Nick Cave has opened up on how the death of his son Arthur inspired the 2016 track ‘Girl In Amber’.
The song featured on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ 2016 album ‘Skeleton Tree’, which was being recorded at the time of Arthur’s death in July 2015. He died after falling from a 60ft cliff in Ovingdean Gap, East Sussex.
On his regular question-and-answer interaction site The Red Hand Files, Cave was asked a multitude of questions about ‘Girl In Amber’ from fans across the world.
Explaining how he had begun writing the song before Arthur’s death, Cave wrote:”‘Girl in Amber’ is a song wrapped around a mystery. It is a song that formed itself as if from a dream and it seems to possess a special, almost mystical, power.
“Back in 2014, I was sitting at Warren [Ellis]’s kitchen table after a day of making music in his little studio at the back of his house in Paris. On the table was a paperweight with a spider trapped inside, and the title ‘Girl in Amber’ slipped into my mind.
“I remember feeling happy, because I rarely get given titles for songs — the title almost always comes after a long struggle with the words — and this one seemed alive with meaning. It made me think of people I knew who were in a state of stasis, forever locked in the past, but it was not about anyone in particular. Or so I thought.”
But a year later, Cave realised that the death of Arthur had significantly changed the meaning of the song for him.
“I was in another studio in Paris attempting to finish ‘Skeleton Tree’. Things had changed,” Cave wrote.
“Arthur, my son, had died a few months earlier and I was existing in a kind of fugue-state, numbly sitting in the studio listening to the songs, trying to make sense of the material we had been working on over the last year, and as I listened to the version of ‘Girl in Amber’, I was completely overwhelmed by what I heard.”
He further explained: “It was suddenly and tragically clear that ‘Girl in Amber’ had found its ‘who’. The ‘who’ was Susie, my wife — held impossibly, as she was at the time, within her grief, reliving each day a relentless spinning song that began with the ringing of the phone and ended with the collapse of her world.
“The eerie, death-obsessed second verse seemed to speak directly to me, and I added the half-line ‘Your little blue-eyed boy’, but left the rest of the verse as it was. There were a couple of lines in the song that made little sense, but I left them unchanged for they brought a fractured inarticulateness to the lyric, which added to its mysterious, emotional pull. I added the line ‘Don’t touch me’ in the mixing session some months later. It felt true.”
Cave went on to explain that the early live performances of the track on the ‘Skeleton Tree’ tour made him feel like he was singing to his “wife, [who was] still trapped in the amber of her grief.”
However, he continued to perform the track on his ‘In Conversation’ tour, and said that his wife Susie has been “released, at least in part, from the suffocating darkness that surrounded her.”
He added: “I would like to think that ‘Girl in Amber’ went some way toward releasing both my wife and me from the paralysis of our grief.”
Other recent editions of the Red Hand Files have seen Cave discussing his love of Kanye West, the extensive “lows” he’s experienced while under the influence of drugs, the tragic passing of his son and providing advice for a 16-year-old fan on body positivity.
He also recently spoke about the “pure and holy” anger of grief in a message to a fan whose mother was murdered.