Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work
The posting of the Leonard Cohen Album Logos series featuring the Hummingbird Heart Handcuffs and Broken Chain symbols triggered observations from three Cohen cognoscenti, Francis Mus, Tom Sakic, and David Peloquin, on the prevalence of imagery associated with slavery and captivity, such as chains, in Leonard Cohen’s work. Consequently, Cohencentric is offering Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work, a set of posts organized around these themes. Today’s post features examples of emblems manifesting these concepts from Leonard Cohen albums, marketing, and merchandise. Part 2 of Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work will focus on these themes as they occur in the text of his songs and poems. Update: Part 2 is now online at Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: The Texts.
Captivity & Escape In Leonard Cohen’s Work: Album Art
While this listing of album art (and associated images used in marketing and on merchandise) pertinent to captivity and escape is not exhaustive, I was impressed by its extent and, in the case of the symbols linked to The Future album, the variety of this motif.
Leonard Cohen Captivity & Escape Album Logos: Anima Sola
The earliest album cover art featuring symbols of captivity & escape if found on the back cover of Leonard Cohen’s first album, Songs Of Leonard Cohen. Talking to Jack Hafferkamp for Ladies & Gents, Leonard Cohen in Rolling Stone: Feb 4, 1971, Leonard explains
The picture on the back [of Songs Of Leonard Cohen] is a Mexican religious picture called “Anima Sola,” the lonely spirit or the lonely soul. It is the triumph of the spirit over matter. The spirit being that beautiful woman breaking out of the chains and the fire and prison.
Leonard Cohen Captivity & Escape Album Art: They Locked Up A Man
They locked up a man
Who wanted to rule the world
They locked up the wrong man
Leonard Cohen Captivity & Escape Album & Tour Logos: Man Bowing Before Woman
The back cover of Greatest Hits features a mysterious graphic of a man kneeling worshipfully before a woman holding a mirror. The symbols below the figures appear to be gibberish.
A partial explanation may be offered in the Leonard’s explanation to the crowd at the 1972 concert at Yad Eliahu Sports Palace in Jerusalem, that things were breaking down (bolding mine):
Now look, if it doesn’t get any better, we’ll just end the concert and I’ll refund your money, because I really feel that we’re cheating you tonight. You know, some nights, one is raised off the ground, and some nights, you just can’t get off the ground. And there’s no point in lying about it. And tonight, we just haven’t been getting off the ground. It says in the Kabbalah… that if you can’t get off the ground, you should stay on the ground. No, it says in the Kabbalah that unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne. And somehow, the male and female part of me refuse to encounter one another tonight, and God does not sit on his throne. And this is a terrible thing to happen in Jerusalem. So listen: we’re going to leave the stage now and try to profoundly meditate in the dressing room to get ourselves back into shape, and if we can manage, we will be back.
Leonard Cohen Captivity & Escape Album & Tour Logos: Handcuffs & Chains
The symbolism of the handcuffs on the cover art of Leonard Cohen’s The Future album is straightforward. They are most often juxtaposed with the hummingbird that first appeared on the cover of the 1979 Recent Songs album drawn by Diane Lawrence and reappeared as part of the hummingbird, heart, & handcuffs logo of the 1992 The Future album (cover design attributed to Michael Petit). This reiteration is addressed by Cohen in the following excerpt from The Future by Alberto Manzano (El Europeo: Spring 1993):
There’s a tension between the hummingbird and the handcuffs. We all live somewhere between the two.
There is, however, at least one instance in which those six-link handcuffs are spotlighted sans hummingbird – on the front cover of the Closing Time promo CD, which included two tracks:
- Closing Time (Radio Edit) 3:45
- Closing Time (Full LP Version) 5:58
The Future album’s hummingbird, heart, & handcuffs logo was the dominant graphic used on 1993 Leonard Cohen concert posters and literature.
Interesting variations can, however, be found. The poster displayed below promoting the May 16, 1993 Leonard Cohen concert at the Palacio Deportes in Madrid features a broken chain (am I the only one who thinks it’s not a coincidence that the shape of the broken link echos the shape of the heart?,) with the hummingbird relegated to an accoutrement.
A different broken chain logo made its way to some of the official merchandise such as this shirt.
That broken chain version appears to be derived from this drawing, presumably a candidate, along with the hummingbird, heart, & handcuffs symbol, for the cover of The Future album.
Why did Cohen select the open handcuffs graphic rather than the broken chain symbol for the cover of The Future album? My brief is that he simply opted the more provocative and striking concept of open handcuffs over the more generic and cliched broken chain.
Credit Due Department: Special thanks to Dominique BOILE (France), Peter Torbijn (Netherlands), and Maarten Massa (Belgium) – the international panel of LeonardCohenology pros who initially pointed out to me that the image of the Cohen-affiliated hummingbird first appeared on the 1979 Recent Songs album cover art drawn by Diane Lawrence. Dominique BOILE also contributed the images of the Closing Time promo and the broken chain logo from the 1993 The Future World Tour Book.