Nick Cave once suggested that, with The Boatman’s Call, he “was making a big heroic melodrama out of a bog-standard rejection”—the rejection, famously, being at the pink-and-chipped fingernails of PJ Harvey. Regardless, he succeeded in squeezing some fairly special songs out of that heartbreak, and some of them—“West Country Girl,” “Far From Me” and “People Ain’t No Good”—receive especially beautiful and intimate recitations in the course this 1999 lecture on songwriting, “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” written for the Vienna Poetry Festival and delivered on September 24th of that year:
To be invited to come here and teach, to lecture, to impart what knowledge I have collected about poetry, about song writing has left me with a whole host of conflicting feelings. The strongest, most insistent of these concerns my late father who was an English Literature teacher at the high school I attended back in Australia. I have very clear memories of being about twelve years old and sitting, as you are now, in a classroom or school hall, watching my father, who would be standing, up here, where I am standing, and thinking to myself, gloomily and miserably, for, in the main, I was a gloomy and miserable child, “It doesn´t really matter what I do with my life as long as I don´t end up like my father”. At forty years old it would appear that there is virtually no action I can take that does not draw me closer to him, that does not make me more like him. At forty years old I have become my father, and here I am, teaching.
The lecture itself, which provides no less than a truncated artistic autobiography along with Cave’s creative philosophy at the time, is very much a product of that occasionally rather humorless period of his work, but it’s still compelling stuff, and wonderfully read in Cave’s deeply sonorous, almost didgeridoo-esque speaking voice.