In preceding Firearms and Leonard Cohen posts, the guns have been owned by the Canadian singer-songwriter; today’s post, in contrast, features instances in which he has been the potential target of another gun-wielding individual.
The best known gun pointed toward Leonard Cohen was Phil Spector’s .45. The anecdote has been repeated several times by Cohen. This excerpt, in fact, comes from a 2004 article, the title of which was inspired by the incident – “Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head?”
His album Death of a Ladies’ Man was produced by Phil Spector, the reclusive genius of girl-group pop. “I was flipped out at the time,” Cohen said later, “and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns – the music was a subsidiary enterprise … At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, ‘Leonard, I love you.’ I said, ‘I hope you do, Phil.'”1
Perhaps most significant as regards Leonard Cohen’s attitude towards guns is his response to the event. This excerpt is from Love Me, Love My Gun Barrel by Graham Lock (New Musical Express: February 23, 1980).
Phil Spector’s Bodyguards
It turns out that the gun Phil Spector held to Leonard Cohen’s head isn’t the only gun in a Cohen-Spector story. The following excerpt is from Leonard Cohen by John Walsh (Mojo, September 1994):
[John Walsh:] But most of the time [Cohen spent with Spector] was spent dodging bullets. Both the clinically paranoid Spector and his bodyguards were packing heat through the recording session. What was Spector shooting at?
[Leonard Cohen:] “Me! He was threatening me and the musicians. On Fingerprints there was a fiddle player, a good old country boy, a big guy. He played a riff, and Phil went up to him, pulled out a .45 and said he didn’t like the way he was playing it. The fiddler was a guy who’d grown up with guns. He just put his fiddle in its case and walked out of the studio, and that was the last we saw of him.”
[Leonard Cohen:] “It was a dark time. My family was breaking up. I thought I’d lost control of the record. All the takes were just scratch vocals – Phil used to confiscate the tapes at the end of each session. And all this madness with guns. … But I did challenge his bodyguard to draw on me. I started insulting him. I said You’re a motherfucking pussycat. You don’t even known how to use that [gun].”
During his expedition to Cuba, Cohen was in the cliched position of bringing a knife to a gun fight:
Wearing his khakis and carrying a hunting knife, he was suddenly surrounded by twelve soldiers with Czech submachine guns. It was late at night and they thought he was the first of an American landing team.2
Happily, Cohen convinced them he was harmless:
They arrested me, and the only words I knew at the time were ‘Amistad de pueblo.’ So I kept saying, ‘Amigo! Amistad de pueblo!’ and finally they started greeting me. And they gave me a necklace of shells and a necklace of bullets and everything was great.3
Maoists At The 1970 Aix-En-Provence Festival
Finally, there is Cohen’s report of a possible shooting at the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival concert:
I think I was shot at once at a big festival in Aix-en-Provence. That was when the Maoists were very powerful in France and they resented the fact that they actually had to buy a ticket. A lot of them broke down the fence and came into the concert and I did notice one of the lights on the stage go out after a kind of crack that sounded like a gunshot. I don’t know. But they’re tough critics, the Maoists.4
Firearms In The Work & Life Of Leonard Cohen
Guns have been a recurrent motif in Leonard Cohen’s work and life. He was deeply affected by his father’s pistol, a marker of his service in World War I, Phil Spector threatened him with a handgun, he has owned a number of guns, and he has alluded to firearms in his poetry, novels, and songs. As is true with most subjects that arise in Cohen’s interviews, he has been forthcoming about his experience with and thoughts about guns, discussing the matter without braggadocio (no one is likely to confuse his views with those of, say, Ted Nugent) or apology. This post is part of a collection of entries comprising a noncomprehensive sampler of connections between Leonard Cohen and pistols, rifles, bullets, small arms, handguns, … . All such posts can be accessed at Firearms In The Work & Life Of Leonard Cohen. (Note: This material was originally presented at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric, in a series of posts beginning Nov 12, 2011.)
- Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head? by Tim de Lisle. The Guardian, 16 September 2004. [emphasis mine] [↩]
- Various Positions by Ira Nadel. Random House of Canada, 1996 [↩]
- Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already by Pico Iyer. Shambhala Sun: Sept, 1998 [emphasis mine] [↩]
- Leonard Cohen: Various Positions, Transcript of 1984 CBC interview by Robert Sward [↩]