If there’s one artist who has never been quiet about his admiration for the late, great poet/singer Leonard Cohen, it is the Australian Agony Uncle, Bad Seeds singer and all-round rock hero, Nick Cave.
The Bad Seeds man has never been quiet about his adoration for the Canadian singer and poet, Cohen. He was an artist who influenced Cave right from the very start of his musical journey and has infiltrated his work ever since, still offering an inimitable high bar to aim for. In 2005, as part of a feature film on the life of Cohen, the Aussie covered the dirty ditty ‘I’m Your Man’.
Though you might technically class the 1988 titular track from I’m Your Man as a pop song, with Cohen nothing is ever that simple as he entrenches every word with level upon level of texture. The singer’s grazing vocal is vulnerable and beaten down, allowing his story to unfold as Cohen, ever the poet, continues to paint lyrical pictures with every line.
It was something that captured the spirit and intrigue of Nick Cave from a very young age. When sitting down with ABC a few years back, he said: “I remember listening to this song when I must have been 11 or 12. I lived in Wangaratta and I had a friend called Anne Baumgarten, she was quite a morbid kind of creature.
“She used to play Leonard Cohen in her room with burning candles and all that sort of stuff. She’d listen to Songs of Love and Hate over and over again. I started to that myself and became kind of infatuated with the lyric at that point. I saw how powerful that could be.
He added: “It just had that effect on me and it really kinda changed the way I looked at things. He had a tendency to air his linen in public in a way. I thought that was all very impressive at the time. I still do, of course.”
It’s a style of songwriting that has always rung true with Cave. Speaking on French TV for in 1994, Cave said: “I discovered Leonard Cohen with ‘Songs of Love and Hate’. I listened to this record for hours in a friend’s house. I was very young and I believe this was the first record that really had an effect on me. In the past, I only listened to my brother’s records. I liked what he liked, followed him like a sheep.”
“Leonard Cohen was the first one I discovered by myself. He is the symbol of my musical independence. I remember these other guys that came to my friend’s house that thought Songs of Love and Hate was too depressing. I’ve realised that this ‘depression’ theory was ridiculous. “
Cave added: “The sadness of Cohen was inspiring, it gave me a lot of energy. I always remember all this when someone says that my records are morbid or depressing.”
Either with The Bad Seeds or out on his own, Nick Cave has never been one to shy away from a cover—no matter who the artist was or how appropriate Cave’s cover may be. So, it makes sense that he jumped at the chance to cover one of his idol’s songs for a feature film about his life.
Released in 2005, filmmaker Lian Lunson took on the unenviable task of trying to cram the illustrious and intimidating life and career of Leonard Cohen into a single feature film. Titled Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man it was backed with an impressive soundtrack as imposing figures of the music industry did their best to cover the legendary songwriter with a homage to their hero.
The task of the title track was left to one of his biggest fans, Nick Cave. The Aussie singer provides all of what made Leonard Cohen great in gurgling swathes or idiosyncratic vocal tone, deliberate and decadent cadence, and, above all else, a connection with the song and its inherent story. It’s a truly sumptuous cover and one we’re hoping Cohen heard before his sad death in 2016.
At the time of his death, Cave led the tributes by saying: “For many of us Leonard Cohen was the greatest songwriter of them all. Utterly unique and impossible to imitate no matter how hard we tried. He will be deeply missed by so many.”
Listen below to Nick Cave trying really hard on his cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’.