What Nick Cave Taught Me About Design
Exploring the parallels between music and design
I’m very happy to hear that my work inspires writers and painters. It’s the most beautiful compliment, the greatest reward. Art should always be an exchange.
In 1994, I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform at Lollapalooza for the first time. I was 15. The festival was held at World Music Theatre, tucked behind the endless layers of Chicago suburbs. My mom dropped my friends and I off in her old Chevy and we watched the full line-up on a faraway hill, baking in the 95-degree summer heat. Then, Nick Cave and his band came on for their performance. 25 years later, two things stand out in my memory.
The first is that many people were not paying attention. This included my friends, who had left to visit vendors or do drugs, or any other number of activities that interest 15-year-olds. The second is knowing that I would never forget hearing his music and that I wanted to experience the feeling of listening to it again. It was different from listening to any other band but I couldn’t understand why or how. His music left me with many questions, like: Who else listens to this? Is this music for adults? How can I afford to buy more of his CDs?
As with many transformative experiences, it’s impossible to understand what is occurring in the moment, only that you are changed.
Some steps in our paths are obvious, in terms of cause and effect. But what is more interesting, in terms of how we get to be who we are, are those moments that are not so obvious, the fragments of inspiration and ephemeral moments that somehow made you the way you are, or the fixtures in your life that stick around decade after decade. We look to these pieces to make sense of the geometry of our lives.
And one piece that seems to always stick around for me, though the different chapters and eras of my life, is the music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Since that show in 1994, I have seen the band perform 50 or 60 times; once I even flew from Chicago to Austin to see them play at Stubb’s BBQ. I arrived two hours before the show, listened to their intense music in the heat of a dirt pit that smelled like barbecue, and then went…