“Theft is the engine of progress”: Nick Cave responds to plagiarism enquiry with class

“Theft is the engine of progress”: Nick Cave responds to plagiarism enquiry with class

Nick Cave
Photo: Amelia Troubridge
Words by Tom Parker

Are you across Cave’s blog, The Red Hand Files?

In September 2018, Nick Cave launched a blog called The Red Hand Files which sees him communicate with his fans and talk about theories behind his music as well as other interesting topics. What a fan will ask Cave will answer, and he does so in typical stately Cave fashion.

He’s now up to blog post #94 which has seen someone enquire about another of Cave’s bands, Grinderman, and in particular the band’s song, ‘Palaces of Montezuma’. Else from Portland is curious as to the originality of the track and alludes to the hearsay that there’s similarities with Rising Signs’ 2005 song, ‘Grey Man’.

But Else gets more pleasure from the song because of a perceived crossover with The Laughing Clowns’ 1982 song, ‘Theme From Mad Flies, Mad Flies’, a former Sydney band which featured The Saints’ Ed Kuepper.

With so many perceived similarities between bands from different settings, Else asks what that means for originality in music.

To which Cave responds in the blog post:

“A lovely question, and one that brings us back to Palaces of Montezuma’. If I recall correctly, Warren [Ellis, Grinderman multi-instrumentalist] wrote the chords and backing vocal line to this song. I just listened to Rising Signs‘ ‘Grey Man’ and it does sound pretty fucking similar. So, I phoned Warren, who is in lockdown in his studio in Paris, and asked him outright: Did you steal Palaces of Montezuma’ from Rising Signs?

“Fuck, no!” Ellis said. I stole it from The Laughing Clowns.

Well, it’s clear Ellis isn’t afraid to use the “steal” word but as Cave continues his train of thought, it becomes clear there’s great liberty in referencing others if it is done in the correct fashion.

“The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation – everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time. Its a feeding frenzy of borrowed ideas that goes toward the advancement of rock music – the great artistic experiment of our era.” 

Well, there you go.

Check out the full blog post here.

Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories five times a week.