“Leonard [Cohen] taught me that a perfect mixture of cynicism and optimism is at the heart of great things” Josh Ritter

675px-josh-ritterFrom Josh Ritter, Lee Ranaldo, Richard Thompson and More Pay Tribute to Leonard Cohen by Jonathan Bernstein (Village Voice: January 26, 2017)

Credit Due Department: Photo by Sean Rowe – http://www.flickr.com/photos/sjr-images/4074163795/, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikipedia Commons

Leonard Cohen’s Gateway To Roy Orbison: Jennifer Warnes At Black & White Night


“Make it like Roy Orbison would do it”
~ Leonard Cohen

That Leonard Cohen held Roy Orbison in high regard is a certainty, as evidenced by this excerpt from Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel (Random House of Canada 1996):

In rehearsal [for the 1988 tour] Cohen would tell the band to ‘make it like Roy Orbison would do it.’ The musicians had a picture of Orbison pasted into their chart folder.

And, as noted in Roy Orbison’s “House Without Windows” (Or Hank Williams’ “House Without Love”) Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox, #6 on Leonard Cohen’s Top Ten Songs Of 1988 list is “House Without Love” by  Roy Orbison.1

It’s significant that these two Leonard Cohen references to Roy Orbison, both dated 1988, are the only allusions the Lord Byron of Rock ‘n’ Roll made to the Big O I found – until I came across a Jan 30, 2017 article about the re-release of Roy Orbison’s Black & White Night video.

Jennifer Warnes Explains How Roy Orbison’s Black & White Night Impacted Leonard Cohen’s Music

Jennifer Warnes was one of the friends at Roy Orbison’s September 30, 1987 Black & White Night With Friends performance. Her entire account of the event, including Jackson Browne inviting her to participate and her work with T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, and Bonnie Raitt, is a treat to read (and the full article is available at the link below), but the focus of this post is on the influence this experience ultimately had on Leonard Cohen. The following excerpts are pertinent:2

“I told Leonard he needed to be there [at the Black & White Show], because I knew it would be good. He was my friend and my ticket, …  I remember where Leonard was sitting, and Rebecca De Mornay [who was briefly engaged to Cohen] was there…

“In studying Anita Kerr’s arrangements I began to understand how to support a pop record with stacking, and what that does to a song…  She [Warnes]  contrasts stacking (“a slang term generally used in the recording studio, when one singer can compose an arrangement and then sing all the parts in layers”) with the process of “my generation of recording artists, who lowered the costs and risks of recording live by multi-tracking or overdubbing. Meanwhile, digital technology can now ‘clone’ vocals: Virtual choirs can be constructed by an engineer through ‘cut and paste’ technology–infinite construction [such that] the live, real, spirited force in the room when music is created live, is absent.”

A week after the show, then, Cohen, “like he usually did,” sent Warnes a number of new songs to go over and make suggestions. He must have been deeply impressed by the show and was very respectful of Roy afterwards,” she says. “I picked what I thought I had something strong to add to, including ‘Tower of Song’–but didn’t tell him I was taking the information I learned from Anita Kerr and applying it. When he showed up at the studio I told him he probably wasn’t going to like what I did, but to give me a chance. I’d layered up three or four voices on ‘Tower,’ and he just loved it and ended up going with that approach for many years. He was hooked on the idea of making his recordings sound more pop.” [emphasis mine]

So, while it seems safe to assume that Leonard Cohen, the aficionado of jukebox tunes and country music radio, must have been aware of Roy Orbison prior to 1987, it appears that Jennifer Warnes and the 1987 Black & White Night were the catalysts that led Cohen to Orbisize some of his songs and make his “recordings sound more pop.”


  1. Leonard Cohen – In Eigenen Worten by Jim Devlin []
  2. With Roy Orbison’s landmark all-star ‘Black & White Night’ long form video being re-released in new format, Jennifer Warnes reveals its influence on Leonard Cohen by Jim Bessman (Centerline: January 30, 2017) []

“It was a Leonard lovefest all around” A Visit From St. Leonard – 2012 London, ON Leonard Cohen Show Review

Portion of poster promoting the Dec 11, 2012 Leonard Cohen London, Ontario concert signed by Mr COhen

Portion of poster promoting the Dec 11, 2012 Leonard Cohen London, Ontario concert signed by Mr Cohen

A Visit From St. Leonard

A Visit From St. Leonard …. otherwise known as Leonard Cohen, whose visit I was looking forward to so much more than that of the other guy whose last name begins with the letter “C”. Revered Canadian poet and singer Leonard Cohen, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, is blessed with a marvelous baritone voice and a large repertoire of rather bleak songs that combine the religious and the sexual. Backed by a stellar group of musicians and backup singers, he entertained his London fans for over three hours with songs from recent albums, and old favourites like “Chelsea Hotel”, “Suzanne”, “Hallelujah” and “Bird on the Wire” – it was a Leonard lovefest all around.

From A Visit From St. Leonard, a report on the Dec 11, 2012 London, Ontario Leonard Cohen Concert posted Dec 13, 2012 at Forest City Fashionista. The post also contains several photos.

Credit Due Department: Photo of autographed poster by BudGardens via Twitter. Originally posted Dec 17, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Recommendation: Spirituality And Desire In Leonard Cohen’s Songs And Poems By Peter Billingham

newbkSpirituality And Desire In Leonard Cohen’s Songs And Poems by Peter Billingham (Cambridge Scholars: Jan 1, 2017) comprises ten essays generated for a one day symposium at at the University of Winchester in 2014 (see listing at Chapter Titles & Contributors: Spirituality And Desire In Leonard Cohen’s Songs And Poems By Peter Billingham).

Given that the selections range from an unflinchingly Freudian analysis (Sex, Religion, Politics, and the Death Instinct: ‘Night Comes On’ by Leighton Grist), to “A Short Abstract Film about the Life and Work of Leonard Cohen” (David Burden), to a Hegelian perspective (Leonard Cohen and the Philosophical Voice of Learning by Rebekah Howes) to a piece by Cohencentric’s favorite rock chick, Sylvie Simmons, it is unsurprisingly that the style and quality of the chapters vary significantly.

Readers should be aware that most of these essays will require some heavy slogging (and Googling) for non-academics.  The effort is, however, rewarded. I especially recommend Julian Stannard’s accessible and enlightening look at Cohen’s early poetry, Billingham’s examination of the recurring Wounded Man figure in Cohen’s songs, and Sylvie Simmons’ insights into Cohen’s reluctance to facilitate overanalysis (i.e., any analysis whatsoever) of his work.

Jikan Leonard Cohen Memorial Messages From His Friends At Rinzai-ji

When Leonard was only a few months away from death, I asked him why he was using the last ounces of his energy to produce yet another CD. He said, there are hundreds of thousands of people in this world who have been so kind as to listen to my music, and this is my last chance to thank them. Who says something like that? Only someone who had himself poured his heart into countless poems and songs and was so touched that his heart had been received — and that was at the core of the Leonard Cohen sangha, the community of those who could laugh and cry together with him.quotedown2

Yoshin David Radin

Comments on Leonard Cohen’s passing by Pico Iyer,Noritake Shunan Roshi, Yoshin David Radin, Kendo Hal Roth can be found on pages 2-6 of News of Rinzai-ji (Winter 2017)

Thanks to Augenstein Hannot, who alerted me to these edifying messages about Leonard.