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Nick Cave Addresses Changing Old “Problematic Lyrics”

on March 07, 2020, 2:07pm

Nick Cave isn’t one to shy away from giving his honest opinion to his fans, whether it be a popular or an unpopular one. Most recently, he’s addressed the idea of changing, or more so, not changing, offensive lyrics to old songs.

Through his website The Red Hand Files where he often answers fan-submitted inquiries, Cave was asked whether he felt the need to change lyrics that might be heard as problematic in 2020, specifically the line, “a f*g in a whalebone corset dragging his dick across my cheek,” as heard on his 1992 song “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”.

“Are you happy to preserve the lyric as a product of its time, and respect the original content?” the question asked.


The artist began his response by writing, “These days, some of my songs are feeling a little nervous. They are like children that have been playing cheerfully in the schoolyard, only to be told that all along they have had some hideous physical deformity.” He went on to discuss cultural changes in taste, expressing, “But what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?”

Cave continued, musing that perhaps songwriters of the past could’ve “been more careful with our words,” but it’s not right to blame “the songs themselves,” they still have “integrity” and worth. He wrote,

“As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs,” he said. “They must be allowed to exist in all their aberrant horror, unmolested by these strident advocates of the innocuous, even if just as some indication that the world has moved toward a better, fairer and more sensitive place.”

He wrapped with the thought: “If punishment must be administered, punish the creators, not the songs. We can handle it. I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”

Cave’s response should come as no surprise, as he previously expressed his distaste for “woke culture” suppressing “contrary systems of thought.” Instead, he feels more drawn to those like Kanye West, whom he calls “our greatest artist” for his commitment to his “own derangement.”

Read Cave’s full post below. The artist has a run of tour dates ahead alongside Courtney Barnett and more with Weyes Blood in ongoing support of his standout fall LP, Ghosteen. Get tickets here. Also, keep an eye out for his upcoming illustrated autobiography called Stranger Than Kindness, due out in the spring.

Dear Gavin,

These days, some of my songs are feeling a little nervous. They are like children that have been playing cheerfully in the schoolyard, only to be told that all along they have had some hideous physical deformity. Their little hearts sink and they piss their pants. They leave the playground burning with shame, as a scornful, self-righteous future turns around with its stone and takes aim.

But what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?

Perhaps we writers should have been more careful with our words – I can own this, and I may even agree – however, we should never blame the songs themselves. Songs are divinely constituted organisms. They have their own integrity. As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs. They must be allowed to exist in all their aberrant horror, unmolested by these strident advocates of the innocuous, even if just as some indication that the world has moved toward a better, fairer and more sensitive place. If punishment must be administered, punish the creators, not the songs. We can handle it. I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.

Love, Nick

Revisit “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” below.