André Bastos Silva on the “Humor Gold” in Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel Lyrics

Does humor belong in music?

The fact is that even in the most deep, tragic and serious music there is a lot of humor. I can remember Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel lyrics. This is a song about a hotel where Leonard got emotionally engaged with Janis Joplin. The most memorable line of that song is ‘You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you’d make an exception’ which for me is humor gold. This is poetry at its core but reaches us in the form of music with all the associated emotions it brings. And it’s such a sad song. Going to listen to it right now.quotedown2

André Bastos Silva

From 7 Questions for… The Rite of Trio (A Jazz Noise: 10 May 2017). Photo by Historystuff2 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

“You were famous, your heart was a legend” Lana Del Rey’s Video Homage To Leonard Cohen

Alex Da Corte’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2 Video For New Skin For The Old Ceremony MoMA Exhibit Jumpstarts Career

Alex Da Corte Chelsea Hotel no. 2, 2010 (still) HD digital video 3:04 minutes Courtesy of the artist FOR PRESS

Alex Da Corte
Chelsea Hotel no. 2, 2010 (still)
Courtesy of the artist

Reimagined New Skin for the Old Ceremony Video Introduces Alex Da Corte To Art World

New Skin for the Old Ceremony is a compilation of short moving-image pieces set to the music and lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 album of the same title. Organized in 2011 by Cohen’s daughter, Lorca, and Darin Klein, Programs Coordinator, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, the film comprises pieces that mirror the album’s original track listing. This event was extensively covered in Reimagined New Skin for the Old Ceremony Opens At MoMA April 14, 2011

This exhibit proved the key to the ascendancy of at least one of the artists, Alex Da Corte, as indicated in this excerpt from Alex Da Corte’s ‘Free Roses’ Puts His Eccentricities on View by Randy Kennedy (New York Times: March 27, 2016):

After attending the School of Visual Arts in New York with thoughts of becoming a Disney animator, and later earning an M.F.A. from Yale, he came to notice in the art world fairly quickly in 2010 with a three-minute video inspired by and set to the 1974 Leonard Cohen song “Chelsea Hotel #2.” Mr. Da Corte made the video shortly after his car, with his computer, clothes and all of his studio notes, had been stolen from a street in New York. Depressed, he returned to Philadelphia and went to one of his favorite no-frills supermarkets, Fine Fare on West Girard Street in the beleaguered Ludlow neighborhood, and loaded a shopping cart, mostly with processed food and plastic.

With a cellphone camera and a white backdrop, he took the things he had bought and in only a few hours made the video, a stark poetic progression in which pairs of dirty hands perform a kind of ballet with the cheapest consumer goods — slicing a piece of bologna in half, stacking white bread, crumpling a plastic happy-face bag attached to a fan, pouring purple dish soap into a neon-green clothes hamper.

“Watching it still kind of breaks my heart, because it makes me think that I wish it could always be that easy,” Mr. Da Corte said, sitting on the ground in the hallucinogenic-patterned gallery where the video runs.

From Alex Da Corte: Free Roses (MASS MoCA site)

The exhibition features two of Da Corte’s most important video works. The first is the seminal Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (2010), named for Leonard Cohen’s song of the same title, which provides the soundtrack. The work can be understood as an index of Da Corte’s vocabulary of materials, colors, and processes. Two hands—variously covered in flour, dirt, aluminum foil, and packing tape—manipulate foodstuffs and objects, including bread slices, bananas, grapes, cherries, bologna, and lettuce, as well as a plastic grocery bag, broom, and IKEA chair. The video bursts with color featuring a bright orange bucket, a robin’s egg blue plastic bowl, and cherry-red soda. Ketchup, soda, and nail polish mimic both paint and bodily secretions. As a study and a performance of color, texture, movement, sound, smell, and desire, the video brings to mind a number of precedents including the performances of the Viennese Actionists, as well as Fischli/Weiss’ 1987 film celebrating the magic of making sculpture, The Way Things Go, and Richard Serra’s Verb List from 1967–68 (Da Corte’s version might read “stacking bread,” “shaking soda,” and “squeezing ketchup”).

Video: Alex Da Corte – Chelsea Hotel No. 2

Chelsea Hotel No. 2 from alex da corte on Vimeo.

Gripping Black & White Video: Leonard Cohen Performs Avalanche & Suzanne – Hannover 2010


Video Technique And Stage Presentation Meet In Recording Of Suzanne And Avalanche Performed By Leonard Cohen

As the headline indicates, this post showcases one video, Leonard Cohen performing “Suzanne” followed by “Avalanche” at the September 27, 2010 Hannover Concert.

Those two songs alone would make this video significant. “Suzanne”  is arguably the most representative work in Leonard Cohen’s repertoire, dating back to the beginning of his career as a singer-songwriter, and “Avalanche” is a favorite of many fans, especially those who have admired Cohen over the years, but has been rarely played during the World Tour although it has been featured recently.

The video of this performance set is from anniesnake, who  has contributed, by my count, seven videos from the Hannover show,  two shot in color and five, including the “Suzanne” – “Avalanche” sequence, in black and white.

The stark clarity of the black and white recording fits seamlessly with the tone, lyrical content, lighting,1 and the staging, which revolves around Cohen accompanying himself on guitar.

From my perspective, the  black and white videography significantly enhances the focus of and emotional impact on the viewer.

Leonard Cohen – Suzanne and Avalanche
Hannover: Sept 27, 2010
Video from anniesnake

The same technique, equally well executed, is, however, less successful on a number like “I’m Your Man” in which the other musicians play an important role and mood shifts from somber to satyric. The difference in the two videos is less that “I’m Your Man” is somehow flawed than that it lacks the profound resonance of “Suzanne” and “Avalanche.”

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
Hannover: Sept 27, 2010
Video from anniesnake

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  1. The lighting for the Cohen Concerts is an often overlooked aspect of the presentation. In this context, it is particularly notable because the same dramatic effects that are most compelling for the live audience can prove insurmountable obstacles to still photographers and videographers. []

Video: Leonard Cohen’s Unadorned, Striking Performance Of Chelsea Hotel #2 – Odense 2013


There is little in this video beyond Leonard Cohen standing in the middle of the stage, [lying guitar, and singing his classic Chelsea Hotel #2 – and that’s perfect.

Leonard Cohen – Chelsea Hotel
Odense: Aug 17, 2013
Video: Lisbeth Skjernov

Note: Originally posted Aug 18, 2013 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric