Are You There?: Nick Cave’s The Red Hand Files

Nick Cave soothes the masses with a cosmic wisdom and tenderness in The Red Hand Files.

“It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal.” -Nick Cave

Grief is an isolating experience. Even if one has experienced grief, it is a state that is challenging to wholly fathom unless you are in the midst of it. The pull of grief is hypnotic and suffocating. So much that even when experience grief collectively, we are like an archipelago: we see each other and share a similar existence, but we are, until the passage of time and acceptance, our own island.

Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled. 1991. Source:

While grief and isolation are a part of the human experience at times, we are not meant to live in isolation or permanent grief.  This is one reason why John Donne’s “No Man is an Island” is still so relevant over 400 years later:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

As we continue our hurtle towards singularity and secularism, it can be difficult to remain anchored, let alone find an anchor that supports us in our grief or times of isolation. No wonder we are, at times, so hungry for some type of opiate.

We seek out anchors in our family, friends, community, religion, activities, and idols. Myself, I find great solace in physical activity and sage wisdom (a la Mr. Roger’s “helpers” but for adults). I find much respite from isolation and grief in someone who has publicly wrestled with their own grief: Nick Cave.

I make it no secret here how much I admire Nick Cave and the collective people and parts that are in his orbit (would 100% like to write on Warren Ellis sometime this year). I am not going to write a post covering the last 10 years of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. There is a lot of history and schtuff. If you know you know, and if you don’t you can easily do a Goog or watch the readily available documentaries.

In September 2018, Nick Cave began answering letters from fans and posting the answers online. The contents included in-depth answers with a level of vulnerability and accessibility that is rare for an artists to display. Especially the Prince of Darkness.

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 6.53.48 PM.png

The Red Hand Files is home to the (mostly) thoughtful fan questions and almost always thoughtful answers from Nick Cave. The questions range from topics about grief, vegetarianism, writing, praying and meditation, dogs, relationships, and, yes, lots of Warren Ellis. Nick handles answers with a tenderness, honesty, and humor that you might expect from a sage older friend or uncle. He also possesses an otherworldly insight you might expect from Viktor Frankl.

I recently found myself reading every single question and answer looking for my answers of my own. These were some of my favorite responses from Nick. When I read these, I feel the distance between my island and others:

On Grief
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.02.43 PM.png


On P.J. Harvey, Drugs, and RelationshipsScreen Shot 2020-01-05 at 6.58.23 PM.png


On Mum
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.05.10 PM.png


On His Audience
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.07.26 PM.png


On Reclaiming Songs After A Relationship Ends
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.07.49 PM


On Vulnerability and Body Image
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.09.11 PM


On Forgiveness
Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 7.09.59 PM


Author: Keelin Billue

Chicago-based writer by way of Alabama, New Orleans, and Nashville. Writes primarily about music, sports (sort of), and the topics that piss people off at work and family holidays.

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