Leonard Cohen’s Only Concert Performance Of Les Rice’s "Banks of Marble" – Frankfurt 1972

Leonard Cohen 1972

Leonard Cohen 1972

1972 – Leonard Cohen Sings “Banks Of Marble”

Leonard Cohen performed “Banks Of Marble” in Frankfurt on April 6, 19721

The tone of the event is made clear by Cohen’s opening address to the audience:2

I think it was exactly two years ago today,
that I sang here, for the, the four students
at Kent University,… were shot down.

Nobody remembers that anymore.

And I dedicated this song to them, two years ago.
I haven’t forgotten about it.

I still see the police out there.

Leonard Cohen’s “Banks Of Marble” is based on “The Banks are Made of Marble,”which was written by Les Rice and popularized by Pete Seeger. How that song came to be written is both interesting and, especially in this era of economic angst, significant.

“The Banks are Made of Marble” By Les Rice

Union Songs quotes Irwin Silber’s notes to this song on Pete Seeger’s 1959 Folkways LP, “American Industrial Songs:”

Les Rice, the composer of this song, is a New York State apple farmer and one-time president of the Ulster County chapter of the Farmers Union. His songs have made him well-known to farmers throughout the northeast. Perhaps his most well-known composition is “Banks of Marble” which achieved great popularity among union members throughout the country and even in Canada, where new verses have been found.

This song, written around 1948-49. deals with the farmer’s perennial problem of “parity” and how it affects the farmer’s life.

‘I’m sixty per cent an American, I’m sixty per cent a man. That’s what parity says I am, That’s the law of the land. Now, do I work sixty per cent of each day? Eat sixty per cent of my meals? And does my truck take me into town on sixty per cent of it’s wheels?

Now will my chicks be content to eat just sixty per cent of their mash? And will the middleman give my throat just sixty per cent of a slash? Now all you workers in city and town, I know your budget’s a mess; But when you get down to that last lousy buck, remember I’ve forty cents less!’

Steve Platt, in  Banks of Marble on his Plattitude blog, writes,

Pete Seeger recorded the song, ‘Banks of Marble’, on at least two albums; and in a note in one of his songbooks he wrote that Rice ‘farms across the Hudson from me, near Newburgh [Orange County, New York]. Like most small farmers, he was getting intolerably squeezed by the big companies which sold him all his fertiliser, insecticide and equipment, and the big companies that dictated to him the prices he would get for his produce. Out of that squeeze came this song.’

The original lyrics follow:

“Banks Of Marble”

I’ve travelled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.

I saw the weary farmer,
Ploughing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A-knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the farmer sweated for.

I saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore.
I heard the bosses saying:
‘Got no work for you no more’.

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the seaman sweated for.

I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back;
I heard his children cryin’:
‘Got no coal to heat the shack’.

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for.

I’ve seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land;
I prayed we’d get together,
And together make a stand.

Then we’d own those banks of marble
With a guard at every door;
And we’d share those vaults of silver
That we have sweated for.

Leonard Cohen Performs “Banks of Marble”

Diamonds In The Lines provides this description and transcription of Leonard Cohen’s prologue to “Banks Of Marble” at the 1972 Frankfurt concert:

Note : The original song by Lee Rice (made famous by Pete Seeger’s covering) is partly sung by Leonard, melted with an improvisation about the Revolution…

In bold, the improvisation by Leonard.
The first two stanzas are from the original song (lyrics by Lee Rice)

The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miners sweated for
I wandered around this country
From shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miners sweated for

Well I have wandered around the country and I see it’s about the same. But I wouldn’t want to try myself to start a revolution here. Because I know that nobody here is ready for a revolution. I mean you’ve all got your good suit of clothes in the closet. You’re still feeling pretty good about your family – don’t want to disappoint your father. Still building up the old bank account, pfennig by pfennig. So this ain’t no time to start a revolution. I suggest, if you feel like, organising something you start off with the Rotary club. Anyhow….

(then the song “The Partisan” is introduced with an homage to the Four students shot by the Police at the Kent State University, USA, in 1970)….

Leonard Cohen – Banks Of Marble
Frankfurt: April 6, 1972
Video from clemensalexis

Pete Seeger Performs “Banks Of Marble”

For comparison, this is the same song performed by Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger – Banks of Marble
Video from dsteding

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  1. LeonardCohenLive []
  2. From Leonard Cohen Rare Live Songs []