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Full houses for Catholic culture by Nick Cave and Herman Finkers

Christian cultural traditions, such as Catholicism, are in the doldrums. How do they get out?

Whatever you call backgrounds in terms of gender, origins and beliefs, seeing them all positively helps, with compassion and humour; how beautiful and funny are all these different people and expressions! So now I am happy to write about two individuals who climbed the cultural ladder, and like the author this one, are older white men, raised Catholic, their lives scarred by too much of a grief, borne with a mixture of music, deepening and humour to keep the depression at bay.

Mellow tones in Concertgebouw

The Australian/British musician Nick Cave Got last Friday night as part of the Brainwash Festival the Concertgebouw full for a simple conversation on stage. He was there with journalist Sean O'Hagan with whom he wrote the book 'Faith, Hope and Carnage': the repercussion of 40 hours of conversation, converted almost automatically to text. 'Carnage' or 'bloodshed/bloodbath' is also the title of the new album From Cave.

This book, read immediately a day later on a train journey to Maastricht, involves in-depth conversations about music, religion and death. Nick and wife Susie lost their son Arthur (15) in an accident. In May 2022, Jethro, Cave's son from a previous marriage, died in Australia just after finishing the book.

Cave expresses himself unbounded and profoundly about death and loss, which he sees as an empowerment of his life or even a power to become happy. He connects creativity, faith and grief; all with such stunning, or rather deeply impressive intensity that thousands of readers and listeners find not only comfort but also courage to continue their lives more beautifully. The book displays unparalleled wisdom and happy self-mockery, just like Cave's Red Hand Files, his correspondences with fans. As an ex-heroin junkie, he knows the seamy side of society.

Cave reached dead silence with O'Hagan in no time, punctuated by generous laughter, not a familiar sound at the Concertgebouw. I intensely enjoyed his wisdom and the gentle tone of both. I was flanked by a journalist from the reformed Nederlands Dagblad who worked meticulously; and the editor of NRC's Spiritual Life, a pastor's son brought up in an unmercifully strict Reformed religion who applauded many a time.

After death? Before death!

Thus, each in his way appreciates Cave as a philosopher, or rather 'her way', because during the hour of questioning, mostly younger women stood up. Cave is a moral-cultural compass ('guru' would be a swear word). Resisted recently opposed boycotting art by doomed individuals. As he previously acted against an Israel boycott while donating generously to a Palestinian aid organisation.

The short conversation tour by Cave and O'Hagan also visited Brussels on Saturday 3 June and Sunday 4 June, promoting the paperback edition. Thousands of copies went on sale in the Benelux in recent days. For the paperback edition, a chapter was added to the original manuscript, unfortunately not of the high standard of the jubilantly received book.

In it, Cave professes the deepening of his faith, for him a "deep and true emotional connection to the mystery of life". And, asks O'Hagan, do you also believe in the survival of the soul? Cave: Jesus, Sean, where did that question suddenly come from?... I don't know anything about these things. At the moment, it doesn't seem so important to me either what happens to us after we die. There's too much life here to concern ourselves with"

Religious Finkers

That lightness and humour, but above all the search for depth in faith Cave shares with Herman Finkers. The cabaret artist from Twente performed four times with women's choir Wishful Singing with the 'meditative Gregorian sing-along concert' In Mysterium. With declared atheist Arjen Lubach, Finkers was allowed to say his 'religiously insane things' announce.

Confrontation with leukaemia fuelled Finkers' quest for religion. In the show, he himself came in priestly garb and the concert covered mostly church liturgy. Visitors, almost all over 55, still knew it from their Catholic church attendance as children; and people like me found it stupidly long-winded at the time, but now feel Gregorian chant as support towards the exit when loved ones are sick and dying. Something like coming to appreciate Mozart when not all Rolling Stones LPs turn out to be as good as I used to feel, ditto with The Beatles and Bach.

Singing along by the people disturbed for me Wishful Singing's benevolent, exquisite singing, something like having to listen to Cave ask not always sensible audience questions. And Cave like Finkers are believers, at least giving each and themselves the benefit of the doubt. Felt more like journalist O'Hagan (and partner Susie, according to Cave) who share the culture - buildings, art, music, - and comfort and joy of, and curiosity about, Catholicism, but no belief in God and holiness.

Although both Cave, O'Hagan and Finkers believe that the church leadership and its hypocritical rules-issuing and enforcing soulmates harm religion, they also like to call themselves "conservative" culturally. In a conversation with the audience after the church performance in theatre Floralis in Lisse, the five women of Wishful Singing said they had little to do with Catholic religion, and one bravely suggested that she would like to give Gregorian concerts without the religious fuss of priest Finkers. Who can be the first to laugh at that himself.

Diversity also

For both performances, the benefit of connectedness in appealing culture was true. And music of course, from Cave to be listened to with album Ghosteen for/with/with son Arthur and the recent Carnage and with Finkers the invigorating Gregorian chant as Zen. Big difference: Cave creates at a high level himself, Finkers delivers music.

To Cave on Friday, a fan asked, "Wouldn't you like to sing in Latin?" No way, Cave said, no way. As a poet, he is so closely tied to his mother tongue. Finkers, acting as an artist on a different level than Cave, is not a poet, did recite simple stanzas by Toon Hermans, Ivo de Wijs and Drs P.; but shares with Cave the deepest sense of life and death in music. In their music, as well as mirth and doubt about truths, they reflect kind of a rebirth of Catholic culture. Also an enrichment in terms of diversity, so to speak....

Seen: 21 May 2023, Agathakerk Lisse, Wishful Singing and Herman Finkers; 2 June 2023, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Nick Cave and Sean O'Hagan

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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