minogue. I wasn't aware of Nick Cave's work and The Birthday Party at the time.
My next Nick Cave encounter was when I first watched Wim Wenders' "Wings Of Desire", one of my favorite films of all time. That scene with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds was bloody fucking brilliant.
"One more song and it's over. But I'm not gonna tell you about a girl... I'm not gonna tell you about a girl..."
By that time, I had enough common sense to LOOK for their music. A new world opened up to me. A world of smoke-filled bars, crooners singing about love and life and death... the band, cigarettes hanging from their lips as they take command of their respective instruments.
I wanted to be a part of it.
It was also the time when, looking for more Bad Seeds stuff, I got interested in The Birthday Party. It was in stark contrast to the cool intensity of The Bad Seeds, but it achieved the same effect.
The music: primal, thrashing and thumping. The words: cryptic and dark. The musicians: hedonistic, bad-ass, cool. Not a care in the world, and a "fuck you" to anyone who says otherwise. The Birthday Party - "Junkyard"
Nick Cave is also responsible for one of the best songs ever written: The Mercy Seat.
This song perfectly conveys the final moments of a man being sent to death on the electric chair. With every verse he moves inches closer to death, and with every verse the band swells up into an almost cacophonous wail of sound with only the piano holding them together. It also has some of the most brilliant lyrics ever, encompassing most of the themes of Nick Cave’s songs (god and death).
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this measuring of proof.
An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
And anyway I told the truth
And I’m not afraid to die.
The man is resigned to his fate, he acknowledges his guilt and welcomes death.
Into the mercy seat I climb
My head is shaved, my head is wired
And like the moth that tries
To enter the bright eye
So I go shuffling out of life
Just to hide in death awhile
And anyway I never lied.
The description of the whole thing is so poetic and intense and a testament to Nick Cave’s brilliant skills as a songwriter. Especially when the “And the mercy seat…” verses are repeated with different variations of the lyrics. “The Mercy Seat” as allusions to both the electric chair and the throne of god = bloody brilliant.
This is a man with a twisted idea of justice, heaven, and religion. He is not actually well-versed on religion, admitting on one part of the verse that most of what he knows about heaven and christ are based on hearsay. And yet he remains faithful, hopeful. Death brings confusion and fear… and this song captures that perfectly, both in the music and the lyrics.