Note: This content was originally posted Apr 2, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric. This republication is prompted by the appearance on May 7, 2015 of a photo of “Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday” from the Can’t Forget album booklet. That photo is itself the punch line to the Canadian singer-songwriter’s “Start Smoking Again At 80″ stage shtick. See Video: Leonard Cohen’s “Start Smoking Again At 80″ Stage Shtick That Led To This Photo.
Evolution Of Leonard Cohen’s “Start Smoking Again At 80” Shtick
Leonard Cohen, who once claimed his raspy voice was the product of “about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes,” quit smoking in 2003 on doctor’s advice.1 A least as early as 2009, Leonard Cohen has held that “I’m waiting for my 80th [birthday] so I can take up smoking again.”2
In 2012, he incorporated the line into his concert stage banter.
Leonard Cohen – Intro to The Future
Seattle: Nov 9, 2012
Video by Arlene Dick
Two weeks later, he had added to the schtick:
This is where 2 years from now, I’ll be smoking a cigarette. A young girl in a nurses uniform will bring out a table and a chair, and I’ll tap out a smoke as this music will begin to play.3
Now, however, the smoking at 80 monologue has become a saga which includes imagery (“the little Parthenon / of an unopened pack of cigarettes”) from Cohen’s poem, “The Cigarette Issue”4 and segues neatly into “Anyhow.” This rendition is from the March 30, 2013 Louisville show. I’ve included a rough transcription made from the video.
Leonard Cohen – Anyhow
Louisville: March 30, 2013
Video by Wirebirds (Henry Tengelsen)
This is the moment when I take my first cigarette
I’ll have waited until I’ll be 80 and I’m really looking forward to this moment. It’ll be part of the show. A young nurse in a white uniform, white lisle stockings, and she’ll be carrying a pack of cigarettes on a silver tray. She’ll walk across the stage – I hope there won’t be any untoward catcalls. The pack will be opened. It will be gleaming, like those pillars of the Parthenon – a beautiful Parthenon of Tobacco. I’ll take one of the cigarettes out of the pack and tap it on my wrist like I learned to do in those movies. She’ll light me up, I’ll take my first [inhales deeply] yeah, it’s gonna be so good. Before she leaves, I’ll say “Nurse, before you go would you mind tapping out a few of those bubbles in my i.v.
I’ll step back into my old self. I’ll begin to hear the strains of the music of the most beautiful jazz orchestra in the world. My thoughts will settle, they’ll smooth out. I’ll be able to develop some kind of charitable take on my shabby life. I’ll be thinking of the past.
Credit Due Department: A special thanks is owed Henry Tengelsen, who went beyond the call in providing assistance to make this post possible.
- He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free by Sarah Hampson. Shambhala Sun: Nov 2007 [↩]
- Post by MFL at LeonardCohenForum [↩]
- Leonard Cohen at the Nov 23, 2012 Leonard Cohen Akoo Theater Concert In Chicago. Quoted in Leonard Cohen Captivates The Akoo Theater by Tyler Curtis (Chicago Music Magazine, November 24, 2012) [↩]
- “The Cigarette Issue” by Leonard Cohen from The Book of Longing, published in 2006:
But what is exactly the same
is the promise, the beauty
and the salvation
the little Parthenon
of an unopened pack of cigarettes
and Mumbai, like the Athens
of forty years ago
is a city to smoke in [↩]