Research Colloquium: Nick Cave and the Blues

Research Colloquium: Nick Cave and the Blues

Entwined together in this culture of death’: Nick Cave, the Bad Seeds, and the Blues

Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is Ross Cole (University of Cambridge)

This talk will explore Nick Cave’s engagement with the blues. Entwined with his insistent return to gothic tropes and imagery pertaining to the Southern US in both songwriting and literature, blues mythology provides one of the fulcrums of Cave’s aesthetic. Archetypal
 Delta musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson haunt Cave’s oeuvre, connecting his work to the hybrid and diasporic traditions that Paul Gilroy has termed the ‘black Atlantic’.

Cave’s work, I argue, is deeply grounded in blues sonority and intimately woven into a folkloric veneration of death relating to an historically significant negotiation between outlaw culture and gospel salvation – a path well trodden by bluesmen such as Son House, Christian preacher and prodigal son. Ultimately, I suggest, Cave’s use of the blues is yet one more indication of an unbounded creative imagination that ransacks history in the service of song.

Ross Cole is a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College Cambridge, where he writes on popular and avant-garde music of the twentieth century. He studied at the University of Oxford (BA 1st class with Gibbs Prize, 2009), the University of York (MRes, 2010), and the University of Cambridge (PhD, 2015). Prior to taking up his Fellowship, he held a Temporary Lectureship at Cambridge, where he was awarded the Faculty of Music’s Teaching Prize. His work appears or is forthcoming in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, the Journal of Musicology, Twentieth-Century Music, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and Music and Letters.