Harry Potter and Australia’s Prince of Darkness
About 15 years ago, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song became the preferred Australian bogan wedding waltz.
The song entered the Australian public consciousness, but the artist behind it remained lesser known and considered something of a fringe dweller, kicking cans on the outskirts.
His gentle song Into My Arms, from 1997, has likewise slowly grown into a national song which can be played on any radio station and will see grandmothers pausing briefly to remember a personal moment from long ago.
Once again, the song was more recognised than the artist. And that is not a bad thing.
Yet somehow, behind our backs, Nick Cave has gone and got about as famous as any has Australian ever has been -well, that’s if Shane Warne hadn’t hooked up with Liz Hurley and overnight became the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of our times.
His song O Children features in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. You’ll know you’ve officially made it when your song is chosen for a Harry Potter film. And if a cheque from the Harry Potter Corporation arrived in your mailbox, your worries would just about be over.
Sometime soon, they’re going to have to make a space for Nick Cave on entertainer rich-lists. His story which goes back more than 30 years, to an obnoxious inner-Melbourne thrash-punk-heroin-art band, The Boys Next Door, to The Birthday Party and then the long-running Bad Seeds band.
At 53, Nick Cave has amassed a huge catalogue of stunning music. He writes novels, such as last year’s The Death of Bunny Munroe, writes film scripts and scores the music to them. He has acted alongside Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
And he’s still running a couple of bands, being the Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Nick Cave isn’t usually talked about in these terms but he is an inspiration. He is seen as cool and remote but he’s something more than all that: he’s a hard worker. He has restored dignity to the job description “artist”.
These days, Nick Cave is up there with Barry Humphries, Peter Carey, Naomi Watts and Geoffrey Rush, highly credible artists who are not particularly thought of as Australians but as international citizens.
It’s not about album sales, book sales or box office receipts, because some shifty fly-by-nighter will always outdo them in that regard. It’s about presence, skill, longevity and knowing how far to go up yourself.
I took some children to see the new Potter the other night (don’t believe the anti-hype, it’s another fine Potter innings), unaware that it had a scene starring the music of Nick Cave.
I’ll probably be corrected by some Potter nerd, but as far as I know this is the first time a “popular” song has ever featured in the seven-stage film series to date -even though an undersized informant in my household tells me that a goblin band played a rock song for the Hogwarts’ Yule Ball in one film, but advises it was purpose-written for the scene.
What happens is this: Ron Bloody Weasley has just run off in a huff. He’s been getting a bit overwrought and he thinks Harry’s doing Hermione. Harry’s actually not doing Hermione.
(It’s better not to dwell on such things. When you’ve watched children grow up around you, as the Potter children have, you don’t really want to know their private business, unless of course it involves the use of methamphetamine. It’s a blessing the film’s makers have handled these issues with understated commonsense.)
Anyway, Harry doesn’t fancy Hermione. He fancies Ron’s sister. Hermione loves Ron, but Ron’s too thick to know it.
Harry and Hermione are wandering about the woodlands, minus Ron, living in a tardis-type tent (from the outside it looks like a two-man job, but inside it’s got wooden floorboards, stairs and a mezzanine level) while they’re trying to escape from these horrible creature-inhabited streams of black pollution that are trying to kill them.
They’re both a bit down. Harry’s listening to the radio. Hermione is sitting there, sulking. There’s a song playing thinly on the radio. It’s O Children, from the 2004 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds double album “Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus”.
Then the song leaves the little radio and fills the cinema’s speakers.
Harry and Hermione dance. Will they kiss? Certainly not. It’s a dance of close friends, and it’s touching because O Children is an enormous, joyous tear-jerker, backed by a choir of beautiful female voices and makes you think of a Sunday morning in a Harlem church, or maybe a 1995 Rwandan funeral.
Deserved luck has also been a good brother to Nick Cave. It was luck – the luck of someone else’s misery – that saw O Children selected for a key scene in the latest Potter film.
The song is sort of an apology to the incoming generation for leaving them such a mess, and also finishes with the apologist wondering if it’s too late to recapture his childhood.
It fits because it’s a bit like the story of young Harry, who inherited a mess of evil which he must try to repair. And you know, the way things are going, when they make the 36th Harry Potter film, Harry will be 70, his job will not be done and he too will leave a mess for the next baby wizard to clean up.
The film’s music supervisor Matt Biffa told the Los Angeles Times how he had found the song. He said he started listening to it when he was breaking up with his wife. “I was really terrified that we were going to hurt our little boys, who were one and three at the time,” he said. “So it was like a love letter to my kids.”
The LA Times reported that buying the song off Cave was easy, as was selling it to the film’s director, David Yates, who was in fact looking for something a bit older and more in the line of an Otis Redding song. But they settled on O Children, an unlikely choice but a good one.
So this little story says only this: in the same week in which the hideous tele-marketer Oprah Winfrey is trying to remind us who we are through the dim prism of Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Julia Gillard and the Irwin family, in our cinemas is a film with a song by an artist of whom you can say, with a permissible fraction of pride: he’s one of us.
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