This is the second post in the Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine series examining “Memories” by Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen Talks/Sings About His “Most Irrelevant And Banal Adolescent Recollections”
The end of the first Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine post, Memories & Death Of A Ladies’ Man, featured a sampling of the mostly negative criticism of the Leonard Cohen-Phil Spector collaboration, Death Of A Ladies’ Man, and both the studio and live versions of “Memories.”
It turns out that the apparent leader of this chorus of discontent and disgust is one Mr. Leonard Cohen, who famously explained to the July 8, 1994 BBC Radio 1 audience,
My most bizarre experience with a producer was with Phil Spector, with whom I worked in 1977 or 78, and we produced that grotesque album called Death of a Ladies’ Man.1
To be fair, he did seem to mean “grotesque” in the best possible way, and, in an interview some years later, he has called the album “semi-virtuous.”2
Similarly, Cohen stops short of outright condemnation in his comments from Leonard Cohen Obscured… A Haunting by Spector by Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone, January 26, 1978:
When I heard the final mix, I thought he [Spector] had taken the guts out of the record, and I sent him a telegram to that effect,” Cohen recalls. “I asked him to go back in the studio. I could have delayed its release. But I couldn’t have forced Phil back in the studio, and it might have taken another year. I view it now as an experiment that failed. But even within the failure there are moments. I think the album has real energizing capacities.”
As for the “Memories” track itself, these excerpts from Cohen’s concert tour introductions of that song are self-explanatory:
- This is a song I wrote a couple of years ago with the great genius of darkest Hollywood:Phil Spector. And it’s a song based on my extremely boring and pathetic life at Westmont High School in Montreal. It’s called Memories.(München 31/10/79)
- It brings me from the exulted and sublime considerations of these musicians and technicians to an extremely banal experience which I have put into a song frozen like a fly in amber and somewhat less important. But this is a song into which I’ve placed my most banal adolescent recollections and I think this song will probably live forever. It’s called Memories. (London 06/12/79)
- In this song we placed all our most irrelevant and banal adolescent recollections. (San Francisco 1985)
- 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. (Tel Aviv 24/11/80)
- Long time ago, in my distant middle age, I sat down with Phil Spector on a mahogany piano bench and collaborated with him, one of the most dismal periods of my entire creative life. I wrote a song into which I have placed my most banal adolescent recollections. A song of profound and abiding irrelevance, which will probably last forever. Oh, how I long for the day when upon these shabby balustrades of the Concertgebouw, you will erase one of the lesser names of Wagner, of Stravinsky and in its place, in bright and shiny gold letters, inscribe the name…(laughs). Forgive me great gods of music. I am but a tiny worm groveling in the bright illumination of your memories. That reminds me the name of the tune, it’s called “Memories.” (Amsterdam 30/10/80)
- The next song is one of my least significant songs. In it I have placed as though it were data in a tiny time capsule which is fired at a distant star and actually dissolves in the colder reaches of space, far before its ultimate destination……In this tiny song I have placed all the irrelevant material concerning my extremely dismal adolescence. It is a song called “Memories,” (Bonn 03/12/79)
Happily, my training and experience in the fields of English literature and psychiatry enable me to proceed, unburdened by the errant beliefs artists may maintain about what they think they think. (If they want to know what they think, they can make an appointment with me like everybody else.)
When Leonard Cohen derides “Memories,” he isn’t, of course, apologizing for the song. If Leonard Cohen is apologizing for anything, it’s for his own enjoyment of a performance that is a spoof.
I suspect a significant factor in my fondness for “Memories” is that I harbor a special affection for instances of Leonard Cohen having fun.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now, it’s showtime.
Leonard Cohen Performs Memories – 1979
This is a particularly tasty performance despite some lyrics being hoarsely shouted. Featured are Paul Ostermayer on sax and backup singers, Jennifer Warnes & Sharon Robinson, on vocals & synchronized dance moves. Also on display are glimpses of Leonard dancing.
Down Memories Laine Posts:
- Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Memories & Death Of A Ladies’ Man
- Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Leonard Cohen On Memories
- Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Memories & I Am A Hotel
- Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: The 1979 ZDF-TV Droll, Deadpan Version
- Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Live Performances Of Memories Online
- My favorite Leonard Cohen quote about his experience with Spector is from Leonard Cohen Obscured… A Haunting by Spector by Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone, January 26, 1978, “Phil couldn’t resist annihilating me. I don’t think he can tolerate any other shadows in his own darkness.” [↩]
- Beautiful loser, beautiful comeback. by Judith Fitzgerald in The National Post, 24 March 2001. [↩]
- Rasky filmed concerts in Antwerp, Paris and Frankfurt [↩]