Johnny America


J. A. Rec­om­mends: the Red Hand Files


Illustration of a hand and dog-shaped shadow puppet, in red tones.

A small plea­sure of glid­ing in­to ear­ly-mid­dle age is look­ing in­to the rear view mir­ror and dis­cov­er­ing, here and there, skips of youth­ful judg­ment that are still eas­i­ly mend­ed. I ig­nored the oeu­vre of Nick Cave for twen­ty-some years be­cause I once knew a shouty hair­cut of a man who sim­ply wor­shipped at the Al­ter of the Es­teem-able Mr. Cave (shouty’s phras­ing). With a rec­om­men­da­tion like that, from a hair­cut like that— an un­re­li­able young pud­dle oth­er­wise de­vot­ed to aton­al emo-core, how could I help but ig­nore the sub­ject of such idol­a­try? If this guy digs Nick Cave, I logic’ed, by ex­ten­sion I must not: I can­not. But lo, did my men­tal heuris­tics fail me. Bet­ter late than nev­er, I suppose…

As one does when new­ly dis­cov­er­ing (for one­self) the ex­ceed­ing­ly well-doc­u­ment­ed and broad­ly-known, the in­ter­net came in handy in “re­search­ing” videos, more videos, and en­cy­clo­pe­dic his­to­ries of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The best nugget, though— by a mea­sure of miles— was dis­cov­er­ing the Red Hand Files newslet­ter, where­in fans send their queries to Nick, who writes in­vari­ably thought­ful, philo­soph­i­cal, fre­quent­ly hi­lar­i­ous re­spons­es in re­turn. That do some­times evoke tears.

An ex­am­ple ex­change:

My ques­tion is about how you per­ceive the util­i­ty of suf­fer­ing. What is the val­ue of suf­fer­ing to us as in­di­vid­u­als, and to us as a species as we go through our life car­ry­ing suf­fer­ing around, like some mind-numb­ing, soul crush­ing weight?

Pe­ter / Hanover, Canada 

Dear Pe­ter,

What do we do with suf­fer­ing? As far as I can see, we have two choic­es— we ei­ther trans­form our suf­fer­ing in­to some­thing else, or we hold on to it, and even­tu­al­ly pass it on.

In or­der to trans­form our pain, we must ac­knowl­edge that all peo­ple suf­fer. By un­der­stand­ing that suf­fer­ing is the uni­ver­sal uni­fy­ing force, we can see peo­ple more com­pas­sion­ate­ly, and this goes some way to­ward help­ing us for­give the world and our­selves. By act­ing com­pas­sion­ate­ly we re­duce the world’s net suf­fer­ing, and de­fi­ant­ly re­ha­bil­i­tate the world. It is an al­chem­i­cal act that trans­forms pain in­to beau­ty. This is good. This is beautiful.

To not trans­form our suf­fer­ing and in­stead trans­mit our pain to oth­ers, in the form of abuse, tor­ture, ha­tred, mis­an­thropy, cyn­i­cism, blam­ing and vic­tim­hood, com­pounds the world’s suf­fer­ing. Most sin is sim­ply one person’s suf­fer­ing passed on to an­oth­er. This is not good. This is not beautiful.

The util­i­ty of suf­fer­ing, then, is the op­por­tu­ni­ty it af­fords us to be­come bet­ter hu­man be­ings. It is the en­gine of our redemption.

Love, Nick

High­est rec­om­men­da­tion. Rarely are heart and wit so deft­ly mixed.

Filed under Commentary & Music on November 12th, 2021

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