The Wisdom Of Leonard Cohen by Kevin Perry. GQ: Jan 19, 2012
Note: Originally posted Aug 8, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
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
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.
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 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour 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 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):
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):
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 exact Set List Cohen played at Forest Hills is indefinite and unconfirmed, at least in its details.5
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)
Bird on a Wire
So Long Marianne
You Know Who I Am (new) maybe new poem
Marriage of Joan Of Arc
Sisters of Mercy
Story of Isaac
Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
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
10? The Partisan
11? The Stranger Song – solo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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
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?”