Nick Cave on the rise of “moralism”: “Perhaps in its current form, rock isn’t worth saving”

"Go to your record collection and mind-erase those who have led questionable lives and see how much of it remains"

Nick Cave has shared his thoughts on the current state of rock music, discussing how the genre needs to evolve if artists’ morals are to be under a stronger spotlight.

The Bad Seeds frontman was responding to a fan on his Red Hand Files website, where he openly replies to questions and letters. The latest entry sees Cave share his thoughts on the question of “the current trend of connecting the shortcomings of an artist’s personal conduct and the art they create and using that criteria to determine if said works are corrupted and therefore to be relegated to the dustbins or not?”

“Rock music has lurched and shuddered its way through its varied and tumultuous history and somehow managed to survive,” Cave replied. “It is within the very nature of rock ‘n’ roll to mutate and to transform – to die so it can live again. This churning is what keeps the whole thing moving forward. As musicians we are always in danger of becoming obsolete and superseded by the next generation’s efforts, or by the world itself and its big ideas.”


Nick Cave
Nick Cave

From there, Cave questioned if rock could “survive” the new “big idea of moralism”.

He continued: “My feeling is that modern rock music, as we know it, has anyway been ailing for some time now. It has become afflicted with a kind of tiredness and confusion and faint-heartedness, and no longer has the stamina to fight the great battles that rock music has always fought. It seems to me there is little new or authentic, as it becomes safer, more nostalgic, more cautious and more corporate.”

“As far as rock music goes, I think that the new moral zealotry that is descending upon our culture could actually be a good thing. Maybe, it is exactly what rock ‘n’ roll needs at this moment in time. Contemporary rock music no longer seems to have the fortitude to contend with these enemies of the imagination, these enemies of art – and in this present form perhaps rock music isn’t worth saving.”

However, Cave did suggest that there was one hope that the current state of affairs could in fact be healthy for rock music – adding that “the permafrost of puritanism could be the antidote for the weariness and nostalgia that grips it”.


“Perhaps a painful reckoning is needed – a great crushing of creativity that descends and lays its self-righteous ice across art – so that in time, a wild, dangerous and radical form of music can tear its way through the ice, teeth bared, and rock ‘n’ roll can get back to the business of transgression,” he went on.

Cave claimed that because “the imagination deals with the forbidden,” a great wealth of rock’s leading innovators have led less than perfect lives. “Go to your record collection and mind-erase those who have led questionable lives and see how much of it remains,” he suggested. “It is the artist who steps beyond the accepted social boundaries who will bring back ideas that shed new light on what it means to be alive. This is, in fact, the artist’s duty – and sometimes this journey is accompanied by a certain dissolute behaviour, especially in rock ‘n’ roll.”

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.”

Nick Cave

While Cave claimed that the “sanctimonious” and “pious” figures are often “intent on murdering creativity”, a questioning of morality is perhaps necessary in order for rock to not only survive but evolve as the times requires.

“At this depressing time in rock ‘n’ roll though, perhaps they can serve a purpose, perhaps rock music needs to die for a while, so that something powerful and subversive and truly monumental can rise up out of it,” Cave concluded.

Other responses from Cave from the Red Hand Files have seen him share his thoughts on the chances of Grinderman reuniting, the “cultural sea change” facing women and his stance on the cultural boycott against Israel.

While fans are currently awaiting news on the release of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ new album, it was last week announced that their acclaimed concert film ‘Distant Sky’ will be made available to watch for free for a limited time.

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