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Thursday 9 March 2023

It's Vast And Wild And As Deep As The Sea

This is the second post written this week in response to something coming through the ether/ internet that connects me to Isaac's death. This has led to a couple of more straightforward, lighter hearted music posts being shunted back into next week. The first connection was Fontaines DC and their cover of Nick Drake's 'Cello Song that I wrote about two days ago here. The same evening I sat writing that post I got my regular email update from Nick Cave's Red Hand Files. 

Nick started The Red Hand Files a few years ago as a means of direct communication with fans, an interaction with no moderation involved, no one screening the emails or reading them for him. He gets hundreds, maybe thousands of emails a week (and says there are some people who email him weekly too). From these emails, all of which he says he reads, he replies to one, publicly, sending it out to subscribers by email and uploading it to The Red Hand Files website. You may well subscribe and read them already. 

The topics range widely, taking in all kinds of art, life, culture and personal enquiries. Recently he's replied to questions about Johnny Cash, the banning of the song Delilah, the cougar in the Hollywood hills, AI produced art, religion and spirituality, tattoos, his lyrics, learning to play the guitar aged sixty, Love Island, tinnitus, the meaning of life, and inevitably the death of his son Arthur. Nick's replies are considered and thoughtful, sensitive, insightful, funny, warm and moving. Sometimes he reaches a conclusion you didn't expect. Sometimes he admits he doesn't know. Sometimes he imparts something profound. He has experiences to share. And, the man can write. The one that popped into my inbox on Tuesday was from Dave in El Paso, USA, who wrote...

My son died almost a decade and a half ago. I don't have nearly as many dreams about him now but when I do, as when I had many, many dreams of him...he never speaks. I can be virtually right next to him in a known location. He never talks. Is there an underlying meaning to this?

This caught my attention as you can imagine. I took a breath and read on. Nick replied...

Dear Dave,

I read this question to Susie, as Arthur appears regularly in her dreams. She says she experiences him in the same way that you describe – Arthur is there beside her but never speaks. She tells me he feels hyper-present, and that he stands very close to her, and sometimes he hugs her, but that nothing else happens in the dream, there is no one else there and there is no real narrative. She says that the locations in the dream are familiar, but she has the sense of being a visitor to a different realm, and that within that realm there is an intense feeling of ‘unbounded love’. She says that upon waking she feels a residual presence of Arthur that takes some minutes to subside. I asked Susie why she thought Arthur didn’t speak to her and she said, 'because it’s a place where we don’t communicate with ordinary language.’

Dave, I asked Susie your question because she has a rich and vibrant dream life. Unfortunately, I do not. The rare dreams I do remember are extraordinarily banal and neither of my late sons appear in them. But I know Susie finds much needed respite from her loss through the softness of dreams. They are beautiful, comforting, even saving things. We can find great solace in these ‘encounters’ with loved ones who have passed on, meeting them in our memories, recollections or conversations, through signs, whispered intimations or imaginings. I am very happy your son continues to visit your dreams and Susie and I send you our very best.

Love, Nick

I've dreamt about Isaac in the year and three months since he died. To the best of my memory, it happens once every couple of weeks. Dreaming about him always wakes me up with a jolt. I am suddenly and violently awake, both eyes wide open in the dark. It always disturbs me, leaves me thrown and startled. In my dream he's so real and he's alive. Then there's a moment and it sinks in again sharply and suddenly that it was a dream and that he's gone. Each time it happens, there's a mini- loss all over again. I seem to be getting used to that more now. 

In some of my dreams he talks to me. I never remember what he was saying or what we were talking about but am aware we were talking. Like Dave and Nick's wife Susie, sometimes he's there but silent (which seems unlikely if you knew Isaac, who was rarely silent for long). Sometimes he seems to be just being there, alongside whatever other weirdness is going on. I have been having very vivid and odd dreams for the last few months- even the ones without Isaac in them can wake me up feeling a bit perturbed and unsure what is going on. I'm not sure how I feel about the Isaac that exists in my dreams. I don't think it's actually him, it's my subconscious dredging things up while I sleep. Nick Cave says above that Susie finds respite and comfort from dreaming about Arthur. I'm not sure I find that yet about Isaac- I hope one day I will. Nick and Susie and the letter writer Dave are a long way ahead of us in their grief in terms of time. I like Nick's phrasing and idea that the dream versions of our lost sons are 'encounters'. That's a way I'd like to get to feel about them I think. 

Lou dreams about Isaac sometimes and she always has the same dream- in her dream he's crossing the road outside our house, his back to her, going towards a car to be taken somewhere. She's holding a sandwich wrapped in tin foil for him but he doesn't hear her. On the occasions when she's told me about it or when I've been present when she describes it to other people, it crushes me. It has just now, typing it. 

I got Nick's book Faith Hope And Carnage for Christmas and have been reading it recently, a chapter every now and then, trying not to race through it. It is set out as a conversation between Nick and writer Sean O'Hagen, taken from a series of long conversations they had starting around March 2020. Much of Carnage is about Arthur, and about Nick and Susie's grief. It is also about Nick's faith, his songwriting and music, the transformative power of live performance of songs and how sometimes they only reveal their meaning when played live, the albums Skeleton Tree, Carnage and Ghosteen (especially Ghosteen), his childhood, the relationships with musicians he's worked with (especially Blixa Bargeld, Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis) and his creative projects away from music- The Red Hand Files among them. I might come back to writing about the book and what I've taken from it another day. I need to write about Ghosteen too at some point. There's one bit from the book that stood out for me even before I'd started reading it properly. On the back cover the pull out quote reads...

Sean O'Hagen: 'But surely your outlook is entirely different now?'

Nick Cave: 'Well, the young Nick Cave could afford to hold the world in some kind of disdain because he had no idea of what was coming down the line. I can see now that this disdain or contempt for the world was a kind of luxury or indulgence, even a vanity. He had no idea of the preciousness of life- the fragility... like I say, he had no idea what was coming down the road'.

This struck a massive chord with me. When I think about us, me and Lou, as younger people I feel exactly what Nick Cave describes- we had no idea what was ahead of us, that this was coming and how this would feel, how it would turn us inside out, how painful it would be, how (as I said on Tuesday) we might never be the same people again. In some ways it shocks me. We had no idea what was coming down the road. 

There's another part of the book where Nick says, 'Arthur is a regular reminder I don't really have to conform to the rules the world has laid down for me, because the world feels chaotic and random and indifferent to any rules. When I call Arthur to me and I feel him around me, as an optimistic force... I don't have to be afraid. I am aware of how that sounds to many people but this is, at the very least, a survival strategy- and grievers know. Generally, they know.'

Being a griever isn't a club any of us would choose to join, certainly not one in the circumstances of the death of your child, but it is some kind of comfort to see some of your own extreme and awful experience reflected by someone else, to know that others have gone through this too and can survive it. In some way, it helps. Trying to make sense of grief may well prove to be impossible- there is no sense to be found, it just happens, part of the chaotic and random world Nick describes above. Maybe all we can do is talk about it, describe it, write about it. Maybe the act of saying it out loud is as close to making sense of it as we're going to get. 

This song is from Ghosteen. I've got nothing to add at the moment, no description its power or explanation of it, other than to say it chills me to my absolute core and in some way brings a kind of comfort.



Tom W said...

This is moving and wonderful, despite coming from grief. Thank you for it

Rol said...

Nick Cave is an extremely wise man.

I'm always deeply moved when you write about Isaac, but this post gave me much to think about too.

I Sing In The Kitchen said...

So beautifully written. I also found the young Nick Cave having no idea what was coming down the road a real eye opener about our lives. I hope your posts provide you with well deserved comfort. x

Rickyotter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rickyotter said...

Nick Cave is a kind and wise man. I can tell by the way you write so beautifully Adam, that you are too. Grief as a concept is extremely strange, as something to live through it is both torturous and comforting at different times. No-one really knows what awaits them in later life, some people have awful, heart wrenching events around the corner. But for the most part, they get through it, even if it makes no sense and never will. Stay strong, much love to you and your family

Ernie Goggins said...

Thanks for this Adam, beautifully expressed. Thinking of you all.

Jake Sniper said...

You write so well, about a very difficult mix of feelings to get a grip on. I dream of my Mum and my best friend at times. These were once full of loss and sadness. They have change with time into extra moments with the people i miss. As alway Swiss ❤️👊

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks everyone.

Khayem said...

As everyone has said, this is a moving, heartbreaking and beautifully expressed post. Sometimes I need to go away and come back to be in the right space to read and fully appreciate your posts, but they are an essential read. The parallel with Nick Cave is not just the awful experience that you have shared but also the articulate and insightful way that you live with this, day by day. An example and inspiration to us all. Thanks, Adam.