When I read the above clipping of a review of the March 19, 1972 Leonard Cohen Glasgow concert by Drew McMahon, I was immediately taken with the report that Leonard Cohen re-started a song twice because “It has to be sung right or it’s no good.”
One reason I was so fascinated by this incident is that forty years after that Glasgow performance, I was in the audience at the March 30, 2013 Louisville show to witness the same phenomenon as Leonard Cohen began and stopped “Closing Time” twice before getting it right on the third try.
So, how many artists are willing to suffer the potential embarrassment of re-starting a song during a concert – not once but twice – rather than bluff their way through a subpar performance? That choice is especially impressive given that the Louisville audience had already determined that the Canadian singer-songwriter could do no wrong. We would have applauded Leonard Cohen singing gibberish in any of those five chords he claimed knowing.1
It is even more heartening to note that the high standard of quality to which Leonard Cohen has held himself has persisted over his entire career. There are even more dramatic demonstrations of Leonard Cohen’s dedication to “deliver the gift,” as he put it in a 1972 interview, to concert-goers. He has, for example, walked off stage before completing a performance at least twice – at his first singing gig with Judy Collins and at the final 1972 Jerusalem show – but it is difficult in these cases to tease out the motivating factors from a myriad of possibilities. On the other hand, his craftsmanlike willingness to re-start a song twice, while less spectacular, is clear evidence of his commitment to his music and his audience.
Audio Recording: The 1920 Glasgow Restarts
The good news is that there is one audience recording of the 1972 Glasgow concert. The bad news is that the quality is very poor. Despite audio editing by AlanM5049, there remain sections of Leonard Cohen’s remarks about the restarts that are indecipherable. AlanM5049 also provides a transcript of the pertinent portions:
@19 sec: “OK How do we start it? Ever since that song got started, it wasn’t in the right place, it was in a different key than we had planned, and I don’t … I. I really didn’t like that. Hope I never have to replay this song just to save face, so do you mind if we start over?”
@1:36: “This, aah, ????? of the audience ????????
Forgive me. [sounds like contact with the mike stand, the audience laughs]
I don’t fill(?) the stage, but I feel that I have to ????????????
I don’t know what .. how we can go on from here. I just hope that something can come to redeem it.”
Despite the difficulties, it is clear that Cohen restarted the song twice “to redeem” the performance – and that the audience responded with overwhelming appreciation.
Leonard Cohen – Sisters Of Mercy (first two minutes)
Glasgow: March 19, 1972
Video: The 2013 Louisville Restarts
Happily, Henry Tengelsen was also on hand at the Louisville Palace to capture the second restart of Closing Time on video.
Leonard Cohen – Closing time + Famous Blue Raincoat
Louisville: March 30, 2013
Credit Due Department: The newspaper clipping is from Jem Treadwell’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook.
Note: Originally posted Oct 16, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
- In 1993, Cohen told a BBC interviewer,
“Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m a great musicologist, but I’m a lot better than what I was described as for a long, long time; you know, people said I only knew three chords when I knew five.” [↩]