Nick Cave was recently made a Doctor of Letters at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Following below is the amazing oration the author Kristy Gunn gave in his honor.
25 June 2010
Chancellor, I have the honour to present for the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Nicholas Edward Cave.
“I had a burgeoning interest in violent literature coupled with an unnamed sense of the divinity in things” writes Nick Cave in his introduction to The Gospel of Mark as published as part of Canongate’s Bible series. “I believed in God” he writes, “but I also believed that God was malign and if the Old Testament was testament to anything, it was testament to that… But – “ he adds, “you grow up. 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…Base metals become silver and gold.”
We are here today to honour that alchemy – the seemingly magical transformation of one man’s singular vision into an artistic canon, a body of work that is shared and talked about…From New York to New Lanark. London to L.A. From Warracknabeal in the state of Victoria, Australia, where he was born, to the Caird Hall in Dundee on the Tay Estuary in Scotland where he is now…Here is a visionary “maker” – of songs, stories, books, films and poetry, a singer, songwriter, poet and actor, who mixes fiction and fact, memory and imagination, biography and fantasy to create a world where darkness is illuminated by the flicker of songs’ images and where words forged in the fire of rock ‘n roll and the rattling poverty-stricken Blues turn incandescent on the page and sound in our minds long after the singer and his band have packed up and gone home.
And who is the tall, etiolated figure dressed in a suit that looks like it has been lifted from the back of a travelling preacher? Who is closing the lid of the broken down piano in the public bar of wooden hotel on the outskirts of the desert after the night is done? Who is this alchemist mixing up the spell delivered straight from the underworld, whose private life gives up all its dark secrets to the music?
Well, he was a choir boy once. Nick Cave was born in a small town in Australia in 1957 where he grew up and was educated, forming, at school in the seventies, his first band that later became The Birthday Party and then Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
His work, from the beginning, in Australia and then in Britain, has always attracted a huge cult following and continues to draw fresh audiences from Europe and the New World. His live acts and recordings are at once rhetorical and deranged, calling upon tropes and paradigms that are both known and darkly “other”, flirting with ideas of paedophlila, murder and incest, and lit up by the sort of terrifying self-justifying, righteous ire of a shifty born-again minister and the clear seeing gaze of the poet prophet who understands all, forgives all.
So Nick Cave works his transformations from good to evil and back again. So that “base metal” of his becomes “gold.”
And so do his transformations also take him everywhere – into novels and essays, through the back bars of Berlin and onto the world stage. He has been honoured by universities and institutions such as the ARIA Hall of Fame and Venice Film festival and his suitcases are heavy with awards and distinctions that range from, most recently, Male Artist of the Year, Classic Songwriter of the Year and Mojo’s Best Album. He curates musical events, plays tribute to and resurrects the songs of those who have slipped off into the margins, bringing concerts to life in strange, deeply theatrical performances that mix drama and poetry reading with gospel preaching, the reverberations of metal guitar feedback and a single lonely tune picked out on the keyboard.
His most recent work includes new fiction “The Death of Bunny Munro”, “Grinderman” his recently established garage band and his own solo work on stage and celluloid, providing soundtracks for the bloody apocalyptic visions that are the films “The Proposition” and “The Road”… He moves effortlessly between genres and media to take his place beside you, Chancellor, at the University of Dundee – shadowing us as we go about our studies with the reminder of art’s dark power, of its life enhancing magic, potency and the sheer crazed wonderful’ness of the imagination.
Therefore, Chancellor, it is with great pleasure that I ask you to confer upon he who is embodied here in the poet, the writer, the singer and the song, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa: Nicholas Edward Cave.