Nick Cave Monday #40: “City of Refuge”

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If you commit manslaughter, you better run to the City of Refuge. It’s what the Old Testament tells us to do because under biblical law the family of the victim can kill you even if it was an accident.

We learned about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in Nick Cave Monday #4.  So, in bible times if you kill someone on purpose, then you’re dead. Kind of like the death penalty without endless appeals. If you accidentally kill someone you better have some fast running sandals.

Here are The Bad Seeds doing a live version of “City of Refuge” in 1990:

One day Eliakim was plowing the field. His oxen pulled the plow as he stood on it to keep it steady and guide the oxen. He had a really good job, kind of like someone who works at Google today.

As he plowed he saw Rebekah picking grapes. She was so sexy in that robe that went slightly above her knees as she bent over to move buckets. She met Eliakim’s gaze and he waved to her. She knew he had a good job and he was ready to bring a gift to her parents to show he was worthy of their smokin’ hot daughter.

Then Rebekah screamed and there was a high pitched yelp in front of him, followed by crunching and Eliakim saw that his oxen trampled Zerubbabel, her younger brother. There was no stopping the plow as it finished the job, splattering blood all over Eliakim’s new robe.

Zerubbabel’s brothers came from behind the bushes to see all of the commotion. Eliakim gathered his thoughts. First he was upset about his new robe, then he realized he accidentally killed a man. The brothers ran in his direction to seek vengeance and Eliakim remembered the Nick Cave song. The nearest City of Refuge was Golan and he ran while the avengers of blood were hot on his tail.

Thank God for Nick’s song because it has a driving beat that Eliakim repeated in his head while he outran the brothers and made it to Golan.

Nick Cave does an acoustic version of the song here:

That was from the film “Dandy” by Peter Sempel. Here’s another fun clip from the film with Blixa and Nick playing dice:

More clips are online, so check them out.

Inspiration for the song didn’t only come from the bible. There’s a song called “I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge” by Blind Willie Johnson that Nick twisted to create his own version:

Here are The Bad Seeds in Vienna performing the song:

“You better run, you better run, you better run to the City of Refuge.”

We usually don’t include Nick Cave cover bands, but this one is too good to pass up. They switch up the lyrics a bit to make it their own, but the influence is obvious:

The six Cities of Refuge no longer will take you in if you commit manslaughter….these days you need to lawyer up if you make a stupid mistake that kills someone.

Not to worry, while you’re awaiting your judgement you have the perfect soundtrack to play before your trial. I urge you to continue to listen to these songs by Nick Cave so that when you’re in a jail cell, or at DMV, you can close your eyes and smile and remember the sweet melodies.

“So you’ll scrub and you’ll scrub, but the trouble is bud,
The blood it won’t wash off, no it won’t come off.”

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 →