Australian musician Nick Cave says creating new music and writing during self-isolation was his first instinct as an artist, but he now sees it as an indulgence from a bygone era.
Cave and his band The Bad Seeds were forced to abandon a European tour when the coronavirus crisis unfolded.
He said his initial response was to jump into “overdrive with ideas of how to fill that space”.
However, in his regular Red Hand files – in which Cave responds to fans’ wide-ranging questions and comments – the musician, novelist and screenwriter said it is not a time to be buried in the act of creating.
“Together we have stepped into history and are now living inside an event unprecedented in our lifetime,” Cave wrote from his British home in Brighton.
“What deranged and divided us a month ago seems, at best, an embarrassment from an idle and privileged time. We have become eyewitnesses to a catastrophe that we are seeing unfold from the inside out.
“We are forced to isolate – to be vigilant, to be quiet, to watch and contemplate the possible implosion of our civilisation in real time.
When we eventually step clear of this moment we will have discovered things about our leaders, our societal systems, our friends, our enemies and most of all, ourselves.
“We will know something of our resilience, our capacity for forgiveness, and our mutual vulnerability. Perhaps, it is a time to pay attention, to be mindful, to be observant.
“As an artist, it feels inapt to miss this extraordinary moment. Suddenly, the acts of writing a novel, or a screenplay or a series of songs seem like indulgences from a bygone era …
“It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is – what we, as artists, are for.
Cave started the Red Hand files conversation with his fans in response to the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in 2015. He admitted his response to a crisis has always been to create.
“This impulse has saved me many times — when things got bad I’d plan a tour, or write a book, or make a record — I’d hide myself in work, and try to stay one step ahead of whatever it was that was pursuing me.
He said when the recent tour was cancelled, he held a video call with colleagues and considered streaming a solo concert from his home, writing an isolation album or an apocalyptic film script.
But the performer said he then considered all the recent work he had done, including concerts with violinist Warren Ellis and the Melbourne and Sydney symphony orchestras and thought it was time to just step back.
“There are other forms of engagement, open to us all,” Cave writes.
“An email to a distant friend, a phone call to a parent or sibling, a kind word to a neighbour, a prayer for those working on the front lines. These simple gestures can bind the world together – throwing threads of love here and there, ultimately connecting us all – so that when we do emerge from this moment we are unified by compassion, humility and a greater dignity.
“Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is. This could, indeed, be the truest creative work of all.”