Home ANS Feature A Theology of Grief: Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree

A Theology of Grief: Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree

by Brian Nixon

By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service

Smaller Nick CaveALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – September 10, 2016) — I can’t stop listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new album, Skeleton Tree. Maybe it’s because I can relate to its honest sentiment of loss and grief. Cave lost his son, Arthur, from a fall off a cliff in Brighton, England in 2015. Arthur was fifteen [1]. I, too, lost a son, Riley, from a disease I didn’t know about at the time — Potters Syndrome.

I remember sitting in the hospital, holding Riley, with tears rolling down my face. All I could do was cry and whisper a prayer of pain. His breathing was becoming heavy, his face blue. I had to hand him to the nurse; my grief too great.

Cave familyThough Riley was a baby, the loss was none-the-less profound. The year was 2000. Riley would have been fifteen in 2015, the same age as Arthur.

If there is something I can say about Skelton Tree it is this: it may be the most profound album ever recorded concerning grief and the loss of a child. And though Cave and I handled the loss of our sons in different ways — he recorded an album and I turned to poetry (having left the recording studio early in the week, music seemed too distant for me at the time to pursue).

Yet if I were to express my sorrow in sound, it might have been much like Skeleton Tree; sparse, stirring, hallow, and Christ-haunted. Skeleton Tree reminds me of the lament Psalms—achingly beautiful. And though Cave doesn’t give a clear theological vision [2], the songs cry out with confusion, comfort, and to a lesser extent, the certainty of loss.

But a loss that leads to love, especially on the songs, Distant Sky and Skeleton Tree. In these songs Cave sings presumably of his wife, Susie Bick, of his other sons, Earl, Jethro, Luke, and maybe hidden deep within his grief, God.

Skelton Tree album coverAnd though Cave does not quote from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians on Skeleton Tree, the album Cave produced echoes the truth, becoming a reminder to all who have suffered loss.

“…The Father of all mercies and the god of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4).

For me, Skeleton Tree is an album of consolation for the afflicted, those acquainted with grief, helping remind me of another Father who lost His Son.

For a complete listing of songs and reviews, click here: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/review-nick-cave-and-the-bad-seeds-skeleton-tree-w438774.

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/nick-caves-teenage-son-arthur-dies-after-cliff-fall-20150715.

[2] Cave has been described a Christian dedicated to the “Creative Christ,” not necessarily the Biblical Christ. See here: http://www.academia.edu/688464/Nick_Cave_From_an_Anglican_God_to_the_Creative_Christ.

Photo captions: 1) Nick Cave. 2) The Cave Family. 3) Skeleton Tree album cover. 4) Brian Nixon.

Brian NixonAbout the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.

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