Video: Leonard Cohen’s Haunting Performance Of A Singer Must Die – Gothenburg 2010

singermAnd all the ladies go moist, and the judge has no choice
A singer must die for the lie in his voice
And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty
Your vision is right, my vision is wrong
I’m sorry for smudging the air with my song

Leonard Cohen – A Singer Must Die
Gothenburg: Aug 12, 2010

Note: Originally posted Aug 16, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Video: 1976 Leonard Cohen Performance Of Singer Must Die + Interview

sadlcLeonard Cohen sings “A Singer Must Die” in an interview shared by Jay Tuck.

From the YouTube Description:

It was a windy day in May in 1976. I never thought it would really happen, an interview with Canadian poet Leonard Cohen. But there was his voice, unmistakable, on the phone. Not his agent nor the record company. “Hi, this is Leonard Cohen”. A few hours later we met in the lobby of the Hamburg Hotel Europäischer Hof. Management wanted us to film the interview in one of their suites. That wasn’t right, not for Leonard Cohen. So we found an empty room in the hotel cellar, the dining hall for staff. While the crew lit the surroundings appropriately, I asked Leonard where his guitar was. He didn’t know he would be needing it, he said. But he walked back to his room to fetch it. And we recorded a very magical, unimaginable personal interview that day. And aware our 16mm camera cassette only held 10 minutes of film, I waited six minutes and asked, “Why don’t you sing us a song, Leonard?” And he did. This is the result of that magical day. Unfortunately, some one at the TV station edited out some of the music. And inserted a ridiculous video wipe in the post. And discarded some beautiful music. But the result is still a historical record I wanted to share with you.

Jay Tuck

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Linda Sturgess, who was the first of several folks to alert me to this video

Hear Classic 1988 Leonard Cohen Interview: How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns

Shure_mikrofon_55S-700This is an extraordinary interview that includes this quotation that I consider the touchstone of Leonard Cohen’s perspective:

That’s what it’s all about. It says that none of this – you’re not going to be able to work this thing out – you’re not going to be able to set – this realm does not admit to revolution – there’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah! That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.

The following description is from Leonard Cohen talks to RTÉ in 1988 at the RTE site:

From the RTÉ archives: Kildare-born novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist and former RTÉ radio producer John MacKenna made two feature programmes in the RTÉ Radio Centre with Leonard Cohen in 1988, entitled ‘How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns’. Together, they offer a remarkable insight to Cohen’s life and work. Below, you can listen to them both in full. (From Leonard Cohen talks to RTÉ in 1988)

Note: A transcript of this broadcast is available at Transcript: 1988 RTE (LeonardCohenFiles)

The first programme ‘How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns’ is entitled ‘Isaac to Joan of Arc’ in which Cohen discusses his interest in and attitude to heroic figures in history. (From Leonard Cohen talks to RTÉ in 1988)

Programme 2 is entitled ‘If I Have Been Untrue’  and considers songs about people in the street. (From Leonard Cohen talks to RTÉ in 1988)

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post “Shure mikrofon 55S” by Holger.EllgaardOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Expanding Scope By Narrowing Content: Leonard Cohen’s Disciplined Revision Of A Singer Must Die – Part 2

Leonard Cohen performs A Singer Must Die - Sligo

Leonard Cohen performs A Singer Must Die – Sligo 2010

This is the second and final post of this series focusing on the significance of Leonard Cohen’s revision of A Singer Must Die. The first post can be accessed at Part 1.

The Introductions & The Critics

One commentator appears obsessed with the notion that the song has to do with critics and singers. That commentator would be Mr Leonard Cohen. The following quotations are among his introductions to concert performances of A Singer Must Die.1

This song is for my critics and for my judges and for those who give marks to us everywhere, who evaluate our performance whether it is in the courtroom or the cloakroom or the bedroom. This is for the judges. [Frankfurt June 10, 1974]

In this next song I wrote from the feeling of being on trial – everyone’s on trial -. In every living-room there’s a trial going on, in every bedroom there’s a trial going on, not just in the courtrooms, not just in the jails, but in the most private places of our lives, yeah we subject each other to judgement and to trial. [Hanover November 11, 1979]

I’ve always been attached to those songs that you sing when you don’t feel like singing. I’ve read some reviews of my concerts, over the past several months, and I’m very happy that my suit is so well observed. Sometimes my suit whispers to me from the closet “Do not forget me” it whispers throughout the song and here, I crucify on this hanger (..) suit. [San Francisco June 8, 1985]

The critics have begun to be very kind to me. I am reminded of that aphorisms articulated by the great cinema master who is now in disgrace, Woody Allen. “Most of life is just showin’ up.” [Boston July 16, 1993]

Leonard Cohen Talks To John McKenna About A Singer Must Die & McKenna Talks Back

At least one interviewer directly addressed the fact that the lyrics of this specific song had been rewritten. This excerpt is from How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns, a radio interview with Leonard Cohen by John McKenna2 [bolding mine]:

JM: I’ve always thought A Singer Must Die to be one of Leonard Cohen’s most overtly political songs, but I wouldn’t have classed the bulk of his other songs as political. He disagrees.

LC: I think all my songs are political in a certain way but that one especially in the recorded version where the last verse is really very strong against a certain kind of authority.

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  1. All quotes are from Diamonds In The Lines []
  2. How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns, an interview with Leonard Cohen presented by John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Transcribed by Martin Godwyn. Found at LeonardCohenFiles []

Expanding Scope By Narrowing Content: Leonard Cohen’s Disciplined Revision Of A Singer Must Die – Part 1

singerdielyricsThis is the first post of this series focusing on the significance of Leonard Cohen’s revision of A Singer Must Die. The second and final post can be accessed at Part 2.

A Verse Rewritten From The Studio To The Stage

Leonard Cohen released A Singer Must Die as the second track on the New Skin For The Old Ceremony album published August 1974, and he sang the studio version at concerts in 1974.  By 1975, he had completely rewritten the last verse of the song, creating the version he has since sung onstage.1 (The lyrics themselves are available in the next two sections of this post.)

Of course, Leonard Cohen revising the lyrics of his songs is hardly an exceptional event; rather, it is integral to his songwriting methodology, an extension of his habit of writing many, many polished verses and then discarding all except the pristine lines that precisely convey his message before presenting his work to the public. Cohen has expounded this strategy, often in quasi-apologetic tones, in several interviews. A short sampling follows:

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  1. There have actually been many versions of the final verse performed in concert, most varying by only a few words. The Sligo performance, the video of which is embedded in this post, is representative. The French LeonardCohenSite offers over a dozen differing versions of the last verse from various post-1974 concerts. []