Stranger Than Kindness | The fascinating “gogosses” of Nick Cave

“What are you doing in my office?” “, Launched Nick Cave, Tuesday afternoon, entering a room full of journalists, in downtown Montreal. His office ? At the heart of the exhibition stranger than kindnesswhich will welcome the public from Friday, is a room teeming with books, records and scattered papers. An (almost) identical replica of his real office.

Posted at 6:00 a.m.

Dominique Tardif

Dominique Tardif
The Press

In 1987, when he was at the worst of his heroin addiction, Nick Cave expressed in a will the wish that in case of misfortune, a memorial museum would be created in his memory, in order to save from the dump all his ” important brats” (in English: “ its important shit”). The Australian singer is (thankfully) still alive, but his important “gogosses” are currently gathered in Montreal in a kind of mausoleum in honor of the many lives contained in his fascinating and tumultuous existence.

A museum in his honor? Nothing less ? “It says a lot about the exaggerated vision I had of my own greatness at that time,” explained the musician with great self-derision during a very informal press conference he held on Tuesday, since the back of his own office. Dressed in his usual suit, the most punk of crooners, 64 broomsticks and slender as if he were 20, will have offered generous answers, full of fruitful silences, during which he seemed to be constantly trying to find the word best translating his thought.

The smug young man he once was has visibly given way to an artist who places gratitude at the center of his relationship to the world, after many years lived under the yoke of melancholy and obsession.

All the sacrifices of creating, the illusion of being a genius, all the relationships that disintegrate because you’re absorbed in your work, everything this office represents, in fact, it’s not me anymore. I’ve come to realize that when I’m on my deathbed, I won’t brag to my wife about writing The mercy seat [une de ses grandes chansons]. That’s not what is essential.

Nick Cave

Thanks to Cohen

If the shambles of his office testify to a creator obsessed with his own universe, the corridor of gratitude, the penultimate room of the exhibition, brings together a series of artefacts that draw the portrait of the present in the present. ‘a man less tortured, almost appeased.

Among these: Nina Simone’s famous chewing gum, collected in 1999 by Cave’s comrade, Warren Ellis, as well as a letter sent by Leonard Cohen in 2015 following the tragic death of his son, who was only 15 years old. A laconic missive, but which consoled Nick Cave more than anything else, he confided on Tuesday. “Dear Nick, I am with you, brother. »

The ghost of Leonard Cohen hovers over the entire exhibition, for the simple and good reason that the author of bird on the wire is one of the masters of Nick Cave. The Bad Seeds founder was 14 when a friend of a friend pitched him Songs of love and hateMontrealer’s third album.


Nick Cave, who was about to answer questions from journalists.

I was just this weird boy in the heart of an Australian village where I couldn’t relate to what mattered to others. Leonard Cohen’s voice sent a seismic shock through me. Suddenly someone understood me. Leonard Cohen’s voice has become like that of a wise friend. hear the song avalanche allowed me to put words to my own anxieties, my own anger.

Nick Cave

The banal and the sacred

Divided into eight rooms, the exhibition stranger than kindness was fashioned by curator Christina Back, in collaboration with her subject, from the rich material of the real possessions of Nick Cave who, until a few days ago, was lending a hand to the team by pinning himself even stuff on the walls (including a recent letter from Tom Waits). “He gave us all, all his books,” swears the commissioner. Poor man, they exclaim. “No, he was very happy. It allows him to buy new ones! »

After the first room, the most traditional of the course, which lines up the photos of youth (a Nick Cave, child, dressed as a cowboy, a Nick Cave a little older, in the front row of a show by the legendary Australian punk band The Saints), the exhibition takes a turn that is more like immersive art. A room in the shape of a circus tent retraces the history of The Birthday Party, his first group. Another, plunged into darkness, collects the words of several members of the Bad Seeds.

A reproduction of the room that Cave lived in in the vibrant Kreuzberg district of Berlin in the early 1980s, recreates a chaotic storage room where Catholic effigies and posters of Elvis rub shoulders. These kitsch objects, bought at the flea market, plant the two poles articulating the work of Nick Cave, where the banal and the sacred have always been inextricable, and where rock music has always had the allure of a spiritual quest.

We tried to avoid making the exhibition look like a big statement like this: this is who Nick Cave is, this is what he stands for. The idea was rather to offer a glimpse of things that could enrich the understanding of his work.

Christina Back, curator

In Copenhagen, where the exhibition was born in April 2021, disciples of Cave showed up every day to examine each of the volumes contained in his vast library. Quick glance: books by Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Don DeLillo, Rimbaud, Bataille, Lispector, Goethe, Robbe-Grillet, Pessoa, autobiographies by Charles Mingus and Merle Haggard, translations of his own novels.

Christina Back randomly picks up a diary lying on a table. She leafs through it. “Look here, there’s Kylie Minogue’s number. ” It is called ? A colleague of the commissioner showers our hopes. “The diary dates from 1994, it must have changed numbers. »

Montrealer Victor Shiffman, who co-produced the exhibition and who in 2017 was behind the presentation of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything at the Museum of Contemporary Art, says he saw Nick Cave, a few days ago, spend ten minutes in front of a small screen hung on one of the walls of the corridor of gratitude, where family photos appear. Images in which the mysterious cursed poet, in the company of his wife and sons, almost looks like an ordinary father. “He was here in this room, all alone, in silence, watching his life pass before his eyes. »

Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibitionfrom April 8 to August 7, at the Galerie de la Maison du Festival.

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