“Leonard Cohen is probably the only lyricist who can be called a poet.” Bernie Taupin

Elton John and Bernie Taupin – 1971

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In some respects, Rocket Man is a song of fragments. It’s a short song with four short verses and lots of air to give it an ambient feel of space. But it’s not poetry. I’d rather not be regarded as a poet. Unfortunately, I’ve borne that cross for years. Leonard Cohen is probably the only lyricist who can be called a poet. Some say Bob Dylan, but I think the songs Dylan has written that are regarded as poetry are more avant-garde, possibly in the Allen Ginsberg realm. quotedown2

Bernie Taupin

 

Bernie Taupin Tells the Story Behind 1972’s ‘Rocket Man’ by Marc Myers (Wall Street Journal: April 4, 2018)

“Those years as a monk prepared him for being able to come out in the world and an extraordinary collected energy that almost no other musician can command.” Pico Iyer Compares Leonard Cohen With Emily Dickinson, Thomas Merton, & Bob Dylan

Jeff Baker Interview With Pico Iyer Includes Dalai Lama and Leonard Cohen

Pico Iyer, author of some of the most lucid and insightful interviews of Leonard Cohen, was himself interviewed by Jeff Baker. The first half of this 90 minute interview was published in the April 4, 2010 issue of The Oregonian under the title Pico Iyer talks about the Dalai Lama, Leonard Cohen and the virtues of traveling within yourself.  I’ve posted three excerpts focusing on Leonard Cohen to provide a flavor of the piece, but the entire article, the initial portion of which centers on the Dalai Lama, is an intriguing, worthwhile read. (The portions in red are from Iyer’s interview; I added the headings.)

Update: Part 2 of this interview is now online. Pico Iyer On Tributes To Leonard Cohen And His Attitude Toward Money & Fame.

Leonard Cohen’s Career Arc and Transparent Humility

The arc of his [Leonard Cohen’s] career is so interesting. He began as the bright troubadour romantic and then in the 70s his songs were all about self-hatred and being messed up and lost and then he went into the Zen temple and came out with these very worldly songs, “First We’ll Take Manhattan,” almost like a prophet returning to the mountaintop. I do feel, and maybe it’s just my prejudice, that those years as a monk prepared him for being able to come out in the world and an extraordinary collected energy that almost no other musician can command. One reason the concerts were so successful was his transparent humility. We’re not used to a performer thanking the audience over and over and not trying to hog the spotlight.

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The Poetic Focus Of Leonard Cohen

He approaches life as a poet and I think he’s almost unique in the rock and roll domain in that there are many people like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and subsequent ones who have a great gift for poetry but are musicians first. I see Cohen as being very similar to Thomas Merton. I was just up at the monastery reading Merton and it’s word for word similar but even more Emily Dickinson with those riddled quatrains where each word is so uncanny but so perfectly put together in this little jewel box that can explode in your hand. It’s a very rare thing even in poetry because not much mainstream poetry is rhymed and observes so specific a rhythm as his.

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The Difference Between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan

Q: The current Bob Dylan is revealing himself to be what he was when he was 20, a troubadour and a collector and interpreter of old folk songs. He’ll reinterpret himself differently every time where Cohen will make sure to get it exactly right.

A: Yes, and invested with the changes himself. When he sings “Suzanne” it’s note for note the same as in 1967 but what you’re hearing is a 75-year-old man singing a 40-year-old song of love so it instantly has a different coloration. But you’re right, he’s not playing games with it, he’s counting on the years to speak through it. I think Dylan is the great minstrel of people when they’re young and walking down the road and they don’t know what’s beyond the next mountain and the excitement of exploration and leaving everything behind and Cohen is about what’s on the other side of the mountain. He’s the only person I know in the contemporary music world who’s speaking for the wisdom of the 75-year-old rather the questing nature of the 20-year-old.

Pico Iyer talks about the Dalai Lama, Leonard Cohen and the virtues of traveling within yourself by Jeff Baker. The Oregonian: April 4, 2010. Photo by kellywritershouse – Pico Iyer 2.08.12, CC BY 2.0, via Wikpedia. Originally posted Apr 5, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

Update: Part 2 of this interview is now online. Pico Iyer On Tributes To Leonard Cohen And His Attitude Toward Money & Fame.

“[From 2008 to 2013] the previously stage-wary Cohen played 387 shows to more than 2 million people.” Alan Light On The Origin & Success Of Leonard Cohen’s Final Tours

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In 2005, it was discovered that Leonard Cohen’s longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, had embezzled more than $5 million from the 71-year-old’s accounts, while also surreptitiously selling many of Cohen’s publishing rights. In the previous decade, Cohen mostly had been residing in a Zen monastery and had released only two albums—2001’s Ten New Songs and 2004’s Dear Heather, neither of which reached the top 100 on the chart. To pursue his case against Lynch, Cohen ultimately had to take out a new mortgage on his Los Angeles home. So on the heels of his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, the singer-songwriter announced that he was going to generate some income the old-fashioned way—by going back on tour after 15 years off the stage. ‘Leonard was very reluctant at first,’ says his manager, Robert Kory. ‘From his view, touring had always been a disaster—he would say, ‘Performing is an opportunity for a thousand humiliations.’ His hand forced, Cohen assembled a band (three backup singers, two guitarists, drummer, keyboardist, bassist and saxophonist, later replaced by a violinist) and rehearsed for a full three months, followed by a series of unadvertised preview dates in Canada, beginning May 11, 2008, at the 709-seat Playhouse in Fredericton, New Brunswick. During the next five years, selling out bigger and bigger stages, Cohen’s touring would propel his career to heights he had never seen since emerging as one of the most important songwriters of the 1960s. Between a lengthy run from 2008 to 2010, which included triumphant appearances at Coachella and Glastonbury, and then a shorter leg in 2012 and 2013, the previously stage-wary Cohen played 387 shows to more than 2 million people.quotedown2

Alan Light

 

Information about the financial success of these tours is available at 2008-2013 Leonard Cohen Tour Revenues.

From Remembering Leonard Cohen: Close Friends, Collaborators & Critics on How He Changed Music Forever by Sasha Frere-Jones (Billboard: November 17, 2016). Photo by J. Gordon Anderson.

DrHGuy Note: Alan Light is the author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”

“We were talking about… how there’s an imbalance within positions of power, and Leonard said… ‘Women are the greater sex.'” The Webb Sisters Talk About Leonard Cohen’s Perspective On Women

Everyone I’ve spoken to about Leonard has remarked on the fact that he was very comfortable in the company of women.

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You can hear that in his songs. There’s a space every couple of moments where he feels there was a female perspective to be offered. In real life he looks for the female perspective. I also saw him at ease with men, so I don’t feel it was particularly a feminine connection. quotedown2

Hattie Webb

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We were talking about politics and business and how there’s an imbalance within positions of power, and Leonard said something along the lines of, ‘Women are the greater sex.’  I don’t know if he was just flattering me, but he did seem to think that.quotedown2

Charley Webb

 Quotation from Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen by Abby Steward. Hot Press: Sept 2017. Photo by Maarten Massa.

“Working with Leonard [Cohen] was a dream. In terms of the man/woman thing, he always respected you fully as an equal.” Sharon Robinson

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As soon as I met Leonard at that Field Commander Cohen audition, we seemed to hit it off. There was a really nice chemistry. He was extremely gracious and hospitable and warm. He seemed to like me right off the bat, so it was very comfortable. He hadn’t made an album for six years before Ten New Songs and was looking for a way to express these lyrics he’d written that would feel like a whole body of work – that’s how we ended up doing the whole project together. He was interested in soul and blues and R&B, all of that. We often referred back to the blues greats and to the Muscle Shoals stuff. Working with Leonard was a dream. In terms of the man/woman thing, he always respected you fully as an equal. Discussing all sorts of things that were on his mind was part of the friendship, part of the interaction. Leonard had an immeasurable wisdom and intellect, and was able to access it and put it into his work. He spent a lot of time on these words. Working and then re-working them brought another level of depth that probably even he couldn’t predict. That’s why his songs are so timely – and so timeless. He worked on it so much. Leonard would send me a lyric, and I’d go to my piano and try to understand where the verse was and what the chords should be, and just shape it into less of a poem and more of a song lyric, if you will, without changing any of the words. Sometimes I would change the order, or I’d decide, ‘Okay, this stanza should be the chorus.’ And I would build a melody and chord changes based on my interpretation of the lyrics. I’d present a couple of ideas to Leonard and then we worked through the rest of it together.quotedown2

Sharon Robinson

 

Quotation from Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen by Abby Steward. Hot Press: Sept 2017. Photo by Dominique BOILE.

“He had that wonderful balance of knowing what he wanted, trusting his music director and trusting his musicians.” John Miller Talks About Working With Leonard Cohen In The 1970s – Q&A + Photos

John Miller & Leonard Cohen

John Miller played bass on the 1974-1976 Cohen Tours and served as musical director on the 1976 Tour. Miller’s role in the Cohen tours is elaborated in Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, Harvey Kubernik:
Miller also became the unofficial photographer of the 1976 Tour when Leonard bought him a Nikon camera.1 The photos displayed in this post were taken by him.

John Miller Q&A

1. You’ve worked with a multitude of musicians. Was there anything unique about performing with Leonard Cohen?

Playing with Leonard you cannot help but explore the space between the notes. The Buddha of slow tempos.

2. How did you happen to end up in the band for the 1974-1976 Leonard Cohen tours?

John Lissauer had called me to play bass on “New Skin For The Old Ceremony.” Not long after that, John asked me to go on tour with Leonard.

3. How did Leonard manage rehearsals and performances (e.g., was he insistent, laissez-faire, demanding, democratic…)?

He had that wonderful balance of knowing what he wanted, trusting his music director and trusting his musicians.

4. It’s my impression that you enjoyed a close relationship with Leonard. What was it like hanging out with him between shows and soundchecks?

Late at night, after we got back to the hotel, Leonard would often call my room and suggest that we go out and explore the underbelly of whatever city we happened to be in. we’d usually wind up at a small restaurant and hang with the workers after closing hours.

Leonard Cohen and Laura Branigan

5. Cheryl Barnes, who was a backup singer with Laura Branigan in 1976, is not well known, at least as far as her work with Leonard goes. Any information you can provide about her from the tour would be helpful.

I auditioned background singers. I thought that Laura and Cheryl would would sound great together. They did.  I find out years later that she had been in the movie of “Hair”.

6. I have a personal obsession with the song. Do I Have To Dance All Night. Since one of the two tours in which it appeared was 1976, I have to ask if you have any feelings or information about how the song was created or performed.

I remember arranging it for the tour. a little funkier than his other tunes, but Leonard seemed to love it and we played it every night.  Leonard (or Marty) wanted to record it while we were on tour. i don’t remember where we did the tracks, but i do know that they had me fly to London to use 3 female studio singers there. Not quite sure why we didn’t have Laura and Cheryl sing the background parts when we did the tracks.

John Miller

John Miller’s multifaceted career is startlingly impressive:

For over 30 years, John Miller has been the musical coordinator on over 100 Broadway productions, from as far back as 1980’s Barnum to 2012’s Tony-winning revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. He also serves as a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials and is an accomplished bass player who freelances for recordings and concerts, including The John Miller Quartet + 2 at 54 Below and The Cutting Room. He’s also a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials. And yes, he freelances as a string bass player (though not in his musicals) for recordings and concerts, including at the nightclub 54 Below. 2

In 2014, Miller made his acting debut as the drug-dealing tympanist Dee Dee in the Amazon Original comedy Mozart in the Jungle.3

As a bassist, Miller has worked with a dream list of artists including Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Ray Charles, Luther Vandross , Mose Allison, Larry Coryell, Tommy Flanagan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Madonna, P Diddy, Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Portishead, Tim Buckley, Gil Evans, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, John Pizzarelli, Pete Seeger, and the New York Philharmonic…4

Credit Due Department: All photos property of John Miller
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  1. Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life by Anthony Reynolds Omnibus Press: October 1, 2010 []
  2. Bassist & Broadway Music Contractor John Miller by Caryn Robbins (Broadway World: March 8, 2013) []
  3. Source: Revolvy []
  4. From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with John Miller by John Kuhlman (Bass Musician: March 1, 2013) []

“Leonard [Cohen] jogs out on stage, a young whippersnapper of 78 years old. He sings songs, tells stories, pays reverent homage to his fellow musicians on stage, each one very worthy of our love. He’s a gentleman of the best kind.” Louisville 2013

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Leonard jogs out on stage, a young whippersnapper of 78 years old. He sings songs, tells stories, pays reverent homage to his fellow musicians on stage, each one very worthy of our love. He’s a gentleman of the best kind. He’s respectful of everyone, but doesn’t take anything too seriously. There’s two kinds of women at a Leonard Cohen concert: The kind who have already lost their mind, and the kind who are about to lose their mind. I’ll let you decide in which category I reside, but suffice it to say I have been to a concert of his in Cleveland in 2009. ‘Nuff said. But seriously, while I sit mainly still in my seat in awe of it all, some of these women are hypnotized in other ways. There are a lot of reminders of what it’s like in some churches. And I have to admit, at many times throughout the night I kept thinking to myself it felt a little like a church. Except a church where nobody was pretending they never said bad words. A church where you could buy a beer or a glass of wine and bring it into the sanctuary with you. And they did. And we all sang. Women raised their hands to the sky all the time, and swayed in their seats. People danced in the aisles a little bit. There were standing ovations scattered throughout the show, for Leonard Cohen, for Sharon Robinson, Hattie & Charley Webb, and every member of the band. People shouted out ‘I love you, Leonard’ at times throughout the show but I think nobody minded because we all wanted to shout it out. At some point a lady shouted out ‘Best Easter Ever’ and we all silently agreed. I wanted to shout out and if I could I would shout to Leonard ‘Ole`!’ quotedown2

Tammigirl

 

From Old Ideas, a report on the March 30, 2013 Leonard Cohen Louisville Concert posted April 2, 2013 by Tammigirl at If You Could See What I See. Photo by Penny Showalter. Originally posted Apr 3, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric