Writer’s Music: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

51tandu2qrl-_sy355_Do you imagine in words?

I do sometimes. It’s a strange switch from seeing a story: I don’t smell, feel, or hear. My eyes see nothing but words an inch from my face, and even they have a fuzz to them, so it takes a few tries to decipher. The more I read, the more my senses follow, and life within me finds a focus.

Music helps me see more than the story. Music helps me see the language of me.

I knew how to read notes before words, having started piano at the age of 4. My father loved to write hymns, and my mother often directed choirs. We kids learned numerous church-friendly instruments, and sang in the choirs. (Bo likes to think my father secretly aspired for us to become a Christian version of the Partridge Family. Thank God THAT didn’t happen.) Even after Dad died, my mother and elder brother continued to give to the church with music, while my kid brother went on to become a pastor himself.

Music and stories always propelled me forward. One word follows another; one note comes after another. They emote. Inspire. Begin. End. Define, yet live on without limit.

Which, at last, brings me to that which I wanted to share with you.

Whenever I’ve written about parenting, depression, or abuse, I pull up The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Some of the tracks are more narrative than others; these I ignore. But a few have such a…it’s a tense hope. Like Mychael Danna’s Capote, the score is dominated by strings and piano. Capote, however, has more menacing undertones to it than Assassination–a result of the bass and fewer harmonies, I think. I also feel more of a time-stop with Capote, especially during the solo piano I love so much. Assassination‘s “Song for Bob” has a very slow build while strings are added, and added. A sense of resolve comes through when the violin joins at the 1:30 mark, and even though the rhythm of the harmonies repeats, the build goes on. When the piano joins, the strings seem…not forced, but their harmonies alter, and for some moments the viola provides what feels like the final monologue in a Shakespearean tragedy. The return of the original rhythm and harmonies is different, yet the same.

How like us, we who undergo the shift within to reclaim our total selves.


45 thoughts on “Writer’s Music: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

      • Oh, yeah. They apparently had a history of “deeply disturbing patrons,” so after one particularly bad day where Biff tried to topple book carts and Bash had diarrhea, I was called at home and politely told not to bring them back until they are “ready.”
        Yeah, kinda stinks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know, right? Just like today: my mom’s been so fixated on the boys’ behavior that she’s brought up autism, getting the boys tested, etc. Lord knows what she’ll say when she learns the pediatrician blinked at us and said, “Um, no. They’re twin boys. Of course they’re going to be tough and fight for control.”
        People don’t like it when others don’t conform to their comfort zones. 😦

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Your analytical skills, coupled with the blending of the relationship twixt the written word and/or music are second to none…oh, that I could multi-task thus! Odd thing, I also think pretty much only in words; yet dream just in mute video.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fascinating, I’d never considered what would be like to imagine things in words. I tend to imagine in images, like a photograph. I wonder if this is why I typically can’t write when there is noise around me. I’ve found I can write fiction to instrumental music, and certain types of reflection, but anything which takes serious reference to materials (such as my reviews and my sermons) music becomes distracting. Oddly enough,when I’m out somewhere I am able to focus past noise. Psychology is an odd thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is indeed.
      And curious that music can distract you. My father often wrote sermons/bible studies with music, or even with the television on, which is something I could NEVER do. Hymn-writing, however, often required a quiet space to keep the melody pure in his head. We all of us have our quirks with atmosphere…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll look forward to listening to Nick Cave & Warren Ellis after I schlep the tater tots to school and see the doctor for an MRI for my (gulp) mystery knee inury. 😦 I’ve heard of Nick Cave for years but not Warren Ellis. Cave recently wrote a memoir that I believe was well-received – I think the title is “The Sick Bag Song”. Lovely, eh?

    I need to catch up here and read your last post too – I must keep up to date with one of my favorite writers in the world.

    XOXO to you!!!!!
    Java Queen

    p.s. how’s that green tea going?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! I hope your MRI showed nothing frightening but a need for extra rest and ice. You had to sit anyway for writing, yes? 🙂
      Do let me know how things turn out. I know how important exercise is for you and Lucy, and would hate for you to get a bad case of cabin fever when there’s writing to be done!
      Shey praises Nick Cave, too; I’ve never heard of him before (being a homebody), so if that’s his memoir, I clearly have some catching up to do. 🙂
      All Hail the Java Queen! xxxx
      (quick scramble for tea, discovers box empty, curses, adds tea to shopping list) 🙂


    • Thank you! I don’t think I could ever write about music solely for the art of it, or the appreciation of it. Must be the practical side of me: I can only really talk about it in relation to the purpose it serves.
      Gosh, that sounds bland, but I hope you know what I mean.


  4. I could write while listening to this!
    My Dad (violinist as you know & a voracious reader) would’ve loved this post.
    He’d particularly appreciate this part:

    “….music and stories always propelled me forward. One word follows another; one note comes after another. They emote. Inspire. Begin. End. Define, yet live on without limit.”

    One need only read those handful of sentences to know that you’re a mega-gifted writer.
    Comparing music to stories in that way is sheer perfection!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You got me blushing again. 🙂 It’s true, though! I remember music classes in school when EVERYone talks about Peter and the Wolf, or the opera Carmen, and thinking, “Bo-ring.” But when postpartum hit, music and books felt like the only ways I knew time was moving. Songs may begin and end, but I could replay them in my head of I wanted. There were chapters to work THROUGH, just like days. I’m not making much sense right now, but yeah–it’s like I couldn’t see the narrative arc in my own life. Stories and music remind me it’s there. 🙂 xxxx


    • LOL! I know! I just picked up their collaboration for the film LAWLESS. This soundtrack is mainly songs, but the songs repeat while being sung by different singers. I wish I could explain it; it’s like the song itself is different through the voice. It’s so cool! I may just have to write about it sometime soon. 🙂


  5. Perhaps LAWLESS is next! Also, I wanted to say (but the hour was late and I was extremely tired) that I did not mean to gloss over the information in your first paragraph of this post, but I do think that sometimes people who have weathered great personal trauma — as in come out the other side — are often capable an intensity of emotion that others may not even know exists and that through their life expressions, they give the world a kind of light and beauty it would not have otherwise seen. Your descriptions of music — having not been trained in any instrument, but adoring music all the same — are to me transcendent. They make me want to go downstairs and start plucking on the piano, although unfortunately, that’s all it would be and nothing near as virile and alive. It does sound like you’ve found a certain refuge or even salvation in music and writing so kudos. Also, I know what you mean about seeing words in front of your face. It happens when I’m dreaming. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Please, no apologies. We can’t respond to every line that’s ever written. 🙂 But I can’t help but grin and wonder at your thought. You may be right; I always loved music for my daydreams when I was a kid, but I never really thought about WHY, or HOW, music and story help me survive. Your description here gives me sweet pause. Thank you, my friend! xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Writer’s Music: Emmylou Harris | Jean Lee's World

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