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Nick Cave pays tribute to “the greatest songwriter of his generation” Shane MacGowan after storied friendship

Nick Cave has paid tribute to his close friend and “the greatest songwriter of his generation”, Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.

Upon the news of MacGowan’s passing on November 30 at the age of 65, Cave paid tribute to his friend by sharing that the singer was “A true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation. A very sad day.”

Cave and MacGowan had been friends for a long time. Back in 1992, the two shared a cover version together of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ and have gone on to perform together as well.

In an interview with The Irish Times in celebration of MacGowan’s 60th birthday, Cave spoke about meeting The Pogues frontman. “God knows when I exactly first met Shane,” he said. “He’ll remember. Shane has an astonishing memory. We spent a lot of time together. Many nights over the years. I think we were the only two people that could put up with each other.”

Speaking about their friendship, Cave added: “Almost in spite of our fractious demeanours we had romantic natures. We recognised that in each other. And a love of words. I always loved his stories that would run on into the night and how the evenings would invariably end with Shane singing songs. Shane staring into your eyes and singing you a song was quite something, you know. Not easily forgotten.”

Both Cave and MacGowan took part in an joint interview with The Fall’s Mark E. Smith for NME in 1989.

During the interview, MacGown spoke about Cave’s songwriting and shared: “It seems to me that in your songs, Nick, you’re doing a Jung style trip of examining your shadow, all the dark things you don’t want to be. A lot of your songs are like trips into the subconscious and are therefore nightmarish.”

Cave responded with “possibly” to which MacGowan added: “You’re exploring the world through the subconscious. I’ve done that on occasions for various reasons, whether it be illness or self abuse, or whatever. Once things start to look grotesque I don’t write them or sing them. I couldn’t write them the way you do, I couldn’t – making nightmares into living daylight,” with Cave saying: “I think you do a pretty good job of it in some of your songs.”

Musicians Nick Cave (L) and Shane MacGowan attend the party to launch the “Hoping For Palestine” DVD at Westbourne Studios on March 10, 2005 in London. Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images

In a clip posted to YouTube, Cave spoke about MacGowan as both a singer and lyricist calling The Pogues frontman a “great singer and the songs are really beautiful. Then the next album came out ‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God’ and I just though some of the lyric writing on that was unbelievable, kinda hitting shoulders above what anyone else was doing. It had a simplicity to it and beauty about it that was just extraordinary I thought.”

He continued: “He had this energy in the way that he wrote. from my point of view, I was writing very different sorts of lyrics I think and for a lot of different reasons, from as early on as I could remember actually. I was trying to make an effort in some way to show that I could write and that was the difference between me and Shane I think and thats what made Shane such a great writer, his complete effortlessness. It just looked like it just sort of dropped out of him. there wasn’t a bad line amongst it, it was just beautiful stuff.”

MacGow and Cave performed a duet of The Pogues’ ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ on Later with Jools Holland in 1992. The two also teamed up with pop icon Kylie Minogue for a performance of ‘Death Is Not The End’ on MTV’s Most Wanted in 1995.

MacGowan was also close with the likes of Johnny Depp. Speaking about how he immediately “fell in love” with the singer back (Per The Irish Mirror), Depp said: “When I met Shane he was negotiating a pool table. There was a drink in this hand, a pint, and in this hand, there was a guitar and he was teetering, balancing back and forth trying to negotiate which way to fall. I watched him do that for about 15 minutes.”

He continued: “Then I was introduced to him, before he fell, and from that moment on you just knew… there are moments in life when you know this will happen one time and one time only, when you get the opportunity to spend time with greatness. Having known him [MacGowan] a long, long time I can only say I fell in love with him the second I met him and I’m still in love with him to this day.

“His wife Victoria is a wonderful partner for Shane, they’re best friends, and I’ve seen that continue over these many years under all kinds of duress.”

Other tributes have poured in from the likes of Nick Cave, Tim Burgess and Frank Turner. You can read more of those here. 

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