Nick Cave was not quite at the level of acclaim he enjoys today when he visited Brasil with his band, The Bad Seeds in 1989, but he had attracted some attention at the turn of the 80s, as leader of the underground post-punk band The Birthday Party, and his subsequent group had already released several albums on the art-rock scene, Kicking Against the Pricks (1985) and Tender Prey (1988). What was at first was a quick trip through a distant country ended up changing the course of his life, to the point that Nick would come to live in Brasil between 1990 and 1993.
In São Paulo, he was approached by journalists Bia Abramo and Thomas Pappon, of the (now defunct) music magazine Bizz. Bia introduced him to her friend Viviane Carneiro, who worked in publishing at Abril and began a romance with Nick, partying hard in the underground temple of that period, Espaço Retrô. “We decided that I would live with him in England, but soon I became pregnant, and Nick said it was better that we come to Brazil” says Viviane, who now lives in London and is psychotherapist. In 1990, they moved into Vila Madalena, São Paulo and Luke was born, who is now 23 years old.
“The Good Son was inspired by Nick’s very first trip to Brazil” she recalls, referring to the 1990 album that begins with a song of religious inspiration in Portuguese, “Foi na Cruz”, He wrote many songs from Henry’s Dream (1992) there.”
“When I met Nick he was clean, he wasn’t taking hard drugs. At the end of our relationship he started to get heavy again” Viviane remembers. “I do not think that he went to Brasil to get clean, not quite. He wasn’t taking heroin, which is not to say that I was not drinking a lot and doing other things” she laughs. “Looking back, it was hard for him. He had the problem that he couldn’t speak Portuguese, therefore could not be very independent. We were so young, it was a pretty cool moment for us. “According to Bia, Cave did not bond particularly with Brazil: “He was not interested in Brazilian rock, Brazilian music. Nick was very resentful of Brasil, not only because of dumb sycophants and the press, but also because he didn’t play more shows here. Those times were weird.”
The singer Viviane and moved to London in 1993 and stayed together until just before the release of Murder Ballads (1996), which would become his most successful album commercially to date. Subsequent albums like The Boatman’s Call (1997) and Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004) would feted by critics.
Viviane however, says she has not read Cave’s 2010 semi auto-biographical novel, ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’ – “I have not read nor have any desire to read. I know what it is, and despite being a character, I find it difficult reading a person to whom I was married talking about sexual fantasies that we had. ” (Original article by Pedro A. Sanches, 2010.)
Percussionist Kid Congo Powers reminisces in his oral history about their time in Brazil: “We went from Berlin to Brasil to play and it was about this time Nick met a girl who was to be the mother of his child. He was really taken with Brazil – as we all were. So we decided – Nick decided – that it would actually turn out to be cheaper to get a studio in Brasil, and fly us all out there and stay there to record an album. So we went to São Paulo and stayed for three weeks making The Good Son – tracking it all. And that was a great time. A great experience. I was sober and I was excited about making a record again.
The music was changing. He was getting more songwriter-y – they were more song-like. Although there was still an experimental edge, the songs were a little more formed – I think because he wrote them all on piano. He was going through a big change at the time as well. And so that was really a great experience being in São Paulo and being in Brasil. It was such a completely different atmosphere than Berlin or London which was a kind of cold and hard reality. And Brasil was beautiful and sunny and the people were really nice. Even though there was a lot of poverty and crime there, it still was OK with us. It was a good good good time.”
Cave’s interview for Hypno Mag in 1994 is a document of a troubled period in the country through the eyes of a foriegner: Do you think that the things like the death squads, pollution and babies being born without brains in Brazil has made a lasting impression on you and your music?
“I think Brasil is a remarkable country in the kind of corruption and the brutality of the government and the social situation there and what it does to people is so evident and so in your face and so inescapable that it can’t just be pocketed away. In that respect, it’s far more brutal than say some place like New York. At the same time it’s much more bearable for me somehow — it’s more honest in a way. I mean even when you get robbed there. I’ve been robbed two or three times, and I don’t feel any kind of bitterness. They’re not going to blow your head off for kicks. They’re not going to drive by your schoolyard and shoot a shotgun into it like it seems to happen more and more regularly in America. It’s awful to see what’s happening to the people there. I didn’t live under a palm tree when I was there; I lived in São Paulo, which is the third largest city in the world. It’s just this huge, massive business center in Brazil.”
“We made the Do You Love Me? video there. We just sort of pulled together street people there — transvestites, hookers and took them into a sort of sex club there and performed the song to these people who had no idea what the fuck my music is about or anything about me. I got to dress up with a toupee and sort of like a B-grade nightclub singer, and I sang it to them.”
“The transvestites there do very odd things like using the sort of industrial silicone that you’d use for your tub, and it’s not the right type. So when they would inject it into their cheeks, a month later it would be in their jowls. It drops and deforms them. A couple of doctors started working to fix these people up, so it’s not as prevalent as before. They only did it because a transsexual there makes more money than a straight guy or a straight woman. When they get ugly, they can’t work so there’s no money and they just live in a cardboard box in the street. It’s much more dangerous in Rio, though. That’s where the police are killing children in the streets. I’d say that if you went there and stayed a week, there’s at least a ninety percent chance of you getting robbed. It’s appalling, really, and you don’t even have to go to the so-called bad neighborhoods for this to happen.”
I’ve heard that you also feel appalled by America.
“I’ve never really said that, but I do have certain problems with America. I have certain problems with the world really. I just think that America seems to be leading the world into a direction that frightens me really.”
I agree. I guess I really only look for little microcosms that I can appreciate.
“I intend to do that too, but I don’t want to have to run away and hide from the world. I mean, I don’t want to have to disassociate myself from the world simply because I have no control over it. What I do on occasion, and the prime reason I lived in Brasil for three years, even though Brasil is a terrifying place in itself, is sort of escape — escape from what I just couldn’t tolerate in the modern world. I don’t really want to do that [anymore]. I mean, I have a child, and I don’t want to gather up my family and sort of escape somewhere because of what the world is becoming, but sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing you can do.”
20,000 Days on Earth, a docu-drama on Nick Cave, is out now.
Photos: Steve Double/Unknown.
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