One Iconic Musician Still Regrets Not Letting Moulin Rouge Use Their Music

Moulin Rouge!, 2001’s musical cultural phenomenon, was originally written with a very different opening number and accompanying scene. This in and of itself isn’t news, as writer/director Baz Luhrmann has spoken openly about it for some time. However, we have some new information regarding the infamous forgotten scene. Cat Stevens, the iconic musician who refused to give the film the rights to his song “Father and Son,” now says that he considers it one of his great musical regrets. 

The Story Of Moulin Rouge’s Original Opening Scene

First, in order to understand the spiritual and musical awakening that led to Stevens’ regret, we have to understand what almost was. The opening of Moulin Rouge! features a haunting version of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” against the backdrop of Baz Luhrmann’s eccentric vision for the streets of France, until we finally land on Ewan McGregor’s Christian, grieving, and writing his autobiographical tale “A Love That Will Live Forever.”

Baz Luhrmann’s original vision, however, would have opened on Christian arguing with his English, blue-collar father about whether or not he should follow his bohemian dreams in France. It would have been set to Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son,” and if you listen to the lyrics they’re really quite fitting for such a storyline. Well, Stevens, AKA Yusuf Islam, was unable to accommodate Luhrmann’s request for the music rights due to his spirituality, as Luhrmann explained during CinemaBlend's recent conversation with the director in celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary:

Originally, we opened the musical with the Cat Stevens song, “Father and Son,” and it was a scene between a father and Christian, and the father was an industrious in England, and they’re having an argument… and we did a version of it and we actually shot a test with Ewan McGregor. And at the time, Cat Stevens, and I absolutely respect him, and I want to be crystal that I was not in any way disrespectful of Cat Stevens’ decision, that Cat Stevens said, ‘look, I read the script and, as a Muslim, they're not married, and they’re together, and I can't allow that.’ And so we didn't do that, and we pivoted to this other idea of “Nature Boy,” actually.

So, because of Stevens’ faith, he couldn’t let the song be used for a love story between two unmarried characters in Ewan McGregor's Christian and Nicole Kidman's Satine. In the end, it all worked out. A slew of heavy hitters were involved with the film, and it’s kind of hard to imagine the film beginning any way other than with “Nature Boy.” David Bowie even did a recording for the soundtrack, with one of the film’s stars, John Leguizamo, providing vocals for that first scene of the film. While Baz Luhrmann was respectful of Cat Stevens’ decision, what he may not have seen coming was the open regret the artist would later on express.

How Cat Stevens Came To Regret Not Letting Moulin Rouge! Use “Father and Son”

When Cat Stevens decided to revert to Islam, he famously quit playing music. So much so that apparently his own kids didn’t know that he was a world-famous folk musician. Baz Luhrmann recalls an interview he saw with Stevens, and told the story from the man’s point of view:

My son came home, and he said, ‘Dad, do you know how to play a musical instrument?’ And I said well, yeah, I can play guitar sort of, so I picked up the guitar and started playing music to my ten-year-old, my son. And I realized in that moment that music was a gift given to me by God, and therefore it can't be wrong.

So, this moment was the spiritual and musical awakening that led Cat Stevens to begin playing music again. What came later, however, was the moment that really caught Baz Luhrmann off-guard, and it came many years after the release of Moulin Rouge! As Luhrmann recalled to CinemaBlend:

He was asked if he had any regrets, and he said, ‘yes, I was going to give “Father and Son” to Moulin Rouge! and I declined it.’ And I know because I reached out to Cat later on, and he said can we use that footage on a Blu-ray or something. So I know he gave permission.

Baz Luhrmann was able to work directly with a handful of his musical heroes when making Moulin Rouge! Although he was turned down by Cat Stevens, he respected the man’s decision and it was one of many ideas and changes that ultimately worked out for the movie. It seemed clear to me while speaking to the director that he was delighted to know that if Stevens could do it all over again, he’d have done it differently. 

Given the fact that just a few months ago Moulin Rouge! The Musical won a record-breaking number of Tony awards, the cultural impact of the film is clearly still being felt. Right now, Baz is in post-production on his Elvis biopic with Tom Hanks, and we’ll keep you updated as we know more. As for what to watch in the meantime, we’ve got you covered.

Jeff McCobb
Senior Video Producer

Jeff is a film buff who is ridden with gratitude that he gets to spout opinions about them for a living. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spends his time complaining about Los Angeles.