Nick Cave’s fans arrived carrying gifts — flowers, handwritten letters, even a portrait of the artist himself set in stained glass, stoic and saintlike. But they had also come to receive something in return. Over three hours at Washington’s Lincoln Theatre on a Friday night in September, the Australian post-punk icon would look into their faces and answer any questions they asked of him.

Cave, 62, most famous as the frontman for the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, last year launched a weekly email newsletter titled the Red Hand Files — a nod to one of his most famous songs — wherein he invited his fans to ask him anything. Some inquiries are what you might expect: What does a certain song mean? Whatever happened with Cave’s ex, rocker PJ Harvey? But the questions, and Cave’s answers, more often plumb existential depths. People ask Cave about God, about grief, about his past and their own futures. He reads 50 letters every day, he said from the stage at his Sept. 20 show, and estimates that he has between 30,000 and 40,000 more in a queue.

His responses almost always feel profound and poetic; he signs them, “Love, Nick.” This direct connection to his fans has carried over into three dimensions with his ongoing “Conversations with Nick Cave” tour, events that are half concert, half chat. There is no moderator. There is, for both the man onstage and those in the audience, a moment of certain anxiety each time a new person rises to ask a question, and no one knows exactly what will happen next.

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Mostly, though, there is a powerful communal aura in the room, an almost familial sort of intimacy. This is fitting because of the many roles the artistic shape-shifter has inhabited in his life — feral rocker, melancholy balladeer, gothic novelist, film score composer — one in particular has delivered him to this realm of radical openness: a father who lost one of his children.

He spoke of this as he opened his American tour in the District, addressing a woman who had asked whether he holds these events because he wants to feel that he is not alone.

“Things really changed after the death of my child in this regard, in that I saw people in a different way,” he told her in his Australian-accented baritone voice. He moved toward her as he spoke, his towering frame draped in his trademark, slim-cut black suit, a gold chain falling across his white collared shirt, his chin-skimming locks dyed black as the eternal void.

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“This is what happens: You think you know who you are — you build yourself into the thing that you think you are in your mind — and then it just gets shattered,” he said. “And then you build it into something else. And that something else, for me, was a deep feeling toward other people and an absolute understanding of the suffering of other people.”

The woman smiled at him. “It feels like you’re allowing yourself to be seen,” she said. “It feels good to get that from you.”

This is what has come of the “reckless experiment,” as Cave himself calls it, which began with a simple message posted online for anyone who cared to respond: You can ask me anything. This will be between you and me. Let’s see what happens.

The first album Cave appeared on was released 40 years ago, and in the decades since, he has largely been a famously enigmatic figure — an intense, even menacing presence onstage and remote in his personal life, the sort of icon to be idolized but never quite deciphered.

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But there is one brief, bright glimpse of him as a father to his twin boys, Earl and Arthur, born in 2000 to Cave and his wife of nearly 20 years, Susie Cave. (Cave has two older sons, Jethro Cave and Luke Cave, from previous relationships.) Toward the end of the 2014 docu-drama “20,000 Days on Earth,” a lightly fictionalized account of one day in Cave’s life, there is a scene where he and his sons are piled together on a couch, watching the classic mafia thriller “Scarface.” Cave is sandwiched between his boys, his arm draped over Arthur’s shoulders. They’re eating pizza. Arthur reaches over and tears off a piece of his father’s slice. Together, the trio recites the movie’s famous line: “Say hello to my little friend!” and laugh as the cacophony of bullets fills the room. The moment is moving in its ordinariness, a snapshot of the everyday intimacy of fatherhood.

Less than a year later, that reality was obliterated by the sudden death of 15 year-old Arthur, who accidentally fell from a cliff near the family’s home in Brighton, England. Consumed by the chaos of grief, the boy’s parents were “flung to the outer reaches of our lives,” Cave would write later in the Red Hand Files.

At first, the family retreated entirely from the public eye. But that changed with the 2016 release of “One More Time with Feeling,” a searing black-and-white documentary that chronicled the Bad Seeds as they recorded the album “Skeleton Tree” in the raw aftermath of Arthur’s death; the work had already been in progress before the tragedy struck. The overwhelmingly empathetic response from audiences who were touched by the documentary, Cave said later, began to shift his reclusive instincts.

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Two years later, in September 2018, he published the first issue of the Red Hand Files, answering a fan who had written to ask whether the master lyricist had yet resumed writing.

Cave responded that he had, explaining his journey back to an existence that had at first felt warped beyond recognition, drained of awe and wonder.

“I kind of realised that work was the key to get back to my life, but I also realised that I was not alone in my grief and that many of you were, in one way or another, suffering your own sorrows, your own griefs,” he wrote. “I felt this in our live performances . . . I felt very strongly that the communal suffering, and our ability to transcend it, was the thing that held us together. This was not some pessimistic worldview, quite the opposite really. It became clear that as human beings we have enormous capabilities that allow us to rise above our suffering — that we are hardwired for transcendence.”

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Sometimes, the people who write to Cave are children: the 10-year-old boy who wanted to know whether Cave had any advice for him, or the gender-nonconforming teen who wrote that Cave's occasionally androgynous style made them feel understood. Sometimes, the people who write are parents: a father mourning the death of his child; a widower who feared he couldn't be the joyful parent his little daughter deserved. But most often, the people who write to Cave seem to give voice to their own inner child — as though they themselves are looking to be parented, to feel reaffirmed and understood, or maybe simply heard.

Have you ever suffered a crisis of confidence?

Does God exist?

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In his replies, Cave often refers to the moments that shaped his own life: the sudden death of his father when Cave was 19; the guiding principles instilled by his mother; his many years as a heroin and amphetamine addict; the works of art that transformed and sculpted his understanding of the world. When he writes of nurturing life — whether the life of a child or otherwise — his words feel like a reminder of what parenting really is: not a role that eclipses the other facets of one’s self but rather encompasses them; an act that draws from all we are, all we’ve known and endured, and uses those lessons to guide us as we guide our children.

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“I have always seen it as a kind of parental duty to show my own children beautiful stuff, and in doing so reveal to them an alternate world,” Cave wrote to the father who wanted to know how to give his children joy in a suffering world. “My job is to show my children that there is a whole universe that exists beyond the grim issues of the day. This is not to divert them from certain truths, but rather to remind them that the parallel world of art and the imagination can literally save their lives, as it certainly saved mine.”

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At the Lincoln Theatre, it was clear that Cave’s work carried particular resonance for the parents in the crowd. They stood, one by one, to tell him. A mother from Memphis gestured proudly to her 16-year-old son who sat beside her. A woman explained that she’d left her 6-year-old at home but asked whether Cave could dedicate the child’s favorite song to him. A father of 3- and 5-year-old girls told Cave that his daughters sang and danced to his music that very morning. A Russian mother brought her 12-year-old daughter and asked whether Cave could persuade the girl to read classic literature (“Never rush a child,” Cave told the mother). A mom of a son with leukemia wanted to thank Cave for his song “Into My Arms,” which had assumed a new meaning for her after her child’s illness.

Others asked about Cave’s own youth and how he had changed since then; one man asked Cave whether he felt he was different, wiser now that he was older.

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“I’m not young, and I feel I’m wiser for sure. More open. More compassionate. There is an incredible strength that comes from suffering,” Cave said. He paused. “I’m not worried about a lot of things I used to worry about when I was younger. I just feel incredibly protected by the fact that the worst has happened.”

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When the worst happened, as Cave explained in one Red Hand Files letter, he found himself in a place he’d somehow sensed was coming. He wrote that for most of his life, he’d felt “a strange gravitational pull toward an undisclosed traumatic event,” which he would come to realize was the death of his son — “something that both destroyed me and ultimately defined me.” It was this colossal tragedy, Cave wrote, that “brought me to the essence of my formed self.”

In the three years since “Skeleton Tree,” there had been no new album from the Bad Seeds, no glimpse into how Cave might convey his newfound knowledge, his emotional tether to his audience, through his music.

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When a woman asked about this at the Lincoln Theatre, it was the only moment of the evening when Cave seemed visibly uneasy, even cagey.

“I’ve heard that you guys have been recording in the studio,” she said, her voice hopeful.

Cave shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his face a half smile, half wince. “All sorts of things get said.”

“Are you working on a new album?” she asked more bluntly.

“Uh — no,” he said, and this was, technically, true: He wasn’t working on a new album, because a new album, the first to be entirely conceived and produced since Arthur’s death, was already finished.

In keeping with his ever-deepening connection to his fans, he shared the news with them directly the following Monday in the Red Hand Files: the forthcoming double album was titled “Ghosteen,” he wrote, the name of “a migrating spirit.”

Here, at last, was the long-awaited step in his transcendence, a work borne of Cave’s formed self — and even in the short introduction to his new double-disc, the defining role of his life was powerfully present. “Ghosteen,” he explained, was a work in two parts:

The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second, he wrote, “are their parents.”