Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Tupelo” (click for lyrics)
On election day I was cheerily envisioning a future beyond hate and war with Robyn and Janelle Monae. Yesterday and today I woke up and the future looked impossibly angry and male and white, surging up from the past, all grudge-guns firing.
It’s not that many white men weren’t among the ones that lost and who will be missed. It’s more that the energy just feels so harsh and threatening.
It feels like the mood created by Nick Cave in “Tupelo,” a drumbeat of pounding anger.
“The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.”
Someone posted that line, from Antonio Gramsci, on Tumblr on Tuesday and I reblogged it again, thinking about it. Because this whole political moment feels like a last gasp of an old century, but it’s still one with teeth and claws.
Horror in movies and music is something we like because it scares us and then we can return to the real world. But when the real world is scary, do we turn to it more or less? Monsters are a way of sorting through our cultural fears, our struggles. Sometimes they show us a way to resist.
I’ve always taken a weird comfort in the twisted fantasies (and, it must be said, transcendent love songs) of Nick Cave. It’s perhaps the last place where I hold on to something Gothic—not black lipstick and corsetry, though I certainly had THAT phase—but something horrific and romantic at the same time, something always slightly ancient and foreboding, something that feels like the past weighted around your ankles.
(The very opposite of pop futurism.)
I spoke to Nick Cave earlier this year for Billboard magazine about his new record with Grinderman, and what much of the conversation revolved around was masculinity, aging masculinity, in rock and whether that was fundamentally antifeminist. They argued that it wasn’t, and I was inclined to agree with them—giving room to your darkest fears and desires in fantasy, in a rock song, allows you an outlet for it instead of a need to turn it inward.
It can be easy to write off entirely the people who threaten us. It’s more difficult to try to understand them, particularly when that energy seems so utterly alien. I lose all capacity for words when faced with the mental knots people tie to justify hatred and viciousness, but perhaps somewhere in this music I can find an answer, a way through. After all, it’s always resonated with me.
This is what I’m telling myself, anyway.