Leonard Cohen Takes Berlin But Not Without Struggle – Tour Tales 2009

But love is not a victory march,
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah!

Leonard Cohen’s Battle For Berlin

As noted by concert-goers, Leonard Cohen’s July 2, 2009 Berlin concert was not an automatic triumph. This report from LeonardCohenForum by brinberlin limns the situation:

… the Webbs and Sharon Robinson came on unsmiling, stony-faced, morose, and despite the obligatory standing ovation LC looked ill at ease to say the least. One problem must have been the audience. What a lack of vibe. Mostly over 50 (as I am, but not like them!) and looking as if they just came for an evening out, provincial in the most pejorative sense of the word, they could have been watching anyone really. They marched up and down the aisles with wines and beers as he sang, talked amongst themselves, clapped and whooped each time they (wrongly) thought a song had ended… really embarrassing. … They were only waiting for Suzanne, and the rest seemed to pass them by as they hysterically took mobile phone footage of each other and the screens…

While others who attended disagree about the appearance of the performers and the extent of the philistinism rampant in the crowd, the consensus is nonetheless that the Berlin show was challenging in a way that many other stops on the World Tour have not been.

Many previous Tour concerts (including the one I attended at the Beacon Theatre) have been as much worship services of gathered Cohen  acolytes as they are entertainments.  The greatest risks posed in such circumstances has been competitions by audience members to demonstrate who is most appreciative of, knowledgeable about, and emotionally intimate with Cohen and crew.

From both the reports of those in attendance and the press, there is little doubt that, by the end of the Berlin show, Cohen had won over the audience. What is striking is that this was a victory accomplished by the overwhelming display of professionalism and grace by Leonard Cohen, the backup singers, and the band.

Keep in mind that this is the grown-up version of the Leonard Cohen who walked off the stage in frustration in a 1972 concert. Of course, this is also the Leonard Cohen who thoughtfully considers his responsibilities as a performer:

You definitely go into a concert with a prayer on your lips. There’s no question about that. I think that anything risky that you do, anything that sets you up for the possibility of humiliation like a concert does … you have to lean on something that is a little better than yourself I feel I’m always struggling with the material, whether it’s a concert or a poem or a prayer or a conversation. It’s very rarely that I find I’m in a condition of grace where there’s a kind of flow that is natural. I don’t inhabit that landscape too often. … Well, I mean this in a kind of lighthearted way. When you walk on the stage and 5,000 people have paid good money to hear you, there’s definitely a sense that you can blow it. The possibilities for disgrace are enormous.1

Leonard Cohen’s 2009 Strategy For Taking Berlin

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  1. From An Interview with Leonard Cohen” by Robert Sward. A Side. Montreal, Quebec. 1986 []

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t kind of break my heart that I never got to tell you how much you changed me,” Lana Del Rey On Leonard Cohen’s Death

The quote is from a post on Lana Del Rey’s Instagram account, which is no longer online.1

In 2013, Lana Del Rey covered Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2.

  1. See Lana Del Rey Pays Tribute to Leonard Cohen by Sheldon Pearce (Pitchfork: Nov 12, 2016) []

“It was incredible and captivating. That night, Leonard was on some sort of mission.” Filmmaker Murray Lerner On Leonard Cohen At The Isle Of Wight

Documentarian Murray Lerner, who died Sept 2, 2017, captured Leonard Cohen’s legendary 1970 Isle of Wight performance on film. His recordings resulted in the 2007 DVD – Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight – 1970. In 2009, Harvey Kubernik, author of Leonard Cohen Everybody Knows, interviewed Lerner about the experience.


Murray Lerner On Leonard Cohen
From Leonard Cohen: Agency of Yes by Harvey Kubernik

I first heard Cohen as a literary character, a poet. And then in the late sixties a couple of his records on the radio. I heard his debut LP. He came out acoustic and walked out with guitar.

“I felt hypnotized. I felt his poetry was that way. I was really into poetry and that is what excited me about him. To put music to poetry was like hypnotic to me.

“There were also moments, banter, like when he told the audience before a number, how his father would take him to the circus as a child. He didn’t like circuses, but he liked when a man would stand up and asking everyone to light a match so they could see each other in the darkness. ‘Can I ask of you to light a match so I can see where you all are?’

“But when he sang the lyrics of the songs they took over and he had ‘em in the palm of his hand. Even removing myself from being the director how this guy could walk out and do this in front of 600,000 people? It was remarkable. It was mesmerizing.  And the banter was very much in tune with the spirit of the festival. And, more particularly what he said, you know. ‘We’re still a weak nation and we need land. It will be our land one day.’ It was almost biblical.

“When he did ‘Suzanne’ he said, ‘Maybe this is good music to make love to.’ He’s very smart. He’s very shrewd. The other thing he was able to do, the talking, I think the audience was able to listen to him. They heard him and felt he was echoing something they felt. The audience and I were mesmerized. It was incredible and captivating. That night, Leonard was on some sort of mission. His band was called the Army.

“My film shows the roles of the background singers. Sure, Ray Charles and Raylettes, and the Cohen singers had beautiful skin. They were a balance to him up there and the fact I was jealous of the guy that this guy was able to get all these women. (laughs).  And he’s up there very late at night, the morning, unshaven. The music is great.

“The Isle of Wight journey was worth it. That was the most exciting event I’ve ever been to. ‘Cause it was so all encompassing. And new. In terms of the possibility of the crowd killing us and always living on the edge of that precipice.

“And I was always thinking, in relationship to the performers, ‘What’s my role in what they are singing about? How do I fit into that?’ I change with each one as I am watching them.  Like with the Moody Blues, I liked their music. It was different and interesting, and like Leonard Cohen, it had an undercurrent of mysticism to it.

“I thought the Isle of Wight – 1970 and the Cohen footage had touched the deep chord of people.  I realized how deep it was and I was startled how prophetic it was. I was proud and excited at what I had done.”

Next: Part 2 of Harvey Kubernik’s interview with Murray Lerner can be found at “There’s a mysterious quality to it and we don’t really know why it works” Murray Lerner On Leonard Cohen’s Performance

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Montreal Gazette Photo Mystery & DrHGuy Solution: Why is Gratien Gelinas talking to Leonard Cohen in a 1969 photo?

Quebec actor/playwright Gratien Gélinas

Note & Update: The photo above is not the photo addressed in this article, and the photo under consideration is no longer online at the original site of the story but is still accessible at the Vancouver Sun site.

Leonard Cohen & Gratien Gélinas Confer In Photo

The photo conundrum is set forth in A Belated Happy Birthday to Leonard Cohen by Pat Donnelly (Gazette: Sept 23, 2014):

A chronic procrastinator, I have been known to miss birthdays before. Even familial ones.

So here, at last, is my present to Cohen and his fans.

It’s old photo which I accidentally unearthed in the Montreal Gazette archives while looking for files on actress Huguette Oligny who died on May 9, 2013.

Talk about procrastination. That’s how long I have had the photo on my desktop.

Enough of the confessional mode.

Back to the photo, which shows Leonard Cohen in conversation with Quebec actor/playwright Gratien Gélinas, (Oligny’s husband.)

This image has intrigued me ever since I found it. It was filed as a photo unattached to a story or cutline. The only information to be gleaned from it was the date (1969) and the fact that is was published in the now-defunct Montreal Star.

If anyone has any idea what the occasion was that brought these two Canadian cultural icons together on that day in 1969, please share with the rest of us either by leaving a comment or sending me an email at [email protected] or both.

DrHGuy Solution:  My best guess is that Gratien Gelinas and Leonard Cohen are concocting names for a satellite – of course.

These excerpts (note the 1969 date) are from Present at the Creation: The Telecommission Studies and the Intellectual Origins of the Right to Communicate in Canada (1969-71)  by AI Dakroury:

Note: Originally posted Sept 23, 2014at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

New York Times Playlist Features Leonard Cohen Leaving The Table Video

The Playlist: “The New York Times weighs in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos.”  This week, The Playlist features Jon Pareles’ review of the video for Leonard Cohen’s Leaving The Table that premiered at the Sept 18, 2017 Polaris Music Prize Gala.

Leonard Cohen, ‘Leaving the Table’

One of Leonard Cohen’s farewell songs from his 2016 album, “You Want It Darker,” has been turned into an animated video in time for what would have been his 83rd birthday on Sept. 21. It has his black-suited, fedora-hatted silhouette floating above the clouds and through images drawn from his life and songs: a typewriter, the neon sign of the Chelsea Hotel, a bird on a wire. It’s a flickering, chiaroscuro tribute that never upstages the song itself, with the halflight nostalgia of its arrangement and its knowing acceptance of mortality.

From The Playlist: A Farewell From Leonard Cohen and 8 More New Songs by Jon Pareles (New York Times: September 22, 2017)

Leonard Cohen – Hero To Those Under 25 In 1968

Leonard Cohen: Novelist, poet, singer and, if you are under 25, hero.

I like all the wrong  things about “Cohen Becomes Hero” by Sharon Brown, published in the January 14, 1968 Chevron, the official newspaper published by the Federation of Students at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario). I like the ardent tone in which pronouncements are made in lieu of factual support, I like the the writer referring to Leonard Cohen as “Leonard,” I like that Leonard Cohen is characterized as being “different from any other hero” because “he’s beautiful, for one thing, and he projects himself in a very intimate way.”  Heck, I even like the typo: “his singing … is often simply a momotone.” [emphasis mine]

Regardless, as a Lenny-come-lately who didn’t recognize the qualities of and value afforded by the Canadian singer-songwriter until I was in my mid-fifties, I found it intriguing to read what someone in my cohort1 who proved a much more accurate prognosticator than I, and I thought others might find it interesting as well.

Update: Is this the same Sharon Brown? Photos: Leonard Cohen & Friends On Picnic c. 1970 + Leonard Cohen’s Inscription-Poem “For Sharon”

Note: Leonard Cohen’s role in the movie to which the article refers, The Ernie Game, was featured in the post, Leonard Cohen In 1967 Movie – The Ernie Game.

Note: Originally posted Aug 3, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. In 1968, when this article was written, I was a freshman at Oklahoma Christian College, which was, serendipitously, where I first  heard “Suzanne” playing on a roommate’s tape deck. I didn’t care for it. []