Leonard Cohen Sings Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine”
“Tonight Will Be Fine” was originally released on Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room (April 1969). Cohen’s 1970 Isle of Wight performance of “Tonight Will Be Fine” was later included on his 1973 compilation, Live Songs and then published again as part of the CD/DVD set, Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970.
While both renditions reflect Cohen’s embrace of country music, the Isle of Wight version is significantly further toward the Grand Ol’ Opry/Hootenanny pole of the spectrum. It features a distinctively slower yet almost bouncy tempo and prominent fiddle (Charlie Daniels), banjo (Elkin “Bubba” Fowler), and harmonica parts in contrast to the more modulated studio production found on Songs From A Room, on which Cohen is accompanied only by guitar and Jew’s harp. The Isle of Wight performance also includes two verses not found on the “Tonight Will Be Fine” track from Songs From A Room and a more aggressive singing style with Cohen shredding his voice and shouting sections of the song.
The lyrics are less adorned and complex than in many of Cohen’s songs but no less striking. Cohen’s metaphor for both his music and his personal strategy, for example, is evident in the following couplet:
I choose the rooms that I live in with care
The windows are small and the walls almost bare
The last line of the last verse (the last verse of the original studio version) is a poignant manifestation of the concept of bittersweet:
Oh sometimes I see her undressing for me,
she’s the soft naked lady love meant her to be
and she’s moving her body so brave and so free.
If I’ve got to remember that’s a fine memory. [emphasis mine]
I am also taken by the penultimate line, “and she’s moving her body so brave and so free,” the last phrase of which, an elementary but effective anaphora, is echoed in the second line of “Chelsea Hotel #1:”
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
You were talking so brave and so free. [emphasis mine]
Leonard Cohen – Tonight Will Be Fine
Songs From A Room version
Leonard Cohen – Tonight Will Be Fine
Isle of Wight, 1970
Note: Tonight Will Be Fine begins at 25:46
Under Cover With Teddy Thompson
“Tonight Will Be Fine” has, in fact, become a Thompson signature song, appearing on the soundtrack of the 2006 film tribute, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, and the setlist of most of Thompson’s own concerts. Reaction to Thompson’s cover by fans reflects, albeit in a less dramatic manner, the Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah cover phenomenon, i.e., a large number of fans favor the Teddy Thompson cover over the original and many believe the song originated with Thompson and have never heard Cohen’s own rendition. And, many of the covers by other artists are more accurately characterized as covers of the Teddy Thompson “Tonight Will Be Fine” rather than the Leonard Cohen “Tonight Will Be Fine.”
In this video, Thompson sings “Tonight Will Be Fine,” accompanying himself on guitar, sans country inflections, as a nostalgic elegy to love lost. The carpe diem theme and the premonitions of imminent disaster, particularly salient in Cohen’s Isle of Wight version, are attenuated to the point of absence here.
Teddy Thompson – Tonight Will Be Fine
“Tonight Will Be Fine” – Score It Cohen To Thompson To Crowe
Tonight Will Be Fine (Leonard Cohen cover) – Allison Crowe
Video by – ahem – DrHGuy
No musicological sophistication is required to note the similarities, whether intentional or incidental, between the versions sung by Allison Crowe and Teddy Thompson.
Thompson’s rendition of “Tonight Will Be Fine” is so well established in its own right that he holds the equivalent of a home field advantage in comparisons with other artists covering the song, including Crowe. And as for the popularity of Cohen’s own versions – well, everybody knows Leonard Cohen fans are peculiarly contentious in promoting the proposition that no one sings Leonard Cohen songs like Leonard Cohen.
Nonetheless, to my ear, there is something in Crowe’s voice, richer and more melodious than Thompson’s, that is especially well suited for conveying what is, after all, a simple scene – the acknowledgment of the loss of love through the act of consummation itself. Cohen himself described a similar sense of “something in [a singer’s] voice” enriching a song beyond the denotation of its words:
You want to hear a guy’s story, and if the guy’s really seen a few things, the story is quite interesting. Or even if he comes to the point where he wants to sing about the moon in June, there’s something in his voice – when you hear Fats Domino singing, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill,” whatever that’s about, I mean, it’s deep.1
Cohen’s own gift of a golden voice proves an extraordinarily efficacious instrument for portraying a more dramatic interpretation of the same event; the Isle of Wight performance uses the same song as a canvas to portray a clashing, complicated mix of deep affection, rapacious physical longing, and the absolute conviction of impending catastrophe.
And that’s why I admire – and need – both Leonard Cohen’s and Allison Crowe’s versions of “Tonight Will Be Fine.”
Because sometimes I feel like an apocalypse is coming; sometimes I don’t.
Credit Due Department: Teddy Thompson photo by Anthony Pepitone – Original photo by Anthony Pepitone, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.
Originally posted Mar 2, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric