“[Leonard Cohen] carried our bags & lit my cigarettes. He saw to it that everyone in the band was fed.” Jennifer Warnes On The 1972 Tour


Leonard Cohen passing out sandwiches to crew & friends backstage during the 1972 Tour (screenshot from Bird On A Wire documentary)

The Jennifer Warnes quotation is from Leonard Cohen Tour A Smash by Mike Jahn (The Palm Beach Post: May 14, 1972)

Note: Originally posted Oct 9, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Jennifer Warnes On Leonard Cohen’s “One Great Love”

He has investigated a lot of deities and read all the sacred books, trying to understand in some way who wrote them as much as the subject matter itself. It’s for his own healing that he reaches for those places. If he has one great love, it is his search for God.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes


On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual by Larry Rohter (New York Times: February 24, 2009). I received the photo as a gift from Jennifer Warnes.

Who Put The “Dum-Dum” In The “Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum?” – Non-Lexical Vocables In Leonard Cohen’s Songs

dudumEchoing Barry Mann’s metaphysical query, “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp),”1 is the question of the origin of the “Dum Dum” – an essential component in the key “Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum” refrain of Leonard Cohen’s Tower Of Song. While the above photo, taken in Montreal by Leslie Py Wener, makes a case for a confectionery theory of the genesis of those syllables,2 Mr Cohen himself attributes that phrase to another singer-songwriter. More about that in a moment.

Introduction: Nonsense Syllables In Leonard Cohen’s Songs

This is the first of a series of posts investigating the use of nonsense syllables, known in musicological circles as non-lexical vocables, in the songs written by Leonard Cohen.

Nonsense syllables have long been a part of music, having been used in second century AD Greek and Byzantine music3 and manifesting more recently in such forms as yodeling, scat singing, beatboxing, and doo-wop.

A few examples of popular songs featuring nonsense syllables follow:

  • Little Richard: Tutti- Frutti (“a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bop-bop”)
  • Edsels: Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong
  • Manfred Mann: Do Wah Diddy Diddy
  • Marcels: Blue Moon (“Bomp bomp ba bomp, ba bomp ba bomp bomp” and “dip-de-dip-de-dip”)
  • Van Morrison: Brown Eyed Girl (“Do you remember when we used to sing Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah”)
  • Gene Vincent: Be-Bop-A-Lula
  • The Crystals: Da Doo Ron Ron
  • Police: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  • Paul McCartney: Life Goes On (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”)
  • Traditional: Deck The Halls (“with boughs of holly, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la”)

Leonard Cohen, among the most elegant and precise of songwriters, follows in this tradition with a number of tracks in which he or his backup singers sing La La, Dum Dum, and other (ahem) non-lexical vocables.

Tower Of Song: Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum

The Leonard Cohen nonsense syllables most familiar to contemporary audiences is the “Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum” refrain sung by the backup singers in Tower Of Song.

In a 1993 interview,4 Cohen explains the effect of those syllables as well as naming the musician with whom they originated:

When Jennifer [Warnes] came up with that part [“Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum” in Tower of Song], I knew we’d nailed the song … That really gave the song the perspective of real humor. Real lightness.

In some instances, Cohen has, in fact, elevated the significance of this phrase to cosmic levels. The pertinent passage, transcribed below, begins at 6:33 in this video (the video should automatically begin at the beginning of the pertinent portion)

Leonard Cohen – Tower Of Song
London: 2009

[Background singers start singing: “Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.”]

I’m so grateful to you because tonight it’s become clear to me, tonight, the great mysteries have unraveled, and I’ve penetrated to the very core of things. And I have stumbled on the answer, and I’m not the sort of chap who would keep this to himself.

[Background singers keep singing: “Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.”]

Do you want to hear the answer? Are you truly hungry for the answer? Then you’re just the people I want to tell it to. Because it’s a rare thing to come upon this, and I’m going to let you in on it now. The answer to the mysteries: Do dum dum dum, de do dum dum.

Other Posts About Nonsense Syllables In Leonard Cohen’s Songs

This is the first post in the series; this and future posts can be accessed at Nonsense Syllables In Leonard Cohen’s Songs


  1. And yes, I know Jan and Dean, Bobby and Jerry, Frankie Lymon, and others have released songs setting forth their claims to having themselves been the bomp-putters, but the question remains unsettled []
  2. Note: The preceding text and the graphic atop this entry were originally posted Dec 3, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric []
  3. Nonsense Syllables in the Music of the Ancient Greek and Byzantine Traditions by Diane Touliatos. The Journal of Musicology. Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1989), pp. 231-243 []
  4. Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight, WFUV-FM: June 13, 1993 []

Leonard Cohen on delivering a song “so that it touches the person you’re speaking to”

But I don’t think that [the quality of a voice] has anything to do with delivering a song. A song, a message, a laundry list, a salutation – there’s a way to deliver the thing so that it touches the person you’re speaking to. Now there are lots of good singers who couldn’t do my stuff – couldn’t penetrate it, would have no interest in it. I can do my songs better than most people. Very rarely someone like Jennifer Warnes comes along, who has all the emotional equipment and can bring musical qualities to the song that I can’t even approach. This superb sound that issues from her throat. Now maybe that can get in the way of a song too.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland. Musician: July 1988.

Video: From Jennifer Warnes’ Way Down Deep To Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep

8As is true of many Leonard Cohen songs, “A Thousand Kisses Deep” has a complex history. Tom Sakic and I thought it would be interesting to present the earliest performed precursor of this song juxtaposed with the most recent version [at the time of the original 2010 posting].

The result is a striking video that opens with Jennifer Warnes singing the gorgeous but inexplicably overlooked Way Down Deep (credited to Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen, and Amy Latelevision) from her 1992 album, The Hunter, which is followed by Leonard Cohen’s July 20, 2009 recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep in Dublin. Between these end points, A Thousand Kisses Deep – both the song and the poem, both in print and as performed – has undergone changes in specific lyrics and the addition, subtraction, and rearrangement of stanzas.

The closest we have to a definitive manuscript of all verses is dated September 21, 1998 and is available online at Blackening Pages: A Thousand Kisses Deep. From that point on, the versions are combinations and permutations of these verses with occasional changes in lines and phrases.

From Way Down Deep By Jennifer Warnes To A Thousand Kisses Deep By Leonard Cohen
Video by Allan Showalter


Tom Sakic charts the development of A Thousand Kisses Deep:

1992 – Warnes’ “Way Down Deep”
1996 – documentary “Leonard Cohen Spring 96” by Armelle Brusq
1997 – video interview “Beautiful Losers” (ARTE)
1998 – radio interview KCRW
1998 – on Blackening Pages
2001 – “Ten New Songs” – song
2006 – “Book of Longing” early draft sent to publishers, printed as two songs (A Thousand Kisses Deep /album version/ and Still Into That)
2006 – Book of Longing – all verses combined into two parts, 1 and 2 (album version)
2008-2009 some late extra verses, recited during World Tour, and variations
2009 – Recitation with N.L. (Live in London) – recitation of Part 1 (variation)
2011 – Sony Two Worlds Ad
2013 – Recitation w/ N.L. (Live In Dublin)

Note: This material originally posted Feb 12, 2010 and July 24, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – The Concert Performances


About Those Songs On Leonard Cohen’s Can’t Forget Album

Leonard_Cohen_ASouvenirOfTheGrandTour_5x5_1500x1500About Those Songs On Leonard Cohen’s Can’t Forget Album is a series of posts offering background and historical context for songs on Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, the Leonard Cohen live album scheduled for release May 12, 2015.1

This post, a continuation of Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier, focuses on the evolution of the live versions of the song.

Joan of Arc: From Studio Solo To Concert Duet

The live performances of Joan of Arc during the 1970-1975 tours resembled the studio version (a recording of the studio version may be heard at  Joan of Arc By Leonard Cohen – A Dossier), in that Cohen sang it as a solo with his backup singers relegated to the role of a female chorus “cushioning the imperfections of [his] voice.”2

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc (Solo)
Olympia, Paris: 19 October 1974


In 1976, however, Cohen began performing Joan of Arc with him and female vocalists alternating, singing designated portions of the song, an arrangement that persisted to the last public performance in 2012.

While the introduction of a female singer dramatically changes the presentation, the arrangement of the solo studio version of the song presages the duet versions performed in 1976 concerts and thereafter. Tom Sakic’s comparison of the version on the Songs of Love and Hate and the rendition from the June 17, 1993 Toronto concert, featuring Julie Christensen, found on the Cohen Live album (1994) is instructive:

Joan of Arc is written as a dialog between Joan and fire in which she burns. On the version from the Cohen Live album, Leonard Cohen sings the (male) parts of the narrator and the fire while Julie Christensen sings the (female) part of Joan.

One can, however, hear that male-female pattern in the studio version. Cohen, for example, recites rather than sings the narrative in the opening lines. When Cohen comes in on the second stanza, taking Joan’s role, he shifts from speaking to singing.

In addition, the studio version comprise two overlapped vocals (most obvious in the first and final four lines of ), one sung by Cohen and one recited by him, that augur the male-female duplicity of voices of the performances from 1979 and later.3

In Leonard Cohen: The Music and The Mystique (Omnibus Press, UK: 2012), Maurice Ratcliffe posits a fourth character in the song, in addition to Joan, Fire, and the Narrator:

… noting that the final lines are italicized in the sleevenotes, one becomes aware that these lines are sung by a fourth character. The Bystander ends the song by enunciating the tragic dilemma which he faces: “myself, I long for love and light / But must it come so cruel, must it be so bright?”

For my part, the fact that certain lines are printed in italics on liner notes does not make a compelling argument for introducing another character. It seems flimsy; it also seems an unnecessary deus ex machina. The Narrator is, after all, just the character telling the story. The theme of the song is crystallized and its poignancy enhanced by the storyteller ending the piece with this very personal, very moving observation. Tom Sakic elaborates:

Narrative prose usually has a narrator while lyric poetry has a “lyric subject.” Joan of Arc is a narrative poem or at least a ballad (traditional ballads are always narrative poems), so the voice of the poem (“lyric subject,” speaker) and the narrator are the same entity. The final verse of Joan of Arc seems to me the closure, the final comment from the person who narrated the story of Joan of Arc and her talk with fire in which she burns.4

Joan of Arc and Laura Branigan & Cheryl Barnes

Leonard Cohen, Cheryl Barnes, & June 1976: French TV

Leonard Cohen, Cheryl Barnes, & Laura Branigan on French TV – June 1976

Continue Reading →

  1. See It’s Official – Leonard Cohen “Can’t Forget” Live Album: Tracks, Sources, Pre-Order Info, & More []
  2. While Leonard Cohen’s quote specifically describes Sharon Robinson’s impact on his singing, he same effect can be ascribed to all of his backup singers. Source: The Happy Message of the Aged by Sven F. Goergens. Focus: September 15, 2001. []
  3. Tom Sakic, personal communication (with editing) []
  4. Tom Sakic, personal communication (with editing) []