How Leonard Cohen’s Song “The Captain” Became A Recitation In 1985


1985 – Leonard Cohen Converts The Captain From Song To Spoken Word

‘The Captain’ took me several years to write. [Cohen recites the lyric] It is good, spoken like that. I wrote it as a song. I generally start off with a phrase or a line of very simple music. I had many phrases for ‘The Captain.’ I worked on it from many approaches.1quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen Recites The Captain While Gnomes Fix Guitar

“The Captain” was released as a song on the Various Positions album in 1984.

I noticed, however, that “The Captain” was performed as a spoken-word piece at the 1985 Philadelphia concert. It turns out that the Philadelphia concert recitation was, as Cohen recounts in the recording that follows, the consequence of a “little disaster” with his guitar, which fell on the ground and was being repaired backstage by “gnomes” and “little fairies descended from the North Pole.”

Leonard Cohen – The Captain
Philadelphia: April 30, 1985
Video by ALB123Videos

Fortuitously, I had on hand a bootleg of the Berklee (Boston) concert which took place May 4, 1985, four days after the April 30, 1985 Philadelphia show2 and one day before the May 5, 1985 Carnegie Hall performance heard on today’s offering. On checking it, I found “The Captain” again presented as a recitation.

And, according to Jim Devlin’s “Is This What You Wanted,” Leonard Cohen is not known to have played “The Captain” at any other concerts in 1985.3

So, “The Captain” has been performed by Leonard Cohen in a spoken-word version on only four occasions (assuming he played it at the second Philadelphia show as well as the first), all of which took place in 1985 and all of which were, presumably, the consequence of an accident to his guitar at that first Philadelphia concert.

Leonard Cohen – The Captain
Carnegie Hall, New York City: May 5, 1985
Video from

Credit Due Department: Photo atop post by Pete Purnell

Originally posted May 26, 2011 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. From Leonard Cohen Work Finds A Place by Mary Campbell. AP – Kentucky New Era: June 29, 1985 []
  2. There was also a May 1, 1985 show. []
  3. Caveat: A few 1985 concerts still lack verified set lists. []