Leonard Cohen, Forest Hills 1970 – “Nervous, Uncomfortable, Oppressive, Lifeless” & In A Tiff With Dylan

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Note: Most of this content was originally posted May 24, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. Some editing has been done and material added in the service of updating the piece.

The 1970 Forest Hills Music Festival

Were there a SAT equivalent for music fans, it might include this sentence completion item:

Leonard Cohen’s performance at the 1970 ___________ Festival was unique for that Tour.

This is, of course, a trick question.  While all but the most knowledgeable Cohenites (or the most astute  test-takers) would immediately respond with the Canadian singer-songwriter’s epochal performance at The 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival, Leonard Cohen also appeared that year at a festival in Aux-en-Provence  (August 2, 1970) and, more pertinently to today’s post, on July 25, 1970 at the 10th Annual Forest Hills Music Festival. As we well see in forthcoming   posts, each of the three festival appearances that year was indeed unique. The distinctive elements of Forest Hills show were, alas, an overwhelmingly negative review and a run-in with Bob Dylan.

It’s worth noting that by 1970 the use of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium (aka West Side Stadium)  as a pop music venue had a long, uneven history featuring acts ranging from one hit wonders to Dylan and The Rolling Stones.  In the summer of 1964 alone, Forest Hills hosted  Frank Sinatra (with Count Basie), Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, and an English group called The Beatles.1

The 1970 Forest Hills Music Festival lineup featured some of the era’s most popular groups:

  • July 11: Sly & Family Stone with Rare Earth
  • July 17 & 18: Simon & Garfunkel
  • July 25: Leonard Cohen and The Army
  • August 1: Janis Joplin
  • August 8: Peter, Paul, & Mary
  • August 15: The Band
  • August 22: Fifth Dimension with Ramsey Lewis

Leonard Cohen & The Army At Forest Hills Music Festival, New York

poster-forest-hillsThe 1970 Tour was the Leonard Cohen’s first real tour.2 Keep in mind that in May, he and The Army3 had played venues such as the Olympia Theatre in Paris, Royal Albert Hall in London, and Circus Krone in Munich. He and the band were scheduled to return to Europe for the festivals at Aix-en-Provence (Aug 2, 1970) and the Isle Of Wight (August 31, 1970).

Performing in a tennis stadium in Forest Hills, New York, its history of hosting musical stars notwithstanding, was a dramatic shift in environment.

The 1970 Leonard Cohen show is described, albeit as viewed through psilocybin goggles, by an audience member in this excerpt from In the Center of the Fire by James Wasserman (Nicolas-Hays, Inc., May 24, 2012):

centeroffireThat’s the end of the good reviews.

Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen – Forest Park Frenemies

Yep, this is one of those few instances when the principles of the Dylan-Cohen Mutual Admiration Society were tested. The following excerpt from Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes (Grove Press: May 24, 2011):

dylanforhillsBackup singer Susan Musmanno’s recollection of the concert is congruent:

That [the Forest Hills show] was the only bad performance we ever gave, and I think part of the reason was that Dylan was in the house that night, and we were all nervous.4

 The Setlist

forhillsbkThe exact Set List Cohen played at Forest Hills is indefinite and unconfirmed, at least in its details.5

From a LeonardCohenForum post by victhpooh

On the inside flap [of a book in her hands at the concert] I have this written:

An Evening With Leonard Cohen
Emcee: Scott Muny (NYC DJ at the time)

Songs:
Bird on a Wire
So Long Marianne
You Know Who I Am (new) maybe new poem
Marriage of Joan Of Arc
‘Loud Song’
Sisters of Mercy
Story of Isaac
Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
Suzanne
new song something and english6
and possibly The Stranger Song

From the author’s handwritten entries in Is This What You Wanted by Jim Devlin:

1. Bird On A Wire
2. Sing Another Song Boys
3. You Know Who I Am
4. Joan Of Arc
5? Tonight Will Be Fine
6. Sing Another Song Boys
7. Story Of Isaac
8. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
9. Suzanne
10? The Partisan
11? The Stranger Song – solo

Billboard Review Of Leonard Cohen Forest Hills Concert

On the other hand, Nancy Erlich’s review of Leonard Cohen’s Forest Hills performance published in the August 8, 1970 issue of Billboard  is a model of pristine certainty untainted by dubiety, ambivalence, or ambiguity. Cohen is, Ms Erlich informs us, a musical Svengali, ruthlessly using “his extraordinary command of language and other people’s emotions” to oppress, diminish, and emotionally deplete those who listen to his songs.

A scan of Erlich’s report follows (click on image to enlarge):

Now, one writer’s opinion of one Leonard Cohen concert that took place over 40 years ago  is unlikely to trigger a crisis of faith among those who count themselves friends of Leonard Cohen.  Still, especially for those of us who came of age as Cohen fans during the accolade-saturated worship service that was the 2008-2013 World Tour, it’s useful to be reminded that the launching of Leonard Cohen’s singing career did not consist simply of being introduced to the world by Judy Collins and then arising at 2 AM at the Isle of Wight for his coronation as a musical icon.

fedoradivider

Credit Due Department:

The yellow poster image listing the various acts appearing in the 1970 Forest Hills Music Festival was found at Simon & Garfunkel ‘ Time it was…it was.’  The first poster image beneath the heading, “Leonard Cohen & The Army At Forest Hills Music Festival, New York” was found at LeonardCohenFiles. I have edited it for easier viewing. The 1970 Forest Hills Program brochure and the other posters were found on auction sites.

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  1. That history is interestingly presented at It’s All The Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago. []
  2. Leonard Cohen performed a number of concerts prior to 1970. The 1970 tour, however, was the first sequence of concerts organized as a tour from a business perspective with Leonard Cohen, along with his own band and backup singers, promoted as a full-blown headline act rather than piggy-backing off of some other existing ticket-selling dynamic such as festivals such as Newport, York, and Mariposa. []
  3. The Army, the musical ensemble that backed Cohen, comprised the following individuals (Source: Is This What You Wanted by Jim Devlin): Bob Johnston (guitar, keyboards), Charlie Daniels (electric bass, guitar, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar), Elkin ‘Bubba’ Fowler (bass, banjo), Corlynn Hanney (vocals), and Susan Musmanno  (vocals) []
  4. Susan Musmanno: Personal communication []
  5. This is hardly surprising. Heck, the dates of some Leonard Cohen concerts that took place in late 1970 are not known with certainty. []
  6. Update 07 November 2012: Thelma Blitz writes “I have a brief record of this concert in my journals. I noted Leonard played the hands. ( I also play the hands but not as well).   The only song where he  played the  hands on his first LP was ‘One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.’  Therefore I reason that was the song in the set list called ‘new song.’  The audience member did not recognize it.” []

Only Known Photos Of The First Concert Of Leonard Cohen’s First Independent Tour – Hartford April 8, 1970

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Leonard Cohen & The Army Open 1970 Tour At University of Hartford

George Tunick, the fellow in glasses in the above shot, was a student at the University of Connecticut when he took these photos at the concert held at the auditorium of the University of Hartford in West Hartford that opened Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Tour.1 The show took place April 8, 1970 before a crowd of a few hundred.

As far as I can determine, these are the only known photos from that 1970 Hartford show, which carries special significance as Leonard Cohen’s first concert of his first fully organized, independent tour.2

The final photo in the series (see below) is the earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen performing in concert with his 1970 band, the group later to be known as The Army.

Update: Less than two weeks after posting these photos, I serendipitously discovered the following reference to this event in Life On The Ledge With Leonard Cohen by Jon Marlowe (The Miami News: Nov 9, 1977):

Interviewer: “You did a concert in Connecticut and you walked out in this long trench coat and jeans and said ”I left my suit home in honor of this occasion’”

Leonard Cohen: “That was my first concert ever. I remember it. It was Hartford, Connecticut. You’re right. The trench coat and everything.”

I asked George about any memories he had of the event. His response (ellipses his) follows:

I’ll never forget..as he was walking by..(when I got the close shots..and for the one with me)..he was like chanting as he walked..like a cantor saying prayers to himself ..beautifully “ haunting”

George goes on:

1970..I was “obsessed” with the first album..especially..”One of us Cannot be Wrong ‘..( l lit a thin green candle..to make you jealous of me. But the room just filled up with mosquitoes……..and on)..saw the 1975 show in NY..later 1988 and 1993 Wiltern theater in LA (pretty sure-2)……bought every vinyl … .Favorite songs….I’m Your Man..Anthem..Tower of Song . The Stranger .. The Future ..Famous Blue Raincoat..Dance Me to the End of Love

The concert “blew me away”…it was overpowering to meet him…they sang everything at that time…and obviously memorable..as I remember so much…and have these Photo Memories to “keep the experience alive”

3
1

Earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen with his 1970 band (later known as The Army) in concert. Note Cohen's coat draped across a folding chair in front of him on the stage.

Earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen with his 1970 band (later known as The Army) in concert. Note Cohen’s coat draped across a folding chair in front of him on the stage.

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Sylvie Simmons and Jugurtha Harchaoui, who provided data about and perspective on the pre-1970 Leonard Cohen concerts. And, thanks to Carolyn J. Merkle, who confirmed that the location of the show was the auditorium of University of Hartford rather than, as first reported, Trinity College.

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  1. George recalls that the concert took place at the auditorium of a college in Hartford in late 1969 or early 1970. After we exchanged a few emails, it became clear that the concert was the 1970 show at University of Hartford . []
  2. Leonard Cohen performed a number of concerts prior to 1970. The 1970 tour, however, was the first sequence of concerts organized as a tour from a business perspective with Leonard Cohen, along with his own band and backup singers, promoted as a full-blown headline act rather than piggy-backing off of some other existing ticket-selling dynamic such as festivals such as Newport, York, and Mariposa. []

Only Known Photos Of The First Concert Of Leonard Cohen’s First Independent Tour – Hartford April 8, 1970

4a

Leonard Cohen & The Army Open 1970 Tour At Trinity College

George Tunick, the fellow in glasses in the above shot, was a student at the University of Connecticut when he took these photos at the concert held at Trinity College in Hartford that opened Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Tour.1 The show took place April 8, 1970 before a crowd of a few hundred.

As far as I can determine, these are the only known photos (click on images to enlarge) from that 1970 Hartford show, which carries special significance as Leonard Cohen’s first concert of his first fully organized, independent tour.2

Update: See Photo: Leonard Cohen: “I left my suit home in honor of this occasion” – “My first concert ever” Hartford 1970

The final photo in the series (see below) is the earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen performing in concert with his 1970 band, the group later to be known as The Army.

Update: Less than two weeks after posting these photos, I serendipitously discovered the following reference to this event in Life On The Ledge With Leonard Cohen by Jon Marlowe (The Miami News: Nov 9, 1977):

Interviewer: “You did a concert in Connecticut and you walked out in this long trench coat and jeans and said ”I left my suit home in honor of this occasion’”

Leonard Cohen: “That was my first concert ever. I remember it. It was Hartford, Connecticut. You’re right. The trench coat and everything.”

I asked George about any memories he had of the event. His response (ellipses his) follows:

I’ll never forget..as he was walking by..(when I got the close shots..and for the one with me)..he was like chanting as he walked..like a cantor saying prayers to himself ..beautifully “ haunting”

George goes on:

1970..I was “obsessed” with the first album..especially..”One of us Cannot be Wrong ‘..( l  lit  a thin green candle..to make you jealous of me. But the room just  filled up with mosquitoes……..and on)..saw the 1975 show in NY..later  1988 and  1993 Wiltern theater in LA (pretty sure-2)……bought every vinyl  …    .Favorite songs….I’m Your Man..Anthem..Tower of Song . The  Stranger  .. The Future ..Famous Blue Raincoat..Dance Me to the End of Love

The concert “blew me away”…it was overpowering to meet him…they sang everything at that time…and obviously memorable..as I remember so much…and have these Photo Memories to “keep the experience alive”

3
1

Earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen with his 1970 band (later known as The Army) in concert. Note Cohen's coat draped across a folding chair in front of him on the stage.

Earliest known photo of Leonard Cohen with his 1970 band (later known as The Army) in concert. Note Cohen’s coat draped across a folding chair in front of him on the stage.

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Sylvie Simmons and Jugurtha Harchaoui, who provided data about and perspective on the pre-1970 Leonard Cohen concerts.

_____________________________

  1. George recalls that the concert took place at the auditorium of a college in Hartford in late 1969 or early 1970. After we exchanged a few emails, it became clear that the concert was the 1970 show at Trinity College. []
  2. Leonard Cohen performed a number of concerts prior to 1970. The 1970 tour, however, was the first sequence of concerts organized as a tour from a business perspective with Leonard Cohen, along with his own band and backup singers, promoted as a full-blown headline act rather than piggy-backing off of some other existing ticket-selling dynamic such as festivals such as Newport, York, and Mariposa. []

Video: Leonard Cohen Talks Revolution, Performs Bird On The Wire At 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

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Leonard Cohen At 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

On August 2, 1970 Leonard Cohen & The Army performed at the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival, an event overshadowed by Cohen’s much publicized appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival later that month.

The Aix-en-Provence concert was the apogee of weirdness for the astoundingly weird 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. Leonard Cohen made his onstage entrance astride a white stallion, he reported having been shot at by Maoists, he dedicated (in French) The Partisan “to the police; that they leave their armour, internal and external, and that they join us,” and finally challenged critics in the crowd:

At the end of the song, Cohen intervenes one last time in English: “Those who are trying to sabotage know that they are faced with armed men; I want to say: armed with guns and ready to use them. If you believe that freedom is being able to shout anything at anytime, then you know nothing of freedom. But if you want to attack us, then come up on the stage. We will defend ourselves.” Needless to say, no one went up and the silence was respectful during the last two songs.1

Cohen’s performance began with him addressing the audience on “the link between money and the festivals” and revolution. He then opened the set with Bird On The Wire.

While the recording from the Aix Festival is only poor to fair, it is authentic and many of the photos included have never before been published.

Leonard Cohen – Bird On A Wire At Aix-en-Provence 1970
Video from Allan Showalter

 

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post taken by Steve (no last name given) and found in the French magazine, Rock & Folk: No 44, September 1970. Contributed by Dominique BOILE

Leonard Cohen’s introduction and his performance of “Bird On The Wire” were recorded by an audience member at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The copy used in this video is from the private collection of Hippy1948.

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  1. Leonard Cohen by Jacques Vassal, Rock & Folk n°44 September 1970 []