Video: Leonard Cohen’s Gleeful Performance Of First We Take Manhattan – Berlin 2012

Leonard Cohen Takes Berlin; Audience Colludes

The screenshot atop this post shows Leonard Cohen having just announced his intention to take Berlin; he seems happy about the outcome, eh? And, he follows the song with by jauntily skipping offstage. What’s not to like?

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Berlin: Sept 5, 2012
Video by

Originally posted Sept 6, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Suitcases, Trains, & The Pied Piper of Hamelin – Dominique Issermann On Making Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan Video

Interviewer: You have made clips for … “First We Take Manhattan” …

Dominique Issermann: [Leonard Cohen] had asked me. I first tried to understand what this last song was saying – “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” – and I imagined this guy, a kind of charismatic leader who could lure the crowds, as the Pied Piper of Hamelin. This clip is a bit like that: he draws them after him, everyone drops their suitcases. In the end, he leaves them on the beach and these people go to nowhere, without anything.

Interviewer: There are also pictures of a train …

Dominique Issermann: Do you think of the trains that deported the Jews? I do not have a lot of Jewish culture, unlike Leonard who was raised in the Hebrew religion, but we did not talk about this train story at all. I was looking for ideas. But in Trouville there is a train. I like the station platforms, and I wanted the girl to be on a train at some  point. All this is very spontaneous, they are layers of images that are superimposed. But that surely makes sense …

Interviewer: The train, the suitcases, the beach, these characters in cloaks with just a suitcase going to nothingness: you could not avoid thinking about the deportation …

Dominique Issermann: You’re absolutely right: that’s what I thought, but I did not know it … When, at the beginning of the shoot, Leonard asked me, “What are we going to do?”, I told him replied, laughing: “Don’t worry, it’s a Jewish program, we’ll take you from Berlin and you’ll go to Manhattan, and we’ll go the other way!” But strangely I never thought precisely: well, we’ll put trains and suitcases. The suitcase is very present in my universe. I did a lot of pictures with people who carry them. Okay, that’s my legacy. But when people tell me, “Oh yes, you’re half Jewish,” I say, “No, I’m half non-Jewish.” But here, I realize that it is not so simple …

Interviewer: These suitcases also referred to the nomadism of your couple …

Dominique Issermann: Leonard is very attached to suitcases, he has an impressive collection. These are always the ones I bought him a long time ago, and that he still carries around. All brand Globe-Trotter, navy blue or black, cardboard or fiber, old-fashioned suitcases, with straps. He was still on his last tour, completely fucked. He said, “Look, maybe we should buy some more …”

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Promo video: 1988

Also See: Then We Take Trouville: Making Of The Leonard Cohen-Dominique Issermann First We Take Manhattan Music Video

From Ma vie avec Leonard Cohen : “Je l’ai entendu travailler deux ans sur ‘Hallelujah’” par François Armanet et Bernard Loupias (L’Obs: Nov 11, 2016). Interview originally published in “Le Nouvel Observateur” of January 26, 2012. Excerpt via computer translation with assistance from Coco Éclair. Images are screenshots from the First We Take Manhattan Video.

“First We Take Manhattan might be understood as an examination of the mind of the extremist.” Leonard Cohen


I’ve never known what “First We Take Manhattan” is about. Can you explain it a little? Do you think its meaning changed after the attack to New York? Would you sing it again in concert?

quoteup2
Every succeeding moment changes what has happened the moment before. In the stream of writing all that is written changes its meanings by what is written subsequently. First We Take Manhattan might be understood as an examination of the mind of the extremist. In a way it’s a better song now than it was before and I would probably sing it in concert if the circumstances were appropriate.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Online Web Chat October 16, 2001

Leonard Cohen’s plan after taking Manhattan: “I’m not at liberty to disclose the full details, but I can tell you it will involve a lot of new parking meters.”

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

First We Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen

From 1988 interview with Dave Fanning (no longer accessible). Cohen gave a similar answer on an interview for Norwegian TV broadcast in May 1988

Note: Originally posted Jan 21, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Video: Leonard Cohen’s Electrifying Performance Of First We Take Manhattan – Auckland 2013

Linda Sturgess writes about this performance:

Electric – Roscoe’s is “wired” from the kickoff to the end- J And Henry captures at 4:18 – Roscoe’s turns his bass into a percussive instrument.    And Sharon – she is always fully and totally into this song …

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Auckland: Dec 21, 2013
Video by Henry Tengelsen (aka Wirebirds)

Note: Originally posted January 8, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric