Nick Cave Says We Shouldn't Boycott Songs From Controversial Artists

29 May 2023 | 9:16 am | Mary Varvaris

“We need to understand that the songs themselves are the best of them [the artist]," so we shouldn't “eradicate the best of these people in order to punish the worst of them”.

Nick Cave in Adelaide

Nick Cave in Adelaide (Credit: Rodney Magazinovic)

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Nick Cave is a character who’s always been quite outspoken. Recently, he’s defended his decision to attend the coronation of King Charles as he holds an “inexplicable emotional attachment to the Royals”, the turmoils of touring, called an AI song modelled on his songwriting style “bullshit”, and thinks you should get that dumb tattoo you’ve always wanted.

Yesterday (28 May), the music icon and Observer journalist Seán O’Hagan, the pair who co-wrote Cave’s latest book, Faith, Hope & Carnagewhich contains years of exchanges between Cave and his friend of 30 years, appeared at Hay Festival in the UK for an in-conversation event.

During the session, Cave and O’Hagan went through topics such as grief, music and art, and work ethic, as well as a tirade against boycotts levelled at controversial artists.

“Making art – especially making music – it prevents you from becoming the worst aspects of your character, and that’s why I very much think we need to be very, very careful about the music we don’t think people should listen to any more because of what the artist who has made that music may have been like,” Cave told Hay Festival attendees, via The Guardian.

He continued to say that the concept of separating art from the artist is near impossible. Cave elaborated: “We need to understand that the songs themselves are the best of them [the artist]”, which means that our actions, particularly boycotts, shouldn’t “eradicate the best of these people in order to punish the worst of them”.

In the conversation with O’Hagan, Cave rallied against the idea that human beings are corrupt, calling that mindset “not only wrong but disturbing and it’s becoming a problem”. He disagrees that the world is “systematically fucked”.

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Cave discussed a similar topic back in 2019 on his website, The Red Hand Files. A fan asked how the Australian music icon feels about “the current trend of connecting the shortcomings of an artist’s personal conduct and the art they create”, and what it means for the future of art.

Cave responded, “Go to your record collection and mind-erase those who have led questionable lives and see how much of it remains.”

He added, “Sometimes an individual’s behaviour is purely malevolent, and this surely needs to be exposed for what it is – and we must make a personal choice as to whether or not we engage with their work.”

Cave said that “not so long ago the big idea in the world was freedom of expression” and that “it looks like the new big idea is moralism”, something which he was unsure whether or not rock music would survive.

You can read the full response here.