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Nick Cave Monday #9: “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”

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Nick Cave scared the crap out of me.

The year was 1992 and I was used to grunge and punk rock and loved the bodies hurling into each other. There were bands like The Dwarves who would get naked, bleed, and fight the audience. But with Nick and the guys there was something even more sinister.

They didn’t need to rile a crowd, turning boys into beasts slamming into each other. Hell, they dressed like a bunch of fellas who just left a Catholic Mass and were off to drink endless coffee refills at a greasy diner.

Their music was primal and melodic all at once. With Nick’s lyrics, it could sound like a love song until you took a closer listen to the words, but by then you would have already entered the abyss of violence.

“Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” felt like a love letter to a son about the horrors of what daddy does when he isn’t at home, and what the future holds for most men. It’s like a ….here you go, boy, daddy loses his shit and when you grow up you’re going to lose your shit too…

Here’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds performing the song in 1992 in Amsterdam:

It was just so raw and intense and real and scary all at the same time. After listening to the song, there’s no going back, that song is a part of your brain and your chemical make up for life. I’m sorry, I should have warned you, but I want you to join us, those of us who have been tainted by “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”…..now you know, Nick Cave is utterly amazing.

Here’s a spectacular version with just Nick and a piano:

Even singing it like a ballad doesn’t mask that Nick’s song is still reaching right into your ass and ripping your intestines out.

Here’s the band performing the song in 1994:

Did you see Nick mess up the lyrics and yell “Fuck” off the microphone to the band? Good times. It’s when he was supposed to sing, “I came upon a little house a little house upon a hill.”

If you’ve been playing along at home, the last eight Nick Cave Mondays have lead up to this, a baptism of blood and guts into the religion of all that is Nick Cave.

Here’s The Bad Seeds performing the song in 2009:

With “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” it feels like Nick is putting his hand through your hair, then slapping your face.

Thanks for reading and see you next week for Nick Cave Monday.


Tony DuShane is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk (Soft Skull Press). He's a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and hosts the radio show Drinks with Tony. Take his class Novel 1 at UCLA Extension, January 2015. His writing has also appeared in Mother Jones, Penthouse and The Believer. www.tonydushane.com More from this author →