Leonard Cohen’s 1988 Halloween Austin City Limits Show – Scary Concept, Eh?

The impending holiday prompted me to re-publish this Halloween tidbit as a reminder that an official version of Leonard Cohen’s 1988 appearance on Austin City Limits is now available online.

Halloween In Austin

In 2013, I pondered the sight displayed above in the screen capture and posted this plea:

Would someone (maybe someone like Roscoe Beck or Mitch Watkins who understands how Austin operates) explain to me why the gentleman in the middle of this screenshot, taken when the camera pans the audience just prior to the start of Take This Waltz during the 1988 Leonard Cohen Austin City Limits Show, seems to be wearing a watermelon helmet on his head? I realize there are some odd images in Take This Waltz (you’ve got your “chair with a dead magazine” and that “bed where the moon has been sweating,” for example) but I don’t recall “I’ll applaud with a watermelon for a hat” in the lyrics.

And, sure enough, a reader wise in the ways of Austin, Leorstef, responded:

So, why is the guy wearing a Watermelon Hat? Why is one lady dressed as a Nun? I asked that question myself the first time I saw the concert 24 years ago.

That concert was actually filmed on Halloween night in 1988, then aired on PBS in April 1989. So simply, many of the folks were just in Halloween costumes. Since Austin has always been a good place to party, I assume they were just getting ready ahead of time for the rest of the night.

Here’s the sad part: I was at the Leonard Cohen concert in Austin on Oct 31, 2012, and I recall seeing only one person that might have been wearing a Halloween costume (and I suspect it could have been the sort of thing she wore every day). So, is Austin getting less weird?

Note: More Halloween-related Leonard Cohen posts can be found at

Leonard Cohen On The Air In Austin

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Leonard Cohen’s performance on the October 31, 1988 episode of Austin City Limits, which has become routinely designated as his “first major performance on American television,” is strong musically and a treat to watch. As ongoing readers know, this show has been intermittently available on various sites and then lost to copyright restrictions.

Now, however, it’s back – in an official version uploaded by AustinCityLimitsTV

The Intros

The 1988 Austin City Limits show1 is notable for Leonard Cohen’s idiosyncratic preludes to certain songs, including a description of the crucifixion of Christ that invokes the application of shaving lotion as an introduction to “Ain’t No Cure For Love” and a lead-in to “If It Be Your Will” that consists of Cohen’s complaint that his “hands are all sweaty with Tequila juice. It’s an impermeable oil that seeps through the membrane,” a scientifically baffling declaration that nonetheless seems to work in context as suggestive language to set the mood.2

Video: Leonard Cohen – Austin City Limits 1988

 

Set List

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  1. Cohen also performed on Austin City Limits in 1993 []
  2. For a poet-novelist-sing-songwriter-icon, one supposes, poetic license trumps scientific principle. Still, “an impermeable oil that seeps through the membrane” does dispel the Leonard Cohen is a Renaissance Man cliche. []

Video: Leonard Cohen & The Lip-synching Lennettes Perform Take This Waltz – Norwegian TV, Feb 13, 1988

This is another iteration of the 1988 promotions Leonard Cohen made with backup singers, usually anonymous stand-ins, lip-synching his songs on TV in France, Germany, Belgium, and other European countries. Other videos of thee promotions can be viewed at

Thanks to Maria Cohen Viana, who alerted me to this video

Orphan Leonard Cohen Concerts: 1988 Binéfar Show – Civic Pride, Regional Rivalries, & Empty Seats

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Binéfar & The 1988 Leonard Cohen Tour

How did a Spanish town half the size of Madison Square Garden land a Leonard Cohen show?

Binéfar is not the kind of place one would expect to find on a Leonard Cohen Tour. The entire Wikipedia entry for Binéfar, Spain follows:

Binéfar (Spanish: [biˈnefar]) is a municipality located in the province of Huesca, Aragon, Spain. According to the 2008 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 9,288 inhabitants.1 It is probably best known for the children’s theatre group “Los Titiriteros de Binéfar”.

Nonetheless, on June 11, 1988, Leonard Cohen did indeed perform in Binéfar (although some of the 4,000 seats in the venue were empty). How the show came to be scheduled, then became the center of a politico-social maelstrom, and finally transformed into an abiding element of the region’s musical and cultural heritage makes for an intriguing tale. It was, however a tale that couldn’t be told until a few months ago.

Except for its listing in Jim Devlin’s Is This What You Wanted and CohenLive.com as “1988/06/11 Huesca, Espana – (unknown venue)” and the occasional mention in a blog or forum by someone who attended the show,2 little was documented about this event until 2013. Then, on Jan 15, 2013, 25 años de Leonard Cohen en Binéfar was posted at Somos Litera (Update: No longer online):

This year marks twenty-five years one of the most important musical acontecimeintos history Binéfar. In 1988, Leonard Cohen included the town literana on tour in Spain. That June has been in the memory of many people who could enjoy one of the living legends of the music of our time. In Litera We are working on an extensive report on this unprecedented milestone. (Photo: Jaume Josa) [via Google Translate]

An Extensive Report On This Unprecedented Milestone

And, indeed, on the 25th anniversary of the concert, the “extensive report” promised in that original post manifested itself as two articles published in the June 2013 issue of Somos Litera (pp 78-80) that also offers the one other photo of this show I’ve discovered.

Thanks to the translation skills of Coco Éclair, I have composed a summary of the articles in English. Note: This is not a word per word translation but a summary of the approximated text stylized into English vernacular. We have tried to remain faithful to the original content – including points and interpretations with which we might disagree and which we have no way of confirming. As a convenience to readers, screen captures of the articles have been placed at the top of the respective summaries.

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An Unlikely Concert And A Milestone

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  1. By way of comparison, Madison Square Garden in New York, a Leonard Cohen venue in 2012, has a capacity of 18,000. []
  2. For example, María Jesús Lamora (Blog antiguo) []

Photos: Leonard Cohen In Concert – Reykjavik 1988

These photos were taken by Johann Agust Hansen, then a freelance press photographer, at the June 24 1988 Leonard Cohen concert in Reykjavik, Iceland. (See 1988 Leonard Cohen Icelandic TV Documentary – Performances & Interview)

Johann Agust Hansen writes:

I was very lucky to be accepted as a press photographer for the Reykjavik 1988 concert. I had just started working as a freelance press photographer selling my photos to the local newspapers.

It was a great concert where Cohen played songs from his newly released album I’m Your Man. The playlist included songs such as First We Take Manhattan and Take This Waltz but he also played older songs such as Bird On a Wire, Sisters of Mercy, Hallelujah, Susanne, So Long Marianne and Famous Blue raincoat.

In the beginning of the concert, all the photographers, five or six of us, were ushered to the area in front of the stage. Cohen started with the song Dance Me to the End of Love, a quiet song which set the mood that I hoped to capture. We were only allowed to take photos during the first three songs so there was not much time and every photographer wanted to be as close to him as possible. My favourite photo from the show is the one where Cohen closes his eyes because I could feel his sincerity and strong emotion through my lens.

Now Online: 1988 Leonard Cohen Icelandic TV Documentary – Performances & Interview

Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s 1988 Leonard Cohen documentary, featuring interviews and selections from Leonard Cohen’s June 24, 1988 Reykjavik concert, has been a now you see it, now you don’t online phenomenon. Gordana Stupar alerts us that we are currently in a now you see it state – but only until Sept 1, 2017.

Here’s why you need to see this video:  First of all, the 1988 Reykjavik concert was one of Leonard Cohen’s most moving performances. I was so taken with that show’s rendition of Hallelujah that I created Video: Leonard Cohen’s Gorgeous Performance Of Hallelujah – Reykjavik 1988 when an earlier online iteration evaporated. I had also ranked the recording of The Partisan from that show as my favorite live version of the song. An interview with Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, including a discussion of Leonard’s visit to the hot springs and Leonard’s secularized Hallelujah as well as an Icelandic cover of that song, is integrated alongside the performance clips.

Songs:and stage business from the concert that are featured in the documentary follow:

  • Joan Of Arc featuring Julie Christensen
  • Dance Me To The End Of Love
  • Hallelujah
  • Stranger Song
  • Like A Bird On The Wire
  • Suzanne
  • The Partisan
  • So Long Marianne
  • The Fake Stage Exit Before Encores
  • Take This Waltz with Introduction Invoking Lorca

The documentary can be viewed at Leonard Cohen 1988 Reykjavik Documentary.