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SXSW Day 5: Nick Cave gets personal in Austin

Posted 5:52pm on Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013

A dryly funny and reflective Nick Cave, the Australian singer-songwriter known for his "bad boy" persona back in the late '70s/early 80s, kicked off the music side of SXSW Tuesday morning with a Q&A in front of a full house at the Austin Convention Center.

Cave, 55, has mellowed since his days with the cult post-punk bands The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party and has become -- along with the likes of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits -- something of a respected elder statesman on the alt-rock scene. His latest album, Push the Sky Away, is turning out to be one of his bestsellers and his entire U.S. tour (including a Thursday night show at McFarlin Auditorium in Dallas) has sold out.

While his work has always been informed by a fascination with American roots music and the Bible, it's now less cacophonous and more elegant and literary. He's also known for his evocative soundtrack work, such as for the film Lawless, and his novels.

And it was that gentleman who showed up Tuesday taking questions from moderator and writer Larry Sloman.

"It was a good life," he said early on about his childhood though he conceded a cultural restlessness. Growing up in rural Australia, he was initially fascinated by Johnny Cash.

"American influences were very strong [in Australia]," he said. "The Cash show was very exciting to me. It was like some kind of evil. The Man in Black, there was something dangerous about it."

He eventually moved to Melbourne where he formed The Boys Next Door. He took the band, who changed their name to The Birthday Party, to London. Finally, he ended up in Berlin and Brazil for several years.

"Culturally, life has been a series of disappointments," he said of all his moves. "I was always dreaming of getting to Melbourne. Then when I got there, I was dreaming of going to England."

Cave said he was not particularly well liked in schoo, that he was the "anti-magnet" for girls. "They saw me coming and were repulsed," he recalled.

Later, his Boys Next Door/Birthday Party work was often derided in its day and his admitted heroin use in those days apparently took its toll and gave him a rather disheveled reputation. ("I wasn't in showroom condition" he deadpanned at one point Tuesday). Things appear to be better these days and his work is well regarded. But, after Sloman read a recent negative review of Push the Sky Away from the New York Post, Cave has not mellowed in terms of refusing to suffer those he regards as fools gladly.

"I've spent my life battling against other people's lack of imagination," he said.

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