The Leonard Cohen song that changed Nick Cave’s life
If, like us, you’re full of admiration for the enigmatic singer and songwriter from The Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party, Nick Cave, equipped in all his darkened finery, then, like us, you will find it hard to imagine him as an 11-year-old boy—but as shocking as it may sound, and as unbelievable as it is to imagine, he was indeed once that young.
It was at this age that Cave first heard the song that would change his life and set him on course to become the loving step-father of rock and roll he is today. The artist behind such a victory for music and inspiration to Cave’s outlook? Leonard Cohen.
Cave’s admiration for Cohen has never been understated. When Cohen passed away in 2016, Cave led the tributes by suggesting that Cohen was truly one of a kind. “For many of us Leonard Cohen was the greatest songwriter of them all.” He added that Cohen was “utterly unique and impossible to imitate no matter how hard we tried. He will be deeply missed by so many.”
One of the many people deeply upset by his passing would be Cave himself, who not only held Cohen up as the figure of ultimate songwriting legend but Cave also did his best in covering some of his most iconic songs. Taking on 1967s anthem ‘Suzanne’, as well as ‘Avalanche’ and ‘I’m Your Man’, Cave has always done his best to pay homage to the Canadian poet.
But one song would change the Cave’s life. Seeing him evolve from a young boy in Wangaratta into the current Daddy of rock and roll would likely have never happened if it wasn’t for one song. Speaking with ABC’s Richard Kingsmill in 1994, the singer revealed the impact Leonard Cohen’s 1971 album track ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ had on him.
“I remember listening to this song when I must have been 11 or 12,” he said. “I lived in Wangaratta and I had a friend called Anne Baumgarten, she was quite a morbid kind of creature,” explains the equally morbid creature, Cave.
“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.”
“This song [‘Famous Blue Raincoat’] to me just seemed like a true kind of confessional song. It just seemed to be so open and kind of honest in some way. Whether it is or not, I don’t really know.”
Adding: “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.”
In the liner notes of 1975 best of Leonard Cohen record, the poet puts the record straight on whose coat it actually was: “I had a good raincoat then, a Burberry I got in London in 1959. Elizabeth thought I looked like a spider in it. That was probably why she wouldn’t go to Greece with me. It hung more heroically when I took out the lining, and achieved glory when the frayed sleeves were repaired with a little leather. Things were clear. I knew how to dress in those days. It was stolen from Marianne’s loft in New York City sometime during the early seventies. I wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.”