Nick Cave has taken to his Red Hand Files website to open up about the meaning of his 2016 track “Girl in Amber”, noting the connection to the tragic passing of his son a year earlier.
The devastating incident, which occurred in July of 2015, saw Cave’s son Arthur fall from a cliff near Brighton, England. Later passing away from his injuries, the impact it had on Cave was immense, with releases such as Once More With Feeling, Skeleton Tree, and Ghosteen appearing to be heavily influenced by the event.
Though 2016’s Skeleton Tree appeared to feature heavy themes of loss and grief, one of the record’s songs – “Girl in Amber” – has since stood out for many fans, with numerous questions regarding its inspiration and subject matter appearing online.
Now, responding to some of these questions on his Red Hand Files site, Cave has opened up about the track, describing it as being “a song wrapped around a mystery” that “seems to possess a special, almost mystical, power”.
Noting that the title came to him in 2014 thanks to an amber-encased spider on violinist Warren Ellis’ kitchen table, Cave explained that he recorded a version that same day, improvising the “repetitive, mantra-like lyric” while thinking of “people I knew who were in a state of stasis, forever locked in the past”.
“A year or so later, I was in another studio in Paris attempting to finish Skeleton Tree,” he continued. “Things had changed. Arthur, my son, had died a few months earlier and I was existing in a kind of fugue-state, numbly sitting in the studio listening to the songs, trying to make sense of the material we had been working on over the last year, and as I listened to the version of ‘Girl in Amber’, I was completely overwhelmed by what I heard.
“It was suddenly and tragically clear that ‘Girl in Amber’ had found its ‘who’. The ‘who’ was Susie, my wife — held impossibly, as she was at the time, within her grief, reliving each day a relentless spinning song that began with the ringing of the phone and ended with the collapse of her world. The eerie, death-obsessed second verse seemed to speak directly to me, and I added the half-line ‘Your little blue-eyed boy’, but left the rest of the verse as it was.
“There were a couple of lines in the song that made little sense, but I left them unchanged for they brought a fractured inarticulateness to the lyric, which added to its mysterious, emotional pull. I added the line ‘Don’t touch me’ in the mixing session some months later. It felt true.”
Continuing by noting that a number of songs on the album seemed to “speak into the future”, he explained that this song in particular possessed an “uncanny clairvoyance, a secret intelligence”.
“When I sang ‘Girl in Amber’ on the Skeleton Tree tour, it felt very much as if I was singing into the terrible present — my wife still trapped in the amber of her grief,” he continued. “Last month I performed it on the In Conversation tour. Three years had gone by and it struck me as I sang it, alone at the piano, that I was speaking to the past, and that Susie had been released, at least in part, from the suffocating darkness that surrounded her. There was some air and some light between her and the world. Time had done its work.
“I would like to think that ‘Girl in Amber’ went some way toward releasing both my wife and me from the paralysis of our grief, as you suggest it helped you. I would also add that it has been my experience that although we are all, in some way or another, imprisoned by the events of our seemingly intractable pasts, in time, patient time, we heal.”