“He started discovering this very textured & very present part of his voice that I don’t think he was using earlier in his career. And people loved it.” Sharon Robinson On The Last Leonard Cohen Tours

A must-read: Sharon Robinson Reflects on Touring With Leonard Cohen by Andy Greene (Rolling Stone: 12 July 2017)

Photo by Fleya de Ugalde

“Leonard Cohen was a monument” Tony Vaccaro Talks About His Iconic Leonard Cohen Photos – Nashville 1968


Although Tony Vaccaro (Tony Vaccaro Studio) took these photos of Leonard Cohen nearly 50 years ago (a few months after Songs of Leonard Cohen, his first album, was released at the end of 1967), his ardent recall of and enthusiasm about this shoot are clearly evident even over the telephone.

Keep in mind that Tony Vaccaro’s first photographic career was as  renowned  combat photographer in World War II, after which he went on to work in Europe for the State Department and for the newspaper Stars and Stripes. After the war, he was a staff photographer for Look, Life, and Venture as well contributing pictures to Time and Newsweek and serving as chief photographer for Flair. He shot such luminaries as Sophia Loren, John F Kennedy, Bertrand Russell, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Stirling Moss, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jackson Pollock, Peter Sellers, and many, many more.

Yet, that trip to Nashville to shoot photos of Leonard Cohen on behalf of Look magazine (the photos were published in Songs Sacred and Profane by Ira Mothner in the June 10, 1969 issue of Look magazine) stands out. Vaccaro has a distinct memory of details such as walking early in the morning to his appointment with Leonard and serendipitously meeting hm en route walking someone else’s dog. He also recalls that Leonard “was simple and personal. We talked about his girlfriend in Greece [Marianne].” He goes on on:

The world didn’t mean much to him. He was only interested in the music.

Leonard Cohen was a monument. He possessed great humanity. That was my interest in him.

Vaccaro, in fact, lists Leonard Cohen as “one of the four or five greatest people I have photographed.” This evaluation becomes even more impressive when one learns that Tony Vaccaro rejected assignments to photograph certain celebrities, naming as examples two entertainment icons he felt were “phonies.”

The photo atop this post was taken on a Nashville car lot as Leonard searched for a car to purchase.

The photo below, showing Leonard prone on the grass, was taken after the photographer rolled down an incline and, as Tony Vaccaro tells it, Leonard followed “like a child, he rolled over and over. We were having a ball.”

Note: A selection of Tony Vaccaro’s photos, including one of his Leonard Cohen images, is currently on exhibition at Santa Fe’s Monroe Gallery (112 Don Gaspar; Santa Fe NM).

The Look magazine article in which photos from this shoot appeared is shown below.

See more of Tony Vaccaro’s work at Tony Vaccaro Studio 

Maria Viana At The Leonard Cohen Archives: Letters, Drawings, Poems, & Other Titles Considered For Let Us Compare Mythologies

Maria Viana spent six hours delving into Leonard Cohen’s archives at the University of Toronto. These following excerpts from A look inside U of T’s massive archive of Leonard Cohen poems, letters and pictures by Jennifer Cheng (Toronto Life: Nov 22, 2016) offer an overview of the contents:1

University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library [is] home to 140 banker’s boxes worth of Cohen’s archives. Throughout his career, Cohen donated scores of remnants to the library: handwritten notes and letters, portraits, CDs, paintings, novel manuscripts, books, early drafts of his poetry and lyrics, and even art he made when he lived as a Buddhist monk…

These notebooks came with the the manuscripts of Cohen’s second novel, Beautiful Losers, and first book of poetry book, Let Us Compare Mythologies, which Fisher bought in the early ’60s. (Apparently, Cohen lived off money from the sale for a year on the Greek island of Hydra—he would have been about 26, and rent was about $14 a month.) The books contain drafts of his poetry and lyrics, as well as relics of daily life: there’s a sketch of a rabbit named Cocoa, diary entries (“Where shall I go now?) and phone numbers. Cohen even scribbled a few words of a poem (“This cigarette…It’s clear to me that you will have to deceive me…”) on a piece of toilet paper

Maria writes:

I wish I had time to read and write down every single line of Leonard’s notes. I spent six hours in that tower of song, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, I will never thank enough Jennifer Toews for her time with me.

It wasn’t easy; the first box took me nearly two hours. The first thing I saw was a poem about a grave, so you can imagine the tears rolling down my face. That  happened a couple times. I felt inundated with his precious archives, words, notes, lines, drawings, first and second thoughts…
Continue Reading →

  1. This article is an entertaining description of the collection with lots of photos – including one of Leonard wearing the wings of an angel. (Also see Where To Find Leonard Cohen’s Novel, “Indian Rockets;” His 1986 Genie Award Plaque; His TV Play,”The New Step” … & How They Got There) []

Read, Download Leonard Cohen Articles From Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities V9N1

Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies, Volume IX, Number 1, 2017, offers the full texts of three scholarly (but accessible) articles dealing with Leonard Cohen. The following links can be downloaded as PDF files.

1988 Press Photo: Leonard Cohen – “The Eminence Grise Of Art Song” and A “Semi-Household Word”

lc-1989-x-scaled1000inscript-scaled1000And “The Eminence Grise Of Art Song”

The press photo of Leonard Cohen displayed above is impressive, but the legend (second image above) that was part of the photo is also noteworthy for its description of Cohen:

Singer-composer Leonard Cohen in New York. He is still the eminence grise of art song, 21 years after Judy Collins’ version of “Suzanne” made him a semi-household word. (Must Credit: Photo for the Washington Post) Illustrates Cohen (category e), by Richard Harrington (Post). Moved Monday, Nov. 28. 1988, The Washington Post. [emphasis mine]

Followup research reveals that Richard Harrington wrote a Washington Post story called “Songs in Key of Gray; Leonard Cohen and the Legacy of His Dark-Hued Ballads” published October 30, 1988

Credit Due Department:: Tom Sakic found this gem at an auction site and alerted me to it.

Note: Originally posted April 4, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric