The Day Nick Cave met Johnny Cash

July 28, 2013 6:09 pm

Musician Nick Cave is known for his dark gothicism, but the original ‘Man in Black’ will always be Johnny Cash. In a recent interview with Marc Maron (listen to the full interview here), Nick Cave talked about meeting the legendary Cash during a once off collaboration in 2002, a year before Johnny Cash passed away.

Nick Cave from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is a legend in his own rights. He seems to have the demeanor of an old-world vampire, with cultish followers and fan girls swooning under his dark romantic lyrics. During the early years (Cave has been making music since the 1970s), his music was eerie, volatile and violent (make-belief genres like ‘graveyard rock’ or ‘carnival jazz’ comes to mind). But with Cave’s 2013 release, Push Away the Sky, one can hear a gradual growth into a subtler and more matured version of his own music. It is not unlike the last recordings Johnny Cash made, the “American Recordings”, in which Cash not only covered a Nick Cave song (The Mercy Seat), but also recorded a duet with the Australian artist.

Johnny Cash, Nick CaveEarly 2002 Cave received a call from Rick Rubin, Cash’s producer at the time, to inquire whether he would like to sing with Cash on his American IV: The Man Comes Around album. It was Cave’s suggestion to do an old Hank William’s song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The grey haired Cash was however already well into the diabetic disease that was to take his life, and Cave was met at the studio by a feeble man. In the somber “American Recordings” series (especially in the last two albums) one can hear a man defiantly staring death in the eyes and gradually coming to terms with his own mortality. Johnny Cash was no longer the young outlaw that eleven year old Nick Cave used to watch on The Johnny Cash Show back in Australia. “When I met him in the studio he was very sick, he was very frail,” said the younger collaborator in the interview.

When Cave first saw him, Cash was being helped down the studio steps. “And then he just sat down with his guitar… and he just became empowered, and Johnny Cash just started singing … it was an incredible thing to see,” Cave emphatically relayed. “I witnessed a man rejuvenated in the studio by what he was doing… I didn’t find it sad, I found it hugely inspiring”.

It might seem strange that this Australian gothic bluesman and the All-American ‘Man in Black’ might have had this moment of artistic intimacy. But when you listen to Nick Cave’s covers of a Cash song (The Singer), a Cash cover of a Nick Cave song (The Mercy Seat), or more importantly the American Recordings collaboration, you can hear a deep musical kinship that transgresses genre and generation. There is a deep shared humanity, and sense of eventual mortality in their duet. The last verse of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” is sung together by the both of them:

The silence of a falling star

Lights up a purple sky

And as I wonder where you are

I’m so lonesome, I could cry

I’m so lonesome, I could cry

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