Issue #280 / April 2024

I am finding your religious turn and proselytising difficult. How do you reconcile your faith with the church’s devastating history of sexism, homophobia, paedophilia etc. It’s not good enough to differentiate Jesus from the Christian religion since they draw on his words and teachings. Don’t you feel you’re letting down (even alienating) your queer and female fans?


Dear Jemma,

When I think of the artists that I truly admire, those that I have stuck with over the years, at some point in their lengthy careers they have all disappointed me. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Nina Simone, Kanye, Van Morrison, Morrissey, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith – these are artists that, for me, form a kind of confederacy of excellence, but at one time or another they have each alienated, confounded or displeased me. They have often not travelled in the direction I would have hoped or wished for, instead following their own confounding paths (damn them!) to their own truths. In the course of this I have sometimes been discomforted by things they have done, disagreed with things they have said, or not liked a particular record they have made. Yet there is something about them that keeps me captivated, and forever alert to what they might do next. More than anything, this has to do with their authenticity. I know that on a fundamental level they are on their own path and they are not in the business of shaping their lives, artistic or otherwise, in order to please or make others feel better. They are fully and acutely authentic, regardless of my feelings, or the feelings of anyone else and I find this deeply reassuring in a world that so often feels devoid of genuineness. In fact, if I sense that an artist is creating, saying or doing things just to win public approval, or to yield to the demands of the market, well, that’s when I tend to turn away.

Jemma, if I write something that feels upsetting or alienating then please know that it is not written with animosity or disrespect. When I write a Red Hand File, and in any other area of my work, I try to remain true to myself as a means of respect and to not bend to the needs of others. This is my way of putting before you my best and most authentic self.

Our lives are complicated and we all think and do things that are often unfathomable to one another, but we do so because we live our experiences and find our truths in different places. To my considerable surprise, I have found some of my truths in that wholly fallible, often disappointing, deeply weird, and thoroughly human institution of the Church. At times, this is as bewildering to me as it may be to you.

In the end I suspect that it is within the music that we will all find one another. Bound together by sound and rhythm, in that special place beyond dogma and opinion and offence, we can make sense of the world. I hope to meet you there, Jemma, somewhere inside the songs, in Sydney, next month! I can’t wait!

Love, Nick


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