The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Automotive Allusions In Song Lyrics

Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series are collected at as they go online.

Automotive Allusions In Songs By Leonard Cohen

Note:This does not purport to be a complete list. Readers are encouraged to submit other automotive allusions in songs by Leonard Cohen in the comments. Lyrics containing some terms, such as “street” and “road,” are eligible only if there is reason to think an automotive use is envisioned. Finally, The poems and novels of Leonard Cohen contain so many automobile references that an exhaustive listing is beyond the scope of a post in this series. Later posts will offer a sampling.

Brand Placement In Democracy

It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA

Limousines Waiting In The Street In Chelsea Hotel #2

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were talking so brave and so sweet
Giving me head on the unmade bed
While the limousines wait in the street

I’ll Be Your Driver In I’m Your Man

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Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Elvis’s Rolls Royce

Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series are collected at as they go online.

Elvis’s Rolls Royce Featuring Leonard Cohen By Was (Not Was)

areyouokIn 1990 Was (Not Was) published the album, Are You Okay?, which included the song, “Elvis’s Rolls Royce” with Leonard Cohen as lead vocalist (and Iggy Pop contributing backing vocals). One suspects that it was fun to produce, and it’s clearly fun to hear. It seemed only fitting that it should have a fun video as well. That’s where DrHGuy, master of the cut and paste flick, came into the picture.

Considerable poetic license was involved in the composition of “Elvis’s Rolls Royce,” but Elvis did own a Rolls Royce:

January 1961 Elvis signed a 5 year contract with Hal Wallis. To celebrate he went out and bought a Rolls Royce Phantom V from a Beverly Hills dealer only to bring it home and have his mothers’ chickens peck away at their reflections in the elegant finish. Most people would have just shot the birds but Elvis just chose to have the car repainted four or five times.1

That Rolls Royce is the one featured in the extraordinarily rare2 photo of Elvis, Leonard, & the Rolls atop this section of the post. Elvis also owned a 1966 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.

In any case, images in the accompanying video are likewise “inspired by” rather than “based on” Elvis’s cars. Viewers are advised to rev up their “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith;”3 a literal-minded perspective may result in significant cognitive whiplash.

Video: Leonard Cohen & Was (Not Was) – Elvis’s Rolls Royce

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“It was not only an act of supreme generosity on
[Leonard Cohen’s ] part but a flawless reading of the song

Those hearing reports of unprecedented beaming emanating from the vicinity of Durham, North Carolina needn’t be concerned that, say, a local nuclear power plant has gone Chernobyl. The phenomenon is instead the consequence of DrHGuy finding this message from Don Was, world class musician and Grammy-winning record producer,4 in his inbox:

hi allan –

just stumbled upon your video for our song “Elvis’ Rolls Royce”….i really love it! It’s exactly what I visualized when we wrote the song and seeing your video 20 plus years after we recorded the track gave me a renewed sense of how surreally awesome it was that leonard agreed to do the vocal for us…it was not only an act of supreme generosity on his part but a flawless reading of the song…thanks for putting so much work into the video….i hope everyone on earth gets to see it!

cheers,
dw

OK, let’s make that “Don Was, world class musician, Grammy-winning record producer, and one heck of a guy.”

Video by Allan Showalter

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  1. ElvisPresleyNews.com []
  2. It is so extraordinarily rare that it was, in fact, nonexistent in the pre-Photoshop world []
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817 []
  4. Don Was has produced every Rolling Stones album since 1993, co-led the 1980s group Was (Not Was), was appointed president of the jazz record label, Blue Note Records, in 2012, served as music director for a batch of movies (e.g., Thelma and Louise, The Rainmaker, Hope Floats), and has recorded with – well, just about everyone, including Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, Ziggy Marley, Bob Seger, Al Green, Lucinda Williams, Garth Brooks, Ringo Starr, Iggy Pop, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Cocker, Hootie and The Blowfish, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson Elton John, Stevie Nicks, George Clinton, Randy Newman, The Black Crowes, Carly Simon, Travis Tritt, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, The Barenaked Ladies, Old Crow Medicine Show, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Richie Sambora, The Presidents of the United States of America, B.B. King, Paul Westerberg, Kurt Elling, Poison, Cheb Khaled, The B-52’s, Zucchero, Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook, Jill Sobule and Solomon Burke. []

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: The Cohen Family 1930s Chauffeur-Driven Pontiac

Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series are collected at as they go online.

Cohen Family Car: 1930s Pontiac

When Leonard Cohen was growing up in Westmount, the Cohen family car was a chauffeur-driven (the driver, Kerry, was also the Cohen’s gardener) Pontiac.1 In fact, as Sylvie Simmons points out in her Leonard Cohen biography, I’m Your Man, that vehicle carried the infant Leonard home from the hospital:

The chauffeur turned off the main road by the synagogue, which took up most of the block, and headed past St. Matthias’s Church on the opposite corner, and up the hill. In the back of the car was a woman – twenty-seven years old, attractive, strong-featured, stylishly dressed – and her newborn baby son. The streets they passed were handsome and well-appointed, the trees arranged just so. Big houses of brick and stone you might have thought would collapse under the sheer weight of their self-importance appeared to float effortlessly up the slopes. Around halfway up, the driver took a side road and stopped outside a house at the end of the street, 599 Belmont Avenue. It was large, solid and formal-looking, English in style, its dark brick softened by a white-framed veranda at the front and at the back by Murray Hill Park, fourteen acres of lawns, trees and flower beds, with a sweeping view of the St. Lawrence River to one side and, on the other, downtown Montreal. The chauffeur stepped out of the car and opened the rear door, and Leonard was carried up the white front steps and into his family home.

Of course, when Leonard was a little older …
Credit Due Department: Thanks to Maarten Massa for access to these images.

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  1. It’s worth noting that in his 60s and 70s, Leonard frequently served as chauffeur for his friend and Zen teacher, Roshi, []

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: In My Secret Life Official Video – Citroen DS

lc-secret-car

Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series are collected at as they go online.

In My Secret Life Video

The official In My Secret Life video directed by Floria Sigismondi, features Leonard Cohen driving a Citroen DS (note that the car is color-coordinated with Leonard’s shirt). While a stage prop and not a vehicle Leonard owned, the uniqueness of the Citroen DS alone would qualify it as the Leonard Cohen of automobiles.

The French structuralist Roland Barthes wrote that it was “obvious” the DS had “fallen from the sky.” But you couldn’t call it avant-garde because nobody, not even Citroën, followed in the DS’s conceptual path. Even though Citroën built and sold about 1.5 million of the cars, the DS remains a kind of a one-and-done, design-wise.1

5939b264d3171007a5793726ea2bc158The video, nominated for the 2002 Juno Best Video Award, was filmed in Montreal at Habitat 67, architect Moshe Safdie’s experimental housing complex on the shore of the St. Lawrence river and part of the Expo 67 world’s fair (see Official Video For Leonard Cohen’s “In My Secret Life” Set In Montreal’s Habitat 67).

Citroën DS

The following excerpts are from The Citroën DS 19: Why It’s the Ultimate Classic Car by Dan Neil (Wall Street Journal: May 1, 2015):

Sixty years after its introduction at the Paris Auto Show, the futuristic, perfectly Gallic Citroën DS 19 (D series from 1955-75) retains the ability to wow, an atom bomb of style from a time when atom bombs were kind of cool. The DS was the most technically gifted automobile of its time and the most quintessentially modern, in that it scorned all that was familiar in prewar design—big, exposed wheels, low roofs, strong shoulders and commanding chrome grilles—in favor of something utterly new, at least outside the realm of pulp science fiction.

The DS was a front-mid-engine, front-wheel-drive car with rear wheels closer together than at the front, allowing its sleek, tapering bobtail. The rears are enclosed in prim fender spats and, above, the remarkable panoramic greenhouse and fiberglass roof, canted like a beret. Did we mention it was French?

The DS (pronounced DAY-ess, a pun on the French word for “goddess”) was a blaze of unorthodoxy and prescient human-factors design.

In a 2009 poll of top automotive designers, Classic & Sports Car magazine declared the DS “The Most Beautiful Car of All Time.”

Leonard Cohen – In My Secret Life
Official Video

 

Credit Due Department: Photo of red Citroen by Alexandre Prévot

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  1. The Citroën DS 19: Why It’s the Ultimate Classic Car by Dan Neil (Wall Street Journal: May 1, 2015) []

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Jeep DJ -Tennessee, Late 1960s – Early 1970s

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Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series will be collected at when they go online.

Leonard Cohen’s Jeep

I suspect the jeep in these photos with Leonard Cohen is the one he purchased for use during his sojourn in Franklin, Tennessee in the early 1970s:

I moved there [Franklin Tennessee]. I had a house, a jeep, a carbine, a pair of cowboy boots, a girlfriend. … A typewriter, a guitar. Everything I needed1

Jeep DJ

JeepMailTruckThe vehicle in the shots with Leonard Cohen resembles the DJ series “postal jeep” (pictured directly above) that was used by the USPS. DJ’s were also, however, employed by the military and were sold to individuals.

The Jeep DJ (also known as the Dispatcher) was a two-wheel-drive variant of the four-wheel drive CJ series. Production started in 1955 by Willys, which was renamed Kaiser Jeep in 1963. In 1970, American Motors (AMC) purchased Kaiser’s money-losing Jeep operations and established AM General, a wholly owned subsidiary that built the DJ through 1983.2

The DJ series was largely recycled using leftover jeep body styles and existing technology, making these jeeps inexpensive delivery vehicles. It came with either a column shift or floor shift three-speed Borg Warner T-96 manual transmission, which was the first since the CJ-2A to have a column shift. The DJ models were offered with many different body options including a soft top, hard top, or a full van body. The DJ could also come in right-hand drive for postal delivery use.,, DJ-A thru DJ-M became the Postal/Dispatch Jeep for most of America. Rural areas still used the Jeeps through 1984… Although rare, there are reportedly still Postal Jeeps in service today in a few areas.3

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Photo Credit: Arnaud Maggs / Library and Archives Canada, R7959-3101.

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  1. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. Random House of Canada, 1996 []
  2. Wikipedia []
  3. Brief History: DJ Series by Rachel (Kaiser Willys Jeep Blog: March 14, 2012) []

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S – NOT

This is a special supplement to , a series of posts about Leonard Cohen’s actual automobiles, those metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars.

Leonard Cohen & The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S: Two (Unconnected) Icons

In reference to my posts, a couple of Leonard Cohen fans have commented that I shouldn’t forget Leonard Cohen’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage S.

Well, as Leonard once observed, “I can’t forget but I don’t remember what.” (The lyrics of that song also include “I’m burning up the road.” Coincidence?  Of course it is; don’t be silly.)

That Leonard Cohen owned an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is an induced misunderstanding. As Monk (that’s Adrian Monk, the titular detecctive on the TV show, not Leonard Cohen the Zen monk) would say, “Here’s what happened.”

A story entitled Chasing Zen in an Aston Martin: We follow Leonard Cohen’s road to spiritual resolution by Matt Bubbers appeared in the February 2, 2017 edition of The Globe and Mail with this opening [bolding mine]:

Leonard Cohen disappeared into the San Gabriel Mountains for six years, retreating from fame to the Mount Baldy Zen Centre, 60 kilometres east of Los Angeles. There, among the tall pines, he slept in a drafty cabin, meditating and doing chores during the long 18-hour monastery days.

He wasn’t looking for God – not exactly. In one of Cohen’s last interviews, he said to David Remnick of The New Yorker, “Whether [Zen] has a spiritual aspect is debatable. It helps you endure, and it makes whining the least appropriate response to suffering. Just on that level, it’s very valuable.” Sitting in my favourite Aston Martin, the last of its kind, as traffic stalled on Interstate 210 out of Los Angeles, I tried to keep this in mind. Whining is the least appropriate response to suffering. I only had a few hours in this borrowed $239,000 V12 Vantage S to go find some Don-Draper-Gwyneth-Paltrow-Goop-style Hollywood enlightenment through the enjoyment of expensive things, and I didn’t want to waste my time in traffic.

A careful reading reveals that while Leonard Cohen resided at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, it is the author of the article who drives a Aston Martin V12 Vantage S1. to and from that same Mount Baldy Zen Center.

The problem was exacerbated when the folks at ClassicCars.com Journal, who seem to know quite a bit about Aston Martins but not so much about Leonard Cohen, appear to have misread the Chasing Zen in an Aston Martin story, believing and publishing that it was Leonard himself at the wheel of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S. The pertinent excerpt from  2018 Grammy winners and their cars (ClassicCars.com Journal: January 29, 2018)

Leonard Cohen – Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

2018 Grammy winners and their cars | ClassicCars.com JournalRock legend Leonard Cohen was awarded posthumously for his 2016 performance of “You Want it Darker.” In life, Cohen was strongly attached to his Aston Martin V12 Vantage S and often meditated while shifting gears behind that powerful V12 engine.

Now, back to cars actually affiliated with Leonard Cohen.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Automotive Rhythms

All posts in this series will be collected at when they go online.

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  1. An except from the article follows: “Aston Martin invited nostalgia when it fitted a seven-speed in the V12 Vantage S for one last hurrah. It knew what it was doing. It is the only car on sale – perhaps the last one ever – that offers a stick-shift paired with a V-12 engine. This combination – the automotive equivalent of gin and tonic, steak and Bordeaux, gefilte fish with a big dollop of horseradish – was once the core of all lust-worthy supercars: the Ferrari F50, the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo. These cars are extinct and athis white-and-orange Aston is the last of the old guard []

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Driving Miss Marianne – In Her Late 1950s Karmann Ghia

This is the third entry in , a series of posts about Leonard Cohen’s actual automobiles, those metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars.

Driving Miss Marianne: Karmann Ghia

Note: The photo atop this post is a 1958 Karmann Ghia, but not the Karmann Ghia owned by Marianne that is featured in this post.

Leonard Drives Marianne From Greece To Oslo

You even drove [Marianne] from Greece back home to Norway?

Yes in her little Karmann Ghia, and she liked to drive fast, and I didn’t like to drive that fast, but anyway, we got there, and, yes we drove from Athens to Oslo. That was a wonderful drive. Although I remember us quarreling a lot. I don’t know whether it was about the driving or not, but I do remember that it was quarrels that arose. But they were healed because we’d stop at some little Italian cafe and have pasta and a bottle of wine or some cheese and bread, and we’ d get over it.

From Leonard Looks Back On The Past, an interview with Leonard Cohen by Kari Hesthamar, Los Angeles, 2005 (Unedited interview for the Norwegian Radio). Found at LeonardCohenFiles [bolding mine].

More About Marianne’s Volkswagens

Marianne’s automotive history, with and without Leonard Cohen, is intriguing. According to So Long, Marianne: A Love Story by Kari Hesthamar (ECW Press; June 10, 2014), in 1957, Marianne and Axel Jensen purchased a “secondhand blue Volkswagen Beetle” in Hamburg en route to Greece. Shortly thereafter, they spun out on ice in Yugoslavia, extensively damaging the vehicle and necessitating repairs before they could continue their journey. Then, in 1959, they traveled to Stockholm where  they used the revenue from the publication of Axel’s novel, Line, they purchased a “beige Karmann Ghia with light brown leather upholstery.” Some time later, Axel’s lover, Patricia, was driving this car in Athens when, dodging a cart in the road, she wrecked it, injuring herself severely. This was the Karmann Ghia that transported Leonard and Marianne to Oslo. Before Leonard and Marianne left Greece, they had the car checked out, at which time, they discovered – by accidentally meeting the original owner – that the Karmann Ghia was fitted with a Porsche motor.

All posts in this series will be collected at when they go online.

Credit Due Department: Photo atop post by Sicnag – 1958 Volkswagen Type 14 Karmann Ghia front view, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The Cars Of Leonard Cohen: 1990(ish) Honda Sedan & Screening Studio

This is the second entry in , a series of posts about Leonard Cohen’s actual automobiles, those metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars.

Honda Sedan

In a 1992 video, Leonard drives the Honda sedan shown in the screenshots, The model year and make is not given, but it appears to be a late 1980s, early 1990s Honda Civic.

Options

Leonard’s Honda is equipped with a sunroof.

Screening Studio

I like to see how the song stands up in the street. I like to drive with it on. And sometimes I come up beside people at a stop sign or a stoplight and I play it loud. I like to see if they turn and are interested in any way, you know? I like to hear it with traffic, with city noise.

Customization

My favorite bit of customization is the dashboard clutter, which (unsurprisingly) includes one of Leonard’s ubiquitous notebooks.

 

All posts in this series will be collected at when they go online.