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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    • Fatphil says:

      06:31am | 16/12/10

      Thanks Paul, a nice Pottered History (couldn’t resist) of a genuine artist. He has been around for a long time and I hope he keeps going for a lot longer.

    • Peter says:

      07:03am | 16/12/10

      Indeed. I knew Cave was big in Europe, but a couple of months ago was gob-smacked and mightily impressed to see a double page spread of him in the back of the New Yorker. So, he has also well and truly “made it” in the US too, which means he truly is, as stated in the article, an “international citizen”. He’s certainly as good an ambassador or advertisement for Australia as any. A great antidote to the garish Australianising we received at the hands of Oprah. (Although, one has to admit, it would be very surprising if the actual tourism numbers DIDN’T increase after her little sales pitch)

    • Brimstone says:

      11:35am | 16/12/10

      i left the States 7 years ago, and we were well-aware of him. my best mate dressed like Nick. every album got a big display in bookstores and some press coverage in the NY Times….

    • Steve says:

      07:14am | 16/12/10

      Nick Cave is one of Australia’s music and cultural treasures. A great great songwriter and a fine novelist. Good call putting him in the company of Carey and Co.

    • Macca says:

      07:20am | 16/12/10

      But what we really want to know is how someone like Emma Watson, ugh, Hermione Granger… could fall in love with Ron Weasley??!?

      Answers people!!

    • Lauren says:

      09:32am | 16/12/10

      Because Weasley is our King!!!

    • bec says:

      07:22am | 16/12/10

      Yep, I’m fairly sure it’s been the only “pop” song included in the whole series (though I do vaguely remember hearing snatches of Franz Ferdinand in the sixth).

      That’s why I’ve liked the Harry Potter movies so much. The Twilight series (apart from being based on crap books) have just continually pandered at finding physically attractive actors, and filling the soundtracks with whatever will sell commercially at the time. There’s no substance. It was at least nice to see that the one song chosen for inclusion in the Potter series was a) Australian, and b) quirky and obscure.

      I definitely got a kick out of hearing it.

    • Brimstone says:

      11:36am | 16/12/10

      wasn’t there a British supergroup in one of the movies? Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Greenwood, and someone else?

    • KH says:

      12:51pm | 16/12/10

      Brimstone - it was Phil Selway from Radiohead….......being a Radiohead tragic, I happen to know this….......hehehe

    • bec says:

      01:59pm | 16/12/10

      The bloke from the Stone Roses was in the third movie, reading Stephen Hawking. That I definitely do know.

    • Tim says:

      07:45am | 16/12/10

      Nick Cave,
      the most overrated artist of recent history.
      I know lots of people that “say” they love his music, but very few that would ever have bought one of his albums.
      It’s cool to think Nick Cave’s music is good.

    • randomscrub says:

      09:50am | 16/12/10

      nice cave’s music IS good ... murder ballads still one of my favourites.

      most overrated is a big call ... there is plenty of schlock that gets churned out and it is a rare thing to have a career in the arts that lasts the length of time cave’s has ... quality will usually bring longevity.

      proclamations of what is ‘cool’ are rarely cool ... how is purchasing an album a useful determinant of personal emotional resonance? why judge someone on that basis?

    • Kate says:

      11:07am | 16/12/10

      Surely “most overrated of recent history” would have to go to Lady Gaga? According to her fans, she is a genius.

    • David says:

      11:22am | 16/12/10

      Right, people listen to his music, don’t like it, but say they do because other people might think they are cool? Makes perfect sense.

      Maybe when they say they like it they actually like it?

    • James1 says:

      02:28pm | 16/12/10

      Cave is a lot like the composer Richard Wagner.  His music is much better than it sounds.

    • Reggie says:

      04:04pm | 18/12/10

      Liking Nick Cave does not make me cool, rather the opposite in fact. My friends think his terrible, and rather dominate the soundtract with whiny American rock, which I wouldn’t mind so much if they let me out on some Cave every once in a while…

    • Lynton says:

      07:21pm | 16/02/11

      Tim, I’ve bought quite a few of his albums. I bought one today, in fact.

    • Owen says:

      07:31am | 04/08/12

      I have only met one other Nick Cave fan in my life and own most of his catalogue. I have seen his charting figures. He is also my favourite music artist. His music isn’t good, its spectacular. Does this make me living proof your comment is untrue?

    • Phil says:

      08:14am | 16/12/10

      Nick Cave is a very talented individual. His music covers just about every possible spectrum of taste, genre etc. Some was very dark, others you couldnt tell which drugs he had taken that day, others ballads down to what he calls love songs.
      Wangaratta’s church choir’s greatest export no doubt.
      I take offence at the saying that The Ship Song was every bogans song of choice. Having nearly every Cave album, or cd in my collection, I felt it was a lot better than the usual crap played as wedding songs.
      Personally I dont care for Harry Potter and shant be watching it..

    • Elphaba says:

      08:19am | 16/12/10

      My first exposure to Nick Cave was in The X-Files, S02E06 ‘Ascension’ - “Red Right Hand”.  It’s still on rotation on my iPod all these years later.

      Definitely would much rather say “one of us” than Nicole Kidman.  Blechh.  She’s had so much Botox she looks like a Madame Tussaud’s figure.

    • KH says:

      12:52pm | 16/12/10

      He also has way more talent…...............grin

    • Clare says:

      08:39am | 16/12/10

      3 cheers for Nick Cave! Ain’t he grand?

    • Zeta says:

      08:42am | 16/12/10

      One important point though - Cave moved to London in 1980 and has barely been back except to tour and record a couple of albums when the Bad Seeds still lived in Melbourne. Now his chief collaborator Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three / Bad Seeds is in Paris, he doesn’t need to come back at all.

      From London, to Berlin, to New York and every where in between, Cave during his Birthday Party / early Bad Seeds years was considered one of the most important artists in the world.

      His first taste of Australian recognition was in 1996 - 16 years after the Birthday Party gained cult success. And how? Because he did a duet with Kylie Minogue.

      We had, in Australia, one of the greatest recording artists of all time, one of only a handful of artists in the late 20th century who could be called contemporaries of the likes of Bob Dylan or John Lennon and we didn’t recognise him until he did a novelty song on a concept album with a pop singer.

      Australia doesn’t deserve Nick Cave.

      In many ways Cave is like the alternative universe version of Thomas Keneally. I rate Keneally as one of the best writers of his generation, only one thing holds him back - Australia. If he’d just left after Schindler’s Ark and gone to Berlin or something he’d be one of the best writers of all time. Instead he potters around Manly accepting piddling domestic accolades.

      If an Australian wants to be great, you have to leave Australia. That’s one of the unmovable laws of the universe. Cave did it, and so we should acknowledge the fact that as a nation, we have no ownership of him.

    • Grumpy says:

      11:30am | 16/12/10

      You cant put Nick Cave in the same company as Lennon or Dylan, they wrote stuff people actually liked and sold millions of records and still do even though in the Beatles case, aren’t even making new stuff…Nick Cave’s music just isn’t commercial, you cant blame Australia for that, he is still probably better known here than anywhere else in the world. Australia’s population holds back its Artists, Stupid people are everywhere theres just more opportunity in Europe because of population density. People are always going to say they like Nick Cave because they think its cool to like him and theres a stigma to say anything bad about these Australian bands that stink. Just about every Australian band or Artist bar maybe 10 (and id really have to think to name them) EVER dont suck in comparison to American or English bands, but no one seems to admit it. But if you stick it out and release album after album, even if its crap, Australian bands seem to get some sort of following.Being a musician myself, I dont like any of his songs, ship song is ok, but i can think of a hundred songs id prefer to listen too. I cant really see why people like him, he cant sing and barely holds key. If the point of this article was to point out how he is under-rated, id be more inclined to suggest him being over rated like most Australian bands, because we just dont have anything better, Powderfinger comes to mind.. his record sales reflect this more than my words ever could. The majority of Australian music stinks. Two or Three songs that are listen-able aren’t exactly the makings of a legend. Daniel Johns did more for the quality of Australian music when he was 15 than Nick Cave has in his entire career….The proposition was good though.

    • Brimstone says:

      11:38am | 16/12/10

      i saw Keneally presenting a boring certificate at a boring art school graduation a few weeks ago. if Nick Cave had been there i probably would have fainted
      it’s weird - in the States, i’d never heard of the Kylie duet. the MP3 i had mislabeled it as being with Tori Amos or Leonard Cohen

    • Brimstone says:

      11:41am | 16/12/10

      Grumpy, i’ve put Cave up there with Dylan, Waits, and Elvis Costello for most of my life. and he’s been there since i was an American, with no connection to Aus. maybe some people love him for patriotic reasons but as a 15 year old his music just GRABBED me and didn’t let go

    • Brimstone says:

      11:43am | 16/12/10

      and Grumpy, ‘nothing better’? you know my anti-Aussie bias but even i’ll admit that bands like The Saints, You Am I, The Hard-Ons, The Living End, Radio Birdman, the Beasts of Bourbon, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Capital City, Hoodoo Gurus, The Grates and Architecture in Helsinki stand up easily among the best American rock acts

    • Grumpy says:

      12:35pm | 16/12/10

      @ Brimstone…His influence is pretty strong, ill give him that, but he’s like a poor mans Robert Smith. I dont mind him, i just like stirring shit, but you can find heaps of American stuff that came out in the one year that would pull more influence, like 70’s New York. The grates! They would be my first example of how bad Aussie music is! I almost killed myself when i heard that trampoline song…“Higher….Higher….!” *shudder*

    • Zeta says:

      01:07pm | 16/12/10

      Taste in music is subjective, but in my quest for mathematic excellence I’ve compiled a simple standard for which all excellent music can be judged - can you dance to it? can you make love to it? can you wear a trenchcoat while walking through a dystopic cyberpunk landscape to it? Is it Bowie? Assuming all good music adheres to at least one of these key metrics you can know what is good and what is bad. We call this game ‘Ziggy’s Gambit’.

      In pure mathematical terms we establish Bowie as the greatest recording artist of all time. From there, all artists are established at a game theoretical ‘distance’ from Bowie at -1 -2 -3 -4 etc or for those bands that acheive greatest in areas Bowie did not, such as filthy UK dubstep outfits, or anti-masonic outsider country and western acts, +1 +2 etc etc.

      Where Bowie equals Z, Nick Cave is therefore Z+3/X (where X is the number of times you’ve been in a bar fight while Stagger Lee is playing on the juke box) - Y (where Y is the number of times you’ve listened to Cave after breaking up with your girlfriend) to the power of How Many School Shootings Were Inspired By Nick Cave (answer is 2).

      Thus Nick Cave is good. You can’t argue with the maths.

      Ziggy’s Gambit can also calculate which David Bowie incarnation was superior by Z being the metaphysical notion of Bowie and X being the Bowie aspect you wish to compare. The answer, alarmingly, continues you to be the Thin White Duke. Controversial? But the maths don’t lie. The equilibrium point is actually Spaceboy, from the Hello Spaceboy album.

    • notSue says:

      01:26pm | 16/12/10

      II’ll simplify the math for you Zeta. Nick Cave = Brilliant! ha!

    • Dave-o says:

      08:42am | 16/12/10

      I think Nick should definately get “Australian of the Year”, After all his achievements in the music industry he then goes out and sacrifices his Jag destroying a speed camera.

      My heart swells with pride.

    • Potter Fan says:

      08:55am | 16/12/10

      This song made me cry:(

    • stephen says:

      03:25pm | 16/12/10

      Made my niece cry too.
      A lot of brimstones grumpys and zetas are jumpin on the spaceboy bandwagon. Kooky.
      Why can’t I look as serious when I’m all in black ?

    • Lauren says:

      09:45am | 16/12/10

      Eurgh. As a Potterhead, I just have to say that O Children was the only thing saving that stupid dance scene.

      In the book, Harry and Hermione can’t function without Ron, and are forever snapping at each other or not talking at all. You know how Harry comforts a sobbing and sulky Hermione? He throws Ron’s blanket over her head. Charming.

      But this scene, nothing against Radcliffe or Watson, just doesn’t sit right, simply because screenwriter Kloves LOVES Hermione, and director Yates LOVES Hermione, and they thought, hey, let’s end the dance so it looks like they’re going to kiss. What for??

    • Steely Dan says:

      09:45am | 16/12/10

      Don’t forget his work on ‘The Proposition’ one of the best Aus films of the last decade.  Mr Cave wrote the screenplay and did the soundtrack.

    • Dee says:

      10:50am | 16/12/10

      The Proposition was beautiful and brilliant.

    • Vincent Le Plastrier says:

      09:49am | 16/12/10

      I will admit that I am a 69 year old fan of Nick Cave. Apart from the depth of his own material his covers of other song writing legends is well known in music circles, e.g. Leonard Cohen, (Suzanne, Im Your Man), Bob Dylan (Death Is Not The End) ,Lou Reed, Leadbelly, Isaac Hayes, Harry Belafonte, as a couple of examples.  He may eventually be seen as our own Oz version of Leonard Cohen given the depth and breadth of his material over the past 30 years.  Nick - I’m your fan.

    • Brimstone says:

      11:34am | 16/12/10

      He’s also been on the soundtracks to Shrek, Hellboy (Red Right Hand, obviously), X-Files… growing up as a goth/alternative guy in America my friends and I WORSHIPPED Nick Cave. he’s got a massive underground profile in the states. Spin just published a 10 page article on Grinderman, his CDs all got big displays in Borders, etc. he was more well-known then Kylie, at least in my circle
      when i came to Aus i’d been here 3 months when i saw him headlining Homebake. that got me into Aussie music

    • KH says:

      12:55pm | 16/12/10

      I’m probably showing my age (but I was underage at the time, by a few years!) - Nick Cave was my first ever live rock gig….......at the Seaview Ballroom in St Kilda (anyone remember that place?!)  I vaguely remember being crazy about Rowland Howard….........

    • Eric says:

      07:00am | 17/12/10

      Crystal Ballroom/ Seaview Ballroom at the George Hotel, Fitzroy St. (Have you seen it these days! Maybe that’s why Nick only comes back once a year to visit family, Melbourne has gone plastic!) In those days there was only a few hundred followers for BND, once Birthday Party came along it went ballistic in Melbourne. I still spin the original Missing Link Lp. The video (Nick the Stripper) & album cover pictures where shot at what was the Camberwell Tip, check it on Youtube, it catches the madness of the period.

    • Reid Wright says:

      12:58pm | 16/12/10

      I don’t understand how someone who has been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame a couple of years prior to winning yet another ARIA is an under appreciated artist gathering fame “behind our backs” ?!?! I don’t have space to mention all of his multiple ARIA, AFI, APRA and MOJO awards, oh yeah and the Gucci award for best original script at the Venice Film Festival. Just because you didn’t appreciate him it doesn’t mean he has been underappreciated.

    • Brimstone says:

      03:31pm | 16/12/10

      don’t forget his nomination for last year’s Bad Sex Award

    • Izzy says:

      02:07pm | 16/12/10

      You are a legend !

      Well done to your music, it really set the mood for the film. I’m a Harry Potter buff so I think you did really good.

      Keep it hey?

    • Pforts says:

      02:35pm | 17/12/10

      Why don’t you just marry Nick Cave already, jeeeeeez

    • Stace says:

      12:30pm | 18/12/10

      I’m a little surprised to hear Nick Cave spoken about as though he was so underground. My brother had one or two of his albums about 10 years ago, and I was at an age where I looked up to my brother as the Wise Cultured One, knowing all things hip and cool and popular, while his kid sister (me) was generally happy with the Beatles… so anyway, I just assumed Nick Cave was part of that popular thing my brother did so well!


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