Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new album, Dig Lazarus Dig!, evokes the downcast New York of the seventies, as does the singer’s mustache. Cave spoke to Michael Martin.
Why did you decide to sing about the biblical character Lazarus coming to New York in the seventies?
There’s this painting by James Ensor that depicts Christ entering 1889 Brussels. It’s similar to what I’ve done with the Lazarus character: take him out of the Bible, put him in a contemporary environment.
Were you here then?
I was around in New York from the early eighties. I’ve lived here on and off. I lived in Chinatown for six months, with a political journalist who was also a junkie. He had the money, and it was my job to go and score for him. It was a special time.
Don’t you think it’s overromanticized?
No, actually. The city was so powerful. You could see the neurosis of the population in a way that you didn’t really see in cities in other parts of the world. In many ways, New York City is the one city that never disappointed me back then.
How were the drugs?
Not particularly good. The scoring experience was slightly extreme, but the drugs were not good—in America in general.
Don’t you find New York a letdown now?
Not at all. When you live in England, you see the corporateness of cities. It’s supposedly an American thing, and actually it’s not. It’s a European thing. On the English High Street, there are no small businesses at all. In New York, there still are. You can still eat in a family restaurant—it’s still very much got its character. There’s some idea that it’s cleaned up, which of course it has, but it’s still kind of deranged. You walk around the streets—it’s a completely different kind of ill. There’s nothing like it. The concept of humanity has gone to some other level.