The Leonard Cohen Stage Soliloquy With Nonsense Syllables You (Probably) Haven’t Heard
At a 1980 Tel-Aviv concert, Leonard Cohen presented, during the final portion of “Memories,” a remarkable Israel-specific monologue that foreshadowed the format of stage banter abetted by non-lexical vocables he would use many times 30 years later during the 2008-2010 Tour. Although the speech is poignant, funny, and enlightening, it is almost completely unknown, even to ardent Cohen fans. Prior to this post, in fact, as far as I can determine, there has been no mention, let alone discussion, of Cohen’s “Memories” monologue in print or online.
Before directly examining the content of that disquisition, however, some background information is necessary:
- The 1980 Tel-Aviv concert context
- Leonard Cohen’s Answer To The Great Mysteries, stage business from the 2008-2010 Tour with similarities to the 1980 “Memories” monologue
The 1980 Leonard Cohen Tel-Aviv Show
On November 24, 1980, Leonard Cohen performed two concerts at Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv as the concluding shows of his Smokey Life Tour. There is no setlist or known recording from the first show. Recordings and a partial setlist do, however, exist for the second.1
In addition, Leonard Cohen’s introduction to “Memories” is memorialized online:2
Oh, put away your hands for a moment. It is for us the honour to play for a nation of such beautiful women and such brave men. It is our honour. Unfortunately, for my last song, I must offend your deepest sensibilities with an entirely irrelevant and vulgar ditty that I wrote some time ago with another Jew in Hollywood, where there are many. This is a song in which I have placed my most irrelevant and banal adolescent recollections.I humbly ask you for your indulgence. As I look back to the red acne of my adolescence, to the unmanageable desire of my early teens, to that time when every woman shone like the eternal light above the altar place and I myself, was always on my knees before some altar, unimaginably more quiescent, potent, powerful and relevant than anything I could ever command. I speak of nothing less than womanhood, that elusive butterfly….
We also have this characterization of the concert by Naftali Kaminski, who was in the audience that day: 3
In 1980, I hitchhiked in my military uniform from the Golan Heights to Tel-Aviv and saw you perform `the Gypsy`s Wife`, `the Partisan` and the `Story of Isaac` from the last row of the Mann Auditorium. Your concert reminded me that I was not only a soldier, that I was a human being and that being human was complex and rich and sad and beautiful and temporary, but never perfect.
Leonard Cohen’s Answer To The Great Mysteries
As discussed in Who Put The “Dum-Dum” In The “Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum?” – Non-Lexical Vocables In Leonard Cohen’s Songs, one of the best received bits of stage business during the 2008-2010 Tour was Cohen’s Answer To The Great Mysteries, which he revealed during the ending of “Tower Of Song.” A representative presentation took place during the 2009 London concert. The pertinent passage, transcribed below, begins at 6:33 in this video of “Tower of Song.” (The video automatically begins shortly before the monologue starts.)
Leonard Cohen – Tower Of Song
Update 19 November 2016: The recording of this show is now available. The introduction to Memories begins at 1:26:30.
Transcription: Answer To The Great Mysteries – Tour Of Song
[Background singers start singing: “Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.”]
I’m so grateful to you because tonight it’s become clear to me, tonight, the great mysteries have unraveled, and I’ve penetrated to the very core of things. And I have stumbled on the answer, and I’m not the sort of chap who would keep this to himself.
[Background singers keep singing: “Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.”]
Do you want to hear the answer? Are you truly hungry for the answer?
Then you’re just the people I want to tell it to.
Because it’s a rare thing to come upon this, and I’m going to let you in on it now. The answer to the mysteries: Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.
Until recently, as far as I knew, the Answer To The Great Mysteries bit sprang de novo from Leonard Cohen’s mind sometime during preparations for the 2008-2010 Tour or during the Tour itself. That erroneous assumption brings us to …
Ooba-Ooo: Leonard Cohen’s Memories Monologue & Do-Dum-Dum-Dum Precursor Tel-Aviv 1980
Note: Through good luck and the graciousness of a reader, I was able to listen to a high quality recording of the 1980 Tel-Aviv concert4 that is not in general circulation on the condition that I not post it or pass it along to anyone else. I believe the monologue spoken by Leonard Cohen during the ending of “Memories” is significant enough to warrant posting, even if that posting is limited to an annotated transcription of the words.
Transcription: Leonard Cohen’s Memories Monologue
Some of the contemporary events and other matters to which Leonard Cohen refers are obscure to anyone unfamiliar with the Israeli political scene in 1980 while other references will be immediately recognized by most viewers. To provide a comprehensive understanding of Cohen’s monologue, I’ve opted, at the risk of insulting the intelligence of many readers, to offer footnote explanations for all the references.
The monologue’s parallels to the 2008-2010 Tour’s Answer To The Great Mysteries routine, on the other hand, are so obvious as to obviate the need for explication. I do, however, think it useful to point out that this is another example of Cohen’s effective use of nonsense syllables in his songs.
[“Ooba-ooo” being sung in background]
Don’t stop, Don’t stop, ooba-ooo
That’s it, ooba-ooo
[4:36 – indecipherable]
Take that ooba-ooo into each and every heart in the Mann Auditorium.5
I know it’s tough here, but it ain’t that easy anywhere else either.
I bring you this message – of hope and of faith – from the rest of the world: My message is ooba-ooo.
It’s gonna be OK
Just hold onto your Uzis.10
Don’t worry if the Arabs take Jerusalem.11
Just get down on your knees and ooba-ooo
It’s gonna take care of it all
I promise you, friends, I never thought that it would fall on me, a neurotic Jew from the Diaspora,12 to bring you the message of comfort.
I stutter like Moshe, but what can I do?13 It is my destiny to tell you – ooba-ooo. It’s gonna take care of everything, friends.
Don’t worry, now.
Thanks a lot.
Credit Due Department:
The photo of Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson taken at the 1980 Amsterdam concert (I was unable to locate any photos of the 1980 Tel-Aviv concert) by Pete Purnell.
Special thanks go to Yosi Markovich, who provided invaluable background as well as information about the specific events mentioned in the monologue.
Note: Originally posted Oct 22, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
- Source: Cohen Live
Setlist: Nov 24, 1980 Leonard Cohen Concert
Tel Aviv – Second Show
1. Bird On The Wire
2. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
3. Who By Fire
4. The Gypsy’s Wife
5. Passin’ Through
6. Lover Lover Lover
7. The Guests
9. The Stranger Song – solo
10. Chelsea Hotel #2 – solo
11. The Partisan
12. Famous Blue Raincoat
13. Lady Midnight
14. So Long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen: Guitar, Vocals
Roscoe Beck: Bass
John Bilezikjian: Oud, Mandolin
Bill Ginn: Keyboards
Raffi Hakopian: Violin
Steve Meador: Drums
Paul Ostermayer : Saxophone & Flute
Sharon Robinson: Vocals
Mitch Watkins: Guitar [↩]
- Source: Diamonds In The Lines [↩]
- “Help Israelis at their Lowest Point – A Personal Letter To Leonard Cohen,” by Naftali Kaminski. (Occupation Magazine: July 19, 2009 [↩]
- This is a recording of a broadcast by Galei Tzahal, the radio network operated by the Israel Defense Forces. [↩]
- The concert venue. The Fredric R. Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv opened in 1957 at Habima Square. It has been the site of many concerts and is home to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2012, the name was changed to Bronfman Auditorium in acknowledgment of a $10m. gift from philanthropist Charles Bronfman. [↩]
- The Likud party won the 1977 elections over the Alignment party (HaMa’arakh) for the first time since the establishment of the state of Israel. The Likud won those elections by a large margin and began ruling the state of Israel. However, towards 1980, the Likud indeed suffered a setback and it seemed as if Menahem Begin did not control the Likud. The economic situation in Israel was quite bad with high inflation rates (one attempt to address that, was by changing the currency from Lira to Shekel; see reference to “You’ve had to lose a decimal point on all your money”). Also, several corruption cases involving Likud party members severely affected the way that the Likud party was perceived by the Israeli public. This information based in part on the Wikipedia article about the elections to the 10th Knesset. [↩]
- Ezer Weitzman resigned from the Likud party in May 25th, 1980 because of the corruption in the Likud and called for new elections. Weitzman was a very popular figure who played a large part in the Likud’s 1977 election success. He was the Minister Of Defense before resigning. [↩]
- Moshe Dayan was Foreign Minister in Begin’s government, but after signing the peace agreement with Egypt, Dayan and Begin had differences of opinions. Dayan wanted to move forward in the negotiations with the Palestinians for autonomy and felt that Begin was stalling to prevent such talks. These disagreements eventually led Dayan to leave the government on October 23rd, 1979. Information from Wikipedia entry on Dayan [↩]
- Israel switched from the Israeli Lira to the Old Israeli Shekel (which was later switched to the New Israeli Shekel, which is the current currency). As explained in Wikipedia: “In 1980 the shekel replaced the lira at a rate of 1 shekel = 10 lira. After suffering from high inflation, the shekel was replaced by the new shekel in a process started in September 1985 at a rate of 1 new shekel = 1000 old shekalim” [↩]
- The Uzi is an Israeli invented submachine gun which was used by the Israel Defense Forces and designed by Uzi Gal. The more generic meaning would be “Don’t drop your guard. [↩]
- Jerusalem is historically central to the Jewish People and is a central point in the contemporary Israeli-Arab conflict. Cohen’s 1980 Tel-Aviv concert audience would have been acutely attuned to the risk of Jerusalem being taken by Arabs. From Wikipedia: “During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, West Jerusalem was among the areas captured and later annexed by Israel while East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was captured and later annexed by Jordan. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently annexed it. Currently, Israel’s Basic Law refers to Jerusalem as the country’s ‘undivided capital.'” The loss of Jerusalem to Israel’s historic enemies would be considered a catastrophe. The generic reading would be “Even if the unthinkable happens, don’t worry” [↩]
- While “diaspora” indicates any scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, Cohen’s use of the term refers to Jews living outside Palestine or modern Israel, beginning with the settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile [↩]
- In Exodus [KJV], when God commanded Moses to go to Egypt to free the Israelites, Moses demurred, claiming that he was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” Some but not all authorities have historically interpreted “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” to mean Moses was afflicted with stuttering. According to the Midrash (part of the rabbinic literature), baby Moshe was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who brought him to the palace.When Pharaoh took Moshe in his arms, the baby grabbed the King’s crown. The King’s advisers interpreted this as an omen that the baby represented a threat to Pharaoh’s reign. To determine if that were indeed the case or if baby Moshe was only attracted by the shining crown as any child might be attracted by sparkling objects, the infant was put to a test. Two bowls were set before baby Moshe. One contained gold and jewels, and the other held glowing coals. Moshe reached out for the gold, but an angel directed his hand to the coals, one of which he grabbed and put in his mouth. Pharaoh spared Moshe’s life, but the burning coal caused Moshe to stutter from then on. [↩]