Ron Cornelius Recounts Leonard Cohen’s Special Performance Of “As Time Goes By”

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Ron Cornelius on guitar backing Leonard Cohen

In the process of discussing The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen by Ron Cornelius with the author, I came to realize that Ron is a born raconteur who happens to have been guitarist and musical director for the 1970 and 1972 Leonard Cohen tours. He also happens to venerate Leonard Cohen – but not to the point of passing up a good story. In Ron Cornelius The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen By Ron Cornelius: Review + Unpublished Dublin Candles Story, for example, the story was an account of Leonard’s Dublin hotel room being set afire by candles lit during a pre-concert warmup session. Now, we have another Leonard Cohen tale not included in the book – which is a treat for music fans.

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Leonard Cohen, Ron Cornelius, & As Time Goes By

At some point in 1972, Leonard Cohen confides to his guitarist and musical director, Ron Cornelius, that he has an inclination to perform As Time Goes By,. the classic written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931 that achieved fame as part of the soundtrack of the 1941 movie Casablanca.

Consequently, Ron obtains the song’s original sheet music and spends a week or two rewriting it to create something worthy of a Leonard Cohen performance. He plays the guitar accompaniment for Leonard, and Leonard approves, telling Ron to be ready to play it.

And, sure enough, near the end of a show, Leonard signals Ron that he is ready to perform As Time Goes By as an encore. A single spotlight beams on Leonard. Ron moves to the side of the stage where there is enough light to allow him to see his fingerings. The song begins. After a few bars, Ron turns back to watch Leonard.

What he spots first is the microphone, which is laying on the floor. Then he turns his gaze upward to see singer-songwriter-poet-novelist Leonard Cohen singing the elegant As Time Goes By – while doing a headstand.

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Leonard Cohen & As Time Goes By

As Time Goes By was performed by Leonard Cohen at these concerts:

  • Concertgebouw, Amsterdam – April 15, 1972 (last song)
  • Circus Krone, Munich – April 11, 1972 (third from last song)
  • Elizabethan Ballroom, Belle Vue, Manchester – March 20, 1972 (last song)
  • National Stadium, Dublin – March 18, 1972 (last song)

The following  recording of As Time Goes By can be downloaded as part of Another Other Leonard Cohen Album. It is not necessarily the headstand performance.

As Time Goes By – Leonard Cohen 1972

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The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen By Ron Cornelius: Review + Unpublished Dublin Candles Story

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Ron Cornelius on guitar backing Leonard Cohen

The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen By Ron Cornelius

Ron Cornelius, who was guitarist and musical director for the 1970 and 1972 Leonard Cohen tours as well as playing with a multitude of other stars, including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Chubby Checker, Charlie Daniels, Willie Nelson, Little Anthony, Smokey Robinson. Al Kooper, and Flatt & Scruggs, has written The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen, a book of stories about his experiences in music.

guitarronAnd Ron Cornelius has stories to tell. Some – but not all (see below) – of the best are found in The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen, a collection of tales about Ron’s adventures and misadventures in the music industry, especially those featuring Messrs. Dylan and Cohen.

The perspective is candid,1 the style is conversational, and the tone is respectful. This book is a treat for music fans.

I’m not going to reveal the punch lines from the book; instead, I will offer some hitherto unpublished tidbits that Ron shared with me in a couple of fascinating phone conversations. Today’s sketch hearkens back to the first day of the 1972 Tour.

Another Leonard Cohen Candles-Caused Accommodation Conflagration

Fans may already know about Edie Sedgwick’s room at the Chelsea Hotel burning down the day after Leonard Cohen, in his role as self-appointed “Expert in The Candle,” warned her and her guests that “this display of candles [in Edie Sedgwick’s room] is extremely dangerous.” (Leonard’s account of this episode is found under the heading, The Expert in The Candle Hypothesis, at  An Illumination Of Leonard Cohen’s Thin Green Candle.) It turns out that Leonard Cohen was involved in a second candle catastrophe.

The 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour opened in Dublin and, as Ron points out, the troupe stayed at the Gresham Hotel, a city landmark and the preferred lodging for politicians, celebrities, and, occasionally, royalty. Before the show, Leonard gathered his musicians in his hotel room, which was illuminated by an impressive number of candles, for vocalizing. Once that exercise was complete, Leonard, the band, and the backup singers left for the venue.

The sharp-eyed reader may have noted the absence of a vital step in that sequence.

Yep, Leonard Cohen, Ron Cornelius, et al left the Gresham Hotel without extinguishing those flaming candles.

And, yep, there was a huge bill awaiting Bill Donovan, the Tour Manager, for damages to the hotel room caused by the ensuing fire.

The good news is that the incident apparently didn’t cause any long-term problems (or perhaps the Gresham was used to dealing with even more spectacular musician high jinks). Over the ensuing years, the Leonard Cohen Tour routinely stayed at the Gresham. In fact, as Jim Carroll noted in Leonard Cohen RIP (Irish Times: Nov 11, 2016), “it often felt as if he’d [Leonard Cohen had] moved into the Gresham Hotel.”

Next Unpublished Ron Cornelius Story:
Leonard Cohen stands As Time Goes By on its head

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The Guitar Behind Dylan & Cohen
By Ron Cornelius
Gateway Entertainment Inc., USA
2016
ISBN 9781943157297

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  1. E.g., illicit drug use and easy sex are common motifs []