Today’s almost birthday boy (the 22nd) is Nick Cave. I’ve already posted on three Cave songs—one from early in my listening to him—1986’s “Sad Waters”—and two from the two albums of his I still like best: “Brompton Oratory” from The Boatman’s Call (1997) and “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” from Abbatoir Blues (2004)—so I feel I should do something from his most recent album, particularly as I caught him over the summer on tour for Push the Sky Away (2013).
I went with the title track which had become the “can’t get it out of my head” song by the time I saw him in Philly in July. It’s a song that’s suitable to the moment on this blog because it’s following Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Cave covered that song in a raucous, shambolic, irreverent version on 1991’s I’m Your Fan, a tribute album to Cohen with a great range of contributors and songs chosen. Cave also covered “Avalanche,” a fearsome and uncompromising Cohen song from his fiercely uncompromising album Songs of Love and Hate (1971) which Cave has called a longtime favorite.
So, in a way, any Cave song would be fitting due to his acknowledged admiration for Cohen—in Cave’s version of “Tower” he says, “I said to Lenny Cohen ‘how lonely does it get?’ Lenny Cohen hasn’t answered me yet—a million floors above me, in the Tower of Song.” Today’s song, with its very lowkey approach and those background girls that almost equal or dominate the lead vocal in the mix, is very Cohenesque in its approach, its sound, in Cave's almost spoken intoning, and in the simplicity of its lyrics. Very direct, very deliberate.
From a vision of the sun rising over a field while “riding, riding,” Cave chooses not to take away the hopefulness of the first rays of the new rising sun, but rather seems to see it as a breaking light suggesting time is nearly up. The refrain “you’ve got it, just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away” is a way of saying you want to remain earthbound for the near future, not go rapturing your way to heaven any time soon.
“They don’t let a woman kill you, not in the tower of song,” Cohen says in “Tower,” and Cave seems to be meditating on the other things that might make you want to say the jig is up. “If you feel you got everything you came for / If you got everything and you don’t want no more.” That’s the sort of surfeit that suggests “I’ve had enough.” Not so much a plea for something else or better, just a “no more of this, please” vibe. Something to hold at bay with that sky, Cave says.
Likewise if your friends say you should do it different or if they say you should do it the same. No offense to your friends, but . . . what the fuck do they know? It’s not so much that they’re wrong but that they just always have some comment, so if you can let those comments fall about you like the inevitable descent of leaves then . . . maybe, you can push the sky away. Otherwise, it might become a consummation devoutly to be wished.
And some people say it’s just rock and roll / Aww, but it gets you right down to your soul. Ay, there’s the rub that makes calamity of such long life, for who would bear the whips and scorns of time if not for the fact of . . . rock’n’roll.
Happy birthday, Nick, keep on pushing.