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Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files – a gift to songwriters

Exploring the unexpected sense of intimacy found at the core of Nick Cave's project.

Discovering Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files was a lifeline as I sat, buried in spreadsheets at work, mechanically replying to a never ending supply of mind-numbingly boring emails. The Red Hand Files is a website launched in 2018 where the artist Nick Cave engages in one-to-one correspondence with fans from across the globe. Questions range from simple curiosities like the meaning of a song lyric to universal inquiries such as “What is mercy?”, “Why do you write?”, and asking Cave how losing his son has impacted his songwriting. After reading about 70 of Cave’s carefully constructed replies I became aware of a sense of intimacy not easily found on the internet, a fellowship amongst people eager to engage in alternative ways of thinking about all matters of things creative. 

At the core of The Red Hand Files is the idea of the pre-eminence of creativity, as in his thirtieth issue Cave describes “that to create [is] an act of largesse that has the capacity to redeem the world.” Cave’s endorsement of music’s sacred quality is a welcome point of view for songwriters, such as myself, struggling to think artistically in an industry dominated by a commercial mindset. There is a sense of hope that amid the clutter and over abundance of commercial music meant for simple entertainment, songwriters and musicians can create music that surpasses the realm of the spectacle and into the domain of the sacred. 

Ultimately, to most people music is and always will be a form of simple entertainment, an outlet from the mundane, something unpretentious that makes you forget about your shitty day or makes you appreciate your amazing one. It’s not that Cave discounts this inherently simple quality of music but rather challenges songwriters and artists of all creative disciplines to move past what they think they know and create “beyond convention and acceptability without losing oneself”. Understanding the limitless potential of music in Cave’s opinion is what will keep music advancing; beyond what is heard on Triple J, The Voice, ‘curated’ Spotify playlists and other all too familiar platforms that perpetuate the cycle of uninspired commercially driven music. 

In Sydney’s music scene, while not always obvious, there is definitely a hunger to reach this artistic space in which both artist and audience are challenged. After being in the fortunate position to be surrounded by like minded musicians studying at the Conservatorium you become aware of the fact that there is a community, much like the one reading Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files, that is constantly in search for a refreshing view on what it means to make music. 

After playing a gig with my band last week a friend of mine was telling me that if I could make 33.3% of my income come from my music then I could call myself and ‘Artist’, all I had to do was write some songs that could be played on Triple J so that we could get more of a following. All the while he was imparting this wisdom onto me I was thinking back to something I had read in the Red Hand Files: ‘Challenging music, by its very nature, alienates some fans whilst inspiring others, but without that dissonance, there is no conversation, there is no risk, there are no tears and there are no smiles, and nobody is moved and nobody is affected!’