This is the fourth post in the Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine series examining “Memories” by Leonard Cohen.
Now, this is fun …
ZDF-TV Rockpop Special Memories Video
Leonard Cohen – Memories
ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland: October 31, 1979
Part of a set recorded for later broadcast1
OK, if you don’t recognize that this is a funny video after viewing it – and an amazing number of folks don’t – I probably can’t persuade you. Nonetheless, my humanitarian obligation to you as a fellow inhabitant of this planet is to at least attempt to rescue you from your tragic misperception. So, we’ll be taking a look at Leonard’s humor, the backup singers (Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson) choreography, and the inspirational Frankie Laine. Buckle up.
In fact, I submit that one specific goal of this performance is entertainment of the self-effacing humor sort spiked with a dose of let the good times roll. I further propose that the enjoyment generated – even without considering any insights, universal truths, or moral values – would be ample justification of “Memories.”
I’m not the only one who finds the song funny. When Stylus Magazine compiled their Top Ten Funniest Leonard Cohen Songs, the #7 slot was occupied by – yep, you guessed it – “Memories” (the version from Death of a Ladies Man):
Death of a Ladies Man remains a criminally overlooked record, perhaps because merely listening to it actually feels like some sort of crime. Whether Phil Spector held a gun to Leonard’s head during the recording process or not is irrelevant; the music on display is clearly the result of two deranged drunks past their prime, lost in the wilderness and seeking salvation in… erm, booze and floozies. “Memories” is the ultimate old man’s leer—a swaying Weimar beerhall anthem of absurd horns and soaring chorus making epic poetry out of “won’t you let me see / Won’t you let me see / Your naked body.”
May it please the court, I now present evidence that Mr. Cohen, on or about the 31st day of October, 1979 did, at the ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland, with intent and forethought, conspire to and commit not only entertainment for his audience but personal enjoyment as well during the performance of the song known as “Memories.”
Part of the joke in Cohen’s performance of “Memories” is the absolute deadpan delivery which mocks the over-the-top flaccidly romantic style epitomized by teen idols like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell. Note that Mr. Cohen starts strong with his face firmly expressionless, but when he starts the first refrain of the key line, “Your naked body,” he can’t fight off the grin. In the video, he turns away at the point he gives up altogether the effort to restrain his smile.
Finally, did you listen to Cohen’s words at the very end of the song, after the last “naked body” on the lyrics sheet – “her divine, her immaculate, … .” That, my friend, is what you call your hyperbole in the service of humor.
Backup Singers Choreography
Leonard Cohen, Stylus Magazine, and I aren’t the only ones having fun. Check out the female vocalists, Jennifer Warnes (viewer’s left) and Sharon Robinson (viewer’s right), or, as I prefer to think of them in this specific performance, heirs to the grand tradition of the Vandellas, Pips, Miracles, Supremes, … and all the other backup singers who executed choreographed dance moves while singing every “shooby doop.” “shooby do ahh,” “shang-a-lang,” and “doo wop” in exactly the right place.
Keep in mind that this is the Jennifer Warnes who did her own “Famous Blue Raincoat” album of Cohen songs and the Sharon Robinson who has co-written a batch of songs with Cohen, including all the tracks on the “Ten New Songs” album. Singing “shoo-wa” and dancing in unison is not their usual m.o. Nope, that’s just “having fun.”
And What About Frankie Laine?
Frankie Lane, he was singing Jezebel
I pinned an Iron Cross to my lapel
From Leonard Cohen’s “Memories”
Of course, the singer referenced in the lyrics Frankie Laine (“Frankie Lane” in the official lyrics), whom, conveniently for us, Leonard Cohen has described in his song introduction during his 1985 San Francisco concert:
One footnote: there is a singer mentioned in the first line of the first verse, the singer Frankie Laine. He’s to be remembered for his stellar rendition of “Jezebel”. Also for his sense of interpretation of “Swamp Girl”. That song has the memorable refrain, “That’s where my swamp girl lies”. Many’s the time these words come rushing to my mind. There’s another song of his :”Black Lace” : “Lady beware, every time that you wear lace, black lace”. Very good song. There is a better known : “Mule Train”, with the authentic cracking of bull hide whips. Mule train. So the Frankie Laine referred to in the very first two words of this song is the very Frankie Laine, the very Frankie Laine whose liver I have to describe.2
C’mon, doesn’t that intro strike you as a tad humorous, a bit amusing, perhaps just a step past the border into comedy territory?
Regardless, I have a bonus to offer.
Frankie Laine – Jezebel
Is “Memories” Being Remembered?
The most heartening news for those, such as me, who get off on “Memories”3 is that there is a sign or two of it being rehabbed. I came across Came So Far For Beauty, a report on the Cohen Tribute Concert in Sydney that is pertinent:
After 190 minutes on stage and 34 songs, closing out the night – and the whole tour – came the third song for the evening from the ‘grotesque’ Phil Spector produced album. Maybe Phil is finally forgiven? Again the stage was filled with the whole cast and the band launched into Memories. There was some great interplay between Jarvis Cocker and Beth Orton, who had lots of fun reprising their interplay from earlier in the night, Jarvis rounding out the first verse with the plaintive “won’t you let me see your naked body,” Beth unequivocally answering in the negative in the next verse and Nick Cave, always a good choice to sing about naked women, doing the last verse dueting with Antony, who was rather drowned out in the melange. Lots of “woah, woah, woes” emanated from the backing gang before they marched off stage left.
Hope – for “Memories” and for seeing ones naked body of choice – springs eternal.
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
Note: Originally posted Feb 22, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
- According to the YouTube notes, the band at that taping included “Leonard Cohen – vocals, acoustic guitar, blues harp, Sharon Robinson – vocals, Jennifer Warnes – vocals, Mitch Watkins – guitars, Roscoe Beck – bass, Raffi Hakopian – violin, John Bilezikjian – oud, mandolin, Paul Ostermeyer – wind, Bill Ginn – keyboards, Steve Meador – drums.” Leonard Cohen Live lists the the complete set taped that day as follows: “1. Bird On The Wire, 2. The Guests, 3. So Long, Marianne, 4. The Window, 5. Famous Blue Raincoat, 6. Passin’ Through, 7. Memories, 8. The Guests (2), 9. Suzanne, -. The Partisan.” That same source notes that “tracks #1-2 were broadcasted on ZDF-TV ‘Rock-Pop,’ November 10, 1979” and “tracks #3-9 were broadcasted on ZDF-TV ‘Rock-Pop Special,’ December 2, 1979.” [↩]
- Frankie Laine went on to perform the title songs for seven motion pictures, including the 1974 Mel Brooks Western farce, “Blazing Saddles.” He also sang the theme to “Rawhide,” which became one of the most popular and frequently recognized theme songs of all time. [↩]
- I also enjoy almost every version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, including the one done by Homer and Jethro with June Carter, because it has same “thrust by the boy, parry by the girl” structure that I like in “Memories” [↩]