Video: Leonard Cohen On Fedoras, Lawyers, Dylan, Antidepressants, Drinking Professionally, Smoking Heavily, Zen of Cognac, & The Difficulty of Singing Suzanne

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Leonard Cohen’s Only Interview Since Start Of 2008 Tour

Brian Johnson has posted the full transcript and partial video of his backstage interview with Leonard Cohen that took place June 4, 2008 at Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario.1

I’ve included a couple of excerpts below to give the flavor of the piece:

Q: After 14 years off the road, what brought you back?

A: Well, one of the things was that pesky little financial situation, which totally wiped me out. So I’m very grateful that I had a way to make a living, because that was indicated in very powerful terms. It wasn’t the prime motivator. Thanks to the help of Robert Kory, who is unique among lawyers in that he deferred his fees until the situation was resolved, which is not just unusual but unheard of, I would say, for a lawyer in Los Angeles. So he was able to somehow right the shipwreck. As it turned out, I could have gotten by. But all the time, even when I was in the monastery at Mt. Baldy, there were times when I would ask myself, “Are you really never going to get up on a stage again?” It was always unresolved. It would arise. Not daily, not even monthly. But from time to time, I’d see my guitar. I was still writing songs. But the idea of performing was starting to recede further and further back. One of the reasons was that I was so wiped out physically by the end of my last tour because I was drinking heavily. I was drinking about three bottles of wine by the end of the tour.

Q: Three bottles a day?

A: Before every concert. I only drank professionally, I never drank after the concert. I would never drink after intermission. It was a long tour. It must have been 60 to 70 concerts.

Q: Why did you need to drink?

A: I was very nervous. And I liked drinking. And I found this wine, it was Château Latour. Now very expensive. It was even expensive then. It’s curious with wine. The wine experts talk about the flavour and the bouquet and whether it has legs and the tannins and the fruit and the symphonies of tastes. But nobody talks about the high. Bordeaux is a wine that vintners have worked on for about 1,000 years. Each wine has a very specific high, which is never mentioned. Château Latour, I don’t know how I stumbled on it, but it went with the music, and it went with the concert. I tried to drink it after the tour was over, and I could hardly get a glass down. It had no resonance whatsoever. It needed the adrenaline of the concert and the music and the atmosphere, the kind of desperate atmosphere of touring—desperate because I was drinking so much! I had a good time with it for a while, but it did wreck my health, and I put on about 25 pounds.

Q: What’s the song that presents the toughest challenge?

A: The tough one for me is Suzanne. My chop has not come back completely. I’m playing an acoustic electric guitar. It’s pitched right. It’s right for my voice. People have asked me what’s it like to sing Suzanne. It’s a question I don’t fully process, because I don’t have the sense that I’m just doing it again. It’s hard to sing it. It’s hard to enter it. Because it’s a serious song. I’m alone singing it. And it brought me. . . in my own curious magical universe it is a kind of doorway. So I have to be very careful with it. I can’t speak too much about it because I can’t put my finger on the reason, except to say it is a doorway, and I have to open it carefully. Otherwise, what is beyond that is not accessible to me.

Q: It’s not special because it’s about one particular woman?

A: It was never about a particular woman. For me it was more about the beginning of a different life for me. My life in Montreal, and my life wandering alone in those parts of Montreal that are now very beautifully done up and in those days, it was the waterfront. I used to wander around down there and I used to go to that church a lot.

The full transcript can be found at Cohen wore earplugs to a Dylan show?

Leonard Cohen Macleans Magazine Interview June 4, 2008

Credit Due Department: The graphic is composed of still shots from the interview’s video

Note: Originally posted Jun 13, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Update: Until 24 Feb 2009, this was the only live interview with Leonard Cohen done during the World Tour. Shortly after the Beacon Theater Concert in New York, Cohen granted interviews to several periodicals. []

1992 Video: Leonard Cohen On His Atrocious Voice, Dylan, Ice-T, Songwriting, Love & Where’s The Beef

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Cohen On Cohen: The 1992 Interview

Today, Cohencentric offers viewers a thoughtful, intriguing, and inexplicably obscure Leonard Cohen interview on video.

The somewhat  garbled Google translation of the  on-site description of the video follows:

07/09/2008 – Tomorrow enter the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen in Bruges, it’s 15 years since he last toured it.

You can revisit the interview that journalist Serge Simonart with Cohen in 1992. He had just moved into a new album: “The Future”. “I want to hear People that can not sing” says Cohen. The story of a life will be heard in one voice – that’s why he loves Leadbelly, Dylan and Ice T and he will not mind if his own voice Liberation “terrible”s ets. Cohen also tells how he deceived when Dylan asked him how long Cohen had worked on the song “Hallelujah”. It continues with the central myth of our time, the rhetoric of the extreme left and right, and about love.

Cohen On Cohen Highlights

Continue Reading →

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.

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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.” []

Bob Dylan And Leonard Cohen Back Congruent Cologne Concepts

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The Singer-Songwriter Scent Of Success

Lost in the rages of fragrance
– From “The Window” by Leonard Cohen

Ongoing readers will recall the previous post, Indifference: Leonard Cohen’s Cologne Concept, focused on Cohen’s his vision he shared with Sean Dixon, aka Sleep66:

Leonard once told me he was going to come out with his own cologne. It was going to be called “Indifference,” and its slogan was going to be “I don’t give a shit what happens”

That same post also included the Cohencentric ad proposal as a means of furthering this venture.

It turns out that Leonard Cohen is not the only iconic singer-songwriter to consider developing his own line of cologne. The following excerpt is from Carrie Fisher’s book, “Wishful Drinking:”

Dylan wasn’t calling to ask me on a date. He was calling because this cologne company had contacted him to ask if he would endorse a cologne called Just Like A Woman. Now Bob didn’t like that name, but he liked the idea of endorsing a cologne. And he wanted to know if I had any good cologne names.

Do I look like someone who would be wandering around with a bunch of cologne names rattling around in my head?

Well, tragically, I did. I did have quite a few ideas for cologne names and so I told them to Bob.

There was Ambivalence – for the scent of confusion.

Arbitrary – for the man who doesn’t give a shit how he smells!

And, Empathy – feel like them, smell like this.

Well, Bob actually liked those!

The Dylan-Cohen Defecatory Disinterest Dialectic

The reader’s attention is called to the description of “Arbitrary,” the second of Ms Fisher’s designations winning Mr Dylan’s approval. The juxtaposition of that phrase, “for the man who doesn’t give a shit how he smells,” with Mr Cohen’s proposed slogan for his cologne, “I don’t give a shit what happens,” readily identifies the hitherto undiscovered motif employed by both of the men most often acknowledged as the poet- lyricists of their time:

Does Not Give A Shit

The Consequences

The intuitively apparent mythicocloacal significance implicit in this shared theme mandates a re-appraisal of the corpus of work produced by not only each of these artists but also all those performers influenced by them.

It also opens up, of course, a synergistic entrepreneurial opportunity for a combined Cohen-Dylan line of colognes for the discerning kind of man who is governed only by his own insouciance.

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The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Leonard Cohen Declines Bob Dylan’s Invitation To Play In Rolling Thunder Revue

rollthunLeonard Cohen Watches Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Baez Perform

Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue was less a conventional tour than a traveling carnival, replete with gypsies, cowboys, groupies, relatives (including Dylan’s mother), reporters, and various hangers-on, that camped at  local motels to play a series of gigs at small to intermediate sized venues – and, for good measure,  film “Renaldo and Clara,” a surrealistic movie – during fall 1975 and spring 1976.

The Rolling Thunder Revue featured not only Dylan but also  (at various times and in various doses) Joan Baez (Dylan’s ex-lover), Rambling Jack Elliott, Kinky Friedman, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn (formerly of the Byrds), Bob Neuwirth, Ronee Blakley, and Allen Ginsberg. The backup musicians included T-Bone Burnett, Bob Stoner, Steven Soles, Luther Rix, Howie Wyeth, Mick Ronson (David Bowie’s guitarist and arranger from the Ziggy Stardust era), and David Mansfield as well as violinist Scarlet Rivera, whom Dylan found, literally, on the streets of  New York. On December 4, 1975, the night the Rolling Thunder Revue played the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, there was the chance that the troupe would be joined by Leonard Cohen.

But, that was not to be.

The story is best conveyed in this excerpt from “On the Road With Bob Dylan,” the account of the Rolling Thunder Revue by Larry (Ratso) Sloman that is oblgatory reading for any Dylan fan or anyone who wants to understand this epoch of pop music:

“Get Leonard please,” Dylan gets serious. “I got some people to see.”

Ratso walks over to the booth and dials Cohen’s house. After a few rings the poet picks up. “Leonard, this is Larry, how are you?”

“Can’t complain,” Leonard replies and Ratso remembers his work and laughs at the irony.

“Are you coming to the concert?”

“I guess so,” Cohen says in his world-weary monotone. “You’re so coy, Leonard.”

“Is it gonna be crowded?” the poet worries.

“You won’t have to deal with the crowds, we’ll zip in the stage door, Leonard,” Ratso reassures him, as Dylan keeps nudging the reporter, trying to grab the phone. “Tell him to come through the back door,” Dylan whispers in Ratso’s ear. Ratso frowns and hands Dylan the phone.

“Leonard? Yeah, how you doing? Can’t complain, huh. Well I could but I won’t. You wanna come to the show? Fatso can pick you up.”

“Ratso, not Fatso,” the reporter pokes Dylan, “but he doesn’t know me as Ratso.”

“Yeah, Larry’ll pick you up. You got four people? Sure, easy, hey, if you wanna play a couple of songs that would be all right too_ Pardon? OK, whatever you feel like doing. We’re gonna hang around for a few days, we got some film to shoot. We’re also making a movie so we’re gonna be shooting tomorrow and the next day, here. Maybe after the show we can get together if that’s OK with you. OK, man, Larry’ll pick you up, see you later then.” Dylan hangs up and the trio starts back toward the bar.

Cohen’s house is a tiny affair, located in the heart of old Montreal, a student, foreigner, bohemian ghetto. Ratso shivers as he walks up the block looking for the address. He finds it, and knocks on the door. Muffled sounds but no answer. A few more knocks. No response. Suddenly the reporter notices the door is slightly ajar and he throws it open. And steps into a sea of sound, the harmonicas, spoons, kazoos, and spirited voices washing over him like a funky Jacuzzi. Cohen is ringleading, playing the harmonica, stomping his foot on a chair, leading the vocal to a French chanson. “How are you, my friend?”

Leonard ushers Ratso in without interrupting the music. “This is Hazel, Suzanne, Armand, and Mort. Pull up a chair.”

“We gotta go, Leonard.” Ratso remains standing.

“C’mon,” the poet urges, “we have time for one more song.”

“But Sara’s1 in the cab.”

“Bring her in.” Cohen gestures expansively and alcoholically. “Here, have a quick sip of wine.”

Leonard, we really have to go,” Ratso stresses.

“OK, troops,” Cohen calls to the others, “bring your instruments to the car.” Cohen pulls a topcoat over his charcoal gray suit, a suit that Ratso has seen him wear for four years.

“Leonard, you’re still wearing the same suit.”

“It is my suit,” he says with dignity. “It’s my suit.”

Suddenly the other four have revolted and start a jig around thr living room, whooping and hollering and waving their hands the air.

“Can you put your coats on while you’re dancing,” Leon requests, and a minute later they’re all piling into the cab. Introductions are made.

“Leonard,” Sara breathes, “are you gonna sing?”

“No, are you?” Leonard shoots back.

“Me? No, they’ve been asking me to but I refuse.” Sara smiles coyly.

“Leonard, you gotta sing one for me and Sara,” Ratso implores “that one `hungry as an archway.’”

“OK,” Leonard whips out his harp, “here we go. Get your spoons out, Mort.” And they break into a cheerful French folk song.

“If anyone asks you, you’re all Leonard’s backup band,” Ratso warns the others, “there’s not supposed to be anyone back tonight.”

“That means Leonard has to go onstage,” Sara prompts. Cohen frowns.

They go into a three-part-harmony French song. “C’mon Leonard,” Ratso whines, “you promised `Take This Longing’ …  I’ve been so patient sitting through all these foreign songs.’

Cohen whips out his harp and blows some melancholy and then he starts to sing, in his low dull-razor voice, “While apart, oh please remember me, soon I’ll be sailing far a sea/While we’re apart oh please remember me, now is the when we must say good-bye, soon I’ll be sailing far across the sea.”  Armand joins in on another harmonica and the two wail away as the cab pulls up to the Forum.

The party scurries inside from the frigid night, Ratso leading them in. Joni, who had just finished her set,2 comes running up and hugs the poet. `Joni,” Leonard sizes up his Canadian counterpart, “Joni, my little Joni.”

“I’m glad you’re here, I just came off, though.”

Cohen looks disappointed. “Well, we just heard the greatest music I’ve ever heard, the greatest music I ever heard we just played on the way here.” By now, Neuwirth and Ronee have come over to pay respects, and Dylan, who’s about to follow Ramblin’ Jack, trots over.

“Leonard, how you doing?” Bob warmly greets the Canadian. He points over at Ratso. “Hey, do you know this character?”

Leonard rolls his eyes. “This man has plagued me for the last three years.” They all laugh.

“Hey, Leonard, you gonna sing,” Ratso pleads.

“Let it be known that I alone disdained the obvious support,” Cohen chuckles. “I’m going to sit out there and watch.”

“Why not sing?” Joni begs.

“No, no, it’s too obvious,” Leonard brushes off the request and looks to Ratso for guidance. He leads them out to the sound board where some folding chairs have been set up, just in time to see Dylan do his first set.

And what a set. The band is blistering, Dylan has regained the momentum that began to sag during Quebec, and every song is like a sledgehammer pounding away at the overflow crowd that has filled every seat, nook, cranny, corner, penalty box, and aisle of the cavernous Forum.

By the time Stoner ends “This Land is Your Land” with a torrid bass run, everyone—fans, ushers, concessionaires, even Bob’s own security crew—is on their feet, in a screaming rollicking standing ovation. Ratso rushes back to Leonard’s party and escorts them backstage, worming their way through the crowds, stepping over the huge rolls of toilet paper that were thrown from the rafters by the enthusiastic audience.

Backstage, Leonard greets the troops, and everyone repairs to the hotel for a party in one of the downstairs banquet rooms.

Update: The story of the dinner Leonard Cohen and Suzanne hosted the night after the concert for Ratso, Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn is now available at Leonard Cohen Hosts Joni Mitchell & Ratso At Home For Barbequed Ribs

Dylan Dedicates “Isis” To Leonard Cohen

The Montreal concert is widely considered a high point of the tour.  Dylan prefaced his performance of  “Isis” with “This is a song about marriage” (Dylan’s own marriage was in trouble at this time and, Cohen’s relationship was similarly deteriorating).  He then announced, “This is for Leonard, if he’s still here.”

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  1. Sara, at the time this was written, was Bob Dylan’s wife. []
  2. From the concert summary at Wolfgang’s Vault: Much to the delight of the Montreal audience, the first “special guest” of the evening is up next, Joni Mitchell. After several massively successful albums in the early ’70s, Mitchell had retreated into seclusion for some time and her brief stint with the Rolling Thunder Review not only signified a welcome return to the stage, but was also a showcase for new material. Mitchell was beginning to head in a new direction that would take both fans and critics years to catch on to, but the embryonic stages of that transition can clearly be heard on this four-song set. Three new songs destined for her transitional and controversial next album, 1975’s Hissing Of Summer Lawns, are previewed here. Also, of particular note is an embryonic “Coyote,” one of the most intriguing songs to later surface on Hijera. Written on this tour and a direct reflection of her experiences, Mitchell even acknowledges writing the fourth verse just the night before. []