Nick Cave Monday #35: “The Lyre of Orpheus”


Happy Mother’s Day. And a big hug to Dawn Cave, the mother who gave us the King of The Bad Seeds.

Thank you, Dawn, and thank you, Calliope. Calli-a-who?

Calliope was the mother of the greatest musician of all time, Orpheus. So it’s quite proper that Nick would turn some Greek mythology on its head and give it a spin.

“The Lyre of Orpheus” live in 2008:

“The Lyre of Orpheus” is the title track of the 2004 release. In Nick’s version, the music of Orpheus creates chaos and death. In the original mythology, Orpheus tries to use his beautiful music to get his wife out of hell. So there’s violence and humor in Nick’s version of the tale, which is always fun and feels a little dirty, especially when Orpheus makes it to hell and Eurydice says of his lyre:

“If you play that fucking thing down here, I’ll stick it up your orifice.”

Can’t a guy just play some music for Christ’s sake?

“The Lyre of Orpheus” live in 2004. NOTE: fast forward the video to the 8-minute mark:

Calliope, Orphy’s mom, was a muse of “epic poetry,” which could suggest how Orpheus took it to the next level and became a musician so talented rocks and stones would be emotionally transformed by his music. I’m assuming that’s why there is the “O momma” part in Nick’s tale of Orpheus, kind of like: Momma, look what you have made of me!

Or: Mom, you may be beautiful and inspirational, but I have become your wretched offspring.

More fun with “The Lyre of Opheus” live:

The Bad Seeds let the song develop into a ritual by having the audience reply to his “Oh momma” on the “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” tour. It was a great setup to get the whole crowd to sing the “Oh momma” part in at the wrong spot.

Wouldn’t it be great to create music that would make your spouse’s eyes pop from her sockets and her tongue burst through her throat? Come on, haven’t we all had those thoughts? Wait, or is that why I’m a single Bad Seeder?


The lesson we have learned is that if a girl gets in the way of your creativity, or even God with his frickin’ hammer bludgeons you for your songs, keep strumming anyway. Who needs God or a snakebitten Eurydice?

And even if you’re staring into the abyss and it’s your last moments of existence, it’s your purpose is to create music. Keep strummin’ that lyre and dedicate your last song to mom.

“Orpheus strummed ’til his fingers bled
He hit a G minor 7
He woke up God from a deep deep sleep
God was a major player in heaven
Oh momma, oh momma.

Thanks for reading, and come back next week for another edition of Nick Cave Monday.

Tony DuShane is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk. His writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, Penthouse, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer. And, if you’re a Nick Cave fan, check out Nick Cave Monday. More from this author →