Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Henry Lee”
PJ Harvey has worked with several artists through the course of her career, including Tricky, Josh Homme, and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. Nevertheless, her most important collaboration of all was arguably with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for its mythology alone. Their duet on Murder Ballads single “Henry Lee” turned an old folk song into modern rock legend after the music video just so happened to catch them falling in love in the span of four minutes. Cave describes filming “Henry Lee” in a 2008 interview with Guardian:
“Fucking hell! That’s a one-take video. Nothing is rehearsed at all except we sit on this ‘love seat’. We didn’t know each other well, and this thing happens while we’re making the video. There’s a certain awkwardness, and afterwards it’s like, oh…” So you were beginning the relationship in this three-minute video? “Yeah, exactly.”
The incoming storm this video managed to capture puts it on par with one-take classics like Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and D’Angelo’s “Untitled,” such an unbelievably rare and pure portrait of new love that I’m surprised it’s not on more all-time lists. Nothing seems to look quite as perfect as these two do with each other, almost mirror images attempting to conceal their growing nerves until they become comfortable and affectionate before climaxing in a meek kiss that somehow says more than a televised make-out session ever could. It is like watching all of the emotions involved in an entire romance occur in just four minutes.
Nevertheless, turmoil lurked beneath such seeming perfection, and the passion of Nick and PJ’s affair led both to depression. While Nick’s despair coaxed him into heavy heroin usage, PJ contemplated leaving the music industry entirely to become a nurse in Africa (see James R. Blandford’s Siren Rising for more). Fortunately, she did not, instead using the pain to create the beautifully solemn Is This Desire?— a record she and I both believe to be her masterpiece.
“I do think Is This Desire? is the best record I ever made—maybe ever will make—and I feel that that was probably the highlight of my career. I gave 100 per cent of myself to that record. Maybe that was detrimental to my health at the same time.”
—Nov. 2004, The Sunday Telegraph
Nick also used the lows of their affair to hit one of his all-time creative highs in his stark classic The Boatman’s Call. As music ignited their romance, it also gave them a sense of closure by leading them to artistic peaks. Through bringing each other to their worst, Nick and PJ inspired one another to reach their personal best.
Because of this, Nick and PJ are still one of the most sublime pairings in music history, and the proof is right here on tape. If watching this video doesn’t break your heart, I’m not entirely sure you have one.