This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #374: The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
As you may know, I am a big fan of Leonard Cohen as a singer, songwriter, poet, musician, novelist and anything else he may have tried his hand at. To me, his writing evokes romantic imagery and comes across as being very sensory-oriented, almost tactile, in nature. When I read his work or listen to his music, I often think of sidewalk cafes, skin brushing skin, thin cigarettes and mandolins and the luxury of all the time in the world.
Nick Cave was born in Australia to parents who were steeped in the Classics. He grew up a very literate young man. However, unlike Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave tended to view life from the seedier side. While every bit as beautifully-worded as anything Cohen produced, Nick Cave’s songs, books and poetry were all shadowy cloaked, dealing with the wretched and unsavoury among us. He was a rebel in his youth; forming punk bands and lashing out angrily at his audiences and critics. As an adult, his desire to kick at the constraints and constrictions of society’s expectations turned him inward to a more religious and/or philosophical outlook. Consequently, many of his songs deal with religious imagery and concepts. But, make no mistake, Nick Cave is not a Christian singer of songs. Not by any stretch at all.
“The Mercy Seat” is a fifteen verse song (!!!) that is based upon a book by Samuel Beckett called Murphy. One of the main settings for Beckett’s book is a mental hospital called Magdalen Mental Mercyseat. The main character sees the insanity all around him via his patients as being a form of escape and salvation from the drudgery of his everyday life. In Nick Cave’s song, the same idea is at play except that the song is about an inmate being electrocuted in an electric chair (the electric chair symbolizes the Throne of God, with the electricity coursing through his body being God’s Mercy at work, freeing him from his imprisonment). This song is a far cry from “She loves you” by The Beatles. It is an intense song about the different forms mercy may take and the orgasmic effect it can have depending upon who you are and what your troubles may be.
When you watch this video, you will note the growing, growling intensity of Nick Cave as the song moves toward its conclusion. If bringing about a merciful end to personal suffering is a form of Love then “The Mercyseat” is a love song for the ages. I would normally tell you to enjoy the song I am posting about but, in this case, the better term is to appreciate what you are seeing and hearing. “The Mercyseat” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is poetry. It is every bit the story that the likes of Leonard Cohen would tell…..only darker. It is death as release. It is freedom through pain. It is renewal by fire. It is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A happy day to you all.
A link to the official website for Nick Cave and the Bad seeds, can be found here.
Thanks to KEXP for their continued support of artists who produce original, well-written music. A link to the official website for KEXP can be found here.
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