Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album: Collaborator John Lissauer On The Project, How It Began, & How It Ended

Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album

This is the second post in the Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album series.1 A discussion of the name of the project, i.e., Songs For Rebecca, was previously published at Leonard Cohen’s Abandoned Album – Songs For Rebecca: Who’s Rebecca? Update: The third and final post in this series is now online at .

There is considerable confusion about the Songs For Rebecca project. While these posts won’t answer every question, they do clear up certain ambiguities and, if nothing else, they consolidate all the uncertainty in one place. This post focuses on Leonard Cohen’s collaborator on Songs For Rebecca, John Lissauer, the origin of the Songs For Rebecca project, and how the project came to end.

Note: John Lissauer graciously answered my many queries about Songs For Rebecca. Without his help, this and the next post would have been incomplete and inaccurate. I am very grateful.

John Lissauer

John Lissauer was a very different sort of producer for Leonard Cohen than his predecessor, Bob Johnston. He was jazz-oriented, more laid back, and more classical in his approach to music. Working with Leonard, he produced New Skin For The Old Ceremony (1974) and Various Positions (1984 ) as well as working on Blue Alert. He was musical director, playing keyboards, saxophone, woodwinds for the 1974 and 1975 tours. Lissauer was also responsible for assembling a new group of musicians to join Cohen, including bass player John Miller, vocalist Erin Dickins (who was Lissauer’s first wife), and vocalist Anjani Thomas as well as sound engineer Leanne Ungar. In addition, John points out that “when we did Various Positions, I used a band called Slow Train… that was Richard Crooks, John Crowder and Ron Getman… along with veteran session guitarist Sid McGuinnes (Letterman Show)… they all toured with LC, as well as recorded.”

Lissauer talks about their relationship in this 2016 interview.

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  1. A more precise title might be “Songs For Rebecca – The Abandoned Leonard Cohen Album” – but “Lost Album” is more dramatic and, as it turns out, accurate as well. But, more about that later. []

The Anjani Chronicles: Anjani Goes To New York, Meets Leonard Cohen, and Finds Romance – But Not In That Order

anjchron
Introduction To The Anjani Chronicles
Anjani is the exquisite, exotically featured singer and keyboardist best known for her Blue Alert CD, a collection of elegantly performed songs suffused with evocative lyrics, and her professional and romantic relationships with Leonard Cohen, an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right. My own connection to Anjani began in July 2006 when I posted Music Recommendation That Will Make You Want To Kiss Me, a review of Blue Alert that reflected my captivation with the music. An online flirtation and email relationship between us ensued.1 The Anjani Chronicles is a sequence of posts based on the content of my interviews with Anjani.

Anjani Goes To New York, Meets Leonard Cohen, & Finds Romance – But Not In That Order

Today’s post, the third of this series, begins at the point The Anjani Chronicles – Anjani Does Waikiki, Boston, and The Slough Of Despond ended, with Anjani’s departure from Boston’s Berklee School of Music and extends through her move to New York and her first meetings with John Lissauer and Leonard Cohen.

Home Again, Home Again

After deciding that she had reached the point of diminishing returns at Berklee School of Music, Anjani returns to Hawaii and to gigs on the hotel lounge circuit. In retrospect, the next major turn in her life seems inevitable: a young, beautiful, talented Anjani performing for audiences in luxury hotels on the romantic beaches of Hawaii falls for a tourist from the mainland.

As she explains the experience in an interview with the Honolulu Star Bulletin,

I was in my 20s, and he was the kind of man that swept you off your feet.

What are the odds?

Anjani is, indeed, sufficiently smitten that, pausing barely long enough to pack up all her cares and woes, her cold weather gear, and her Fender Rhodes Stage 88, she follows the guy back to his home in New York where – well, this isn’t the “they lived happily ever after” part of the story.

For one thing, Anjani is clear that New York was not her choice of ideal locales,

I ended up in New York. (It wasn’t music that drew me there). It was a man. I never would have gone there otherwise, I don’t think.2

Anjani is reluctant to provide details, especially about the New Yorker. With some repeated promptings (OK, after some nagging), she does summarize the experience:

It was crush at first sight but I also had rock fever and he was a good excuse to leave [Hawaii]. It was destined to fail as we were both young and dysfunctional; and I recall in particular dreading the joint Gestalt therapy sessions. I’m more of a feeler than a talker. I’ve since learned to express myself and (gasp) consider someone else’s feelings in a relationship.

A year later, concluding that the relationship “isn’t going to work,” Anjani calls the only other person she knows in New York (another musician of course), who agrees that she can crash at his fifth floor walk-up until she can find a place to live.

When she does find that place to live, five years later, she will be leaving for Los Angeles – to live with her new husband.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Just now, in fact, the script calls for a cameo appearance of a beloved character from the first episode of the Anjani Chronicles,

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  1. These events and the aftermath are described at Anjani And DrHGuy FAQ. I’ve also published a batch of blog entries about Anjani and the Blue Alert album that can be found at Anjani Thomas. []
  2. see PopMatters article []

Leonard Cohen’s Lost Album – Songs For Rebecca: Who’s Rebecca?

Songs For Rebecca

Songs For Rebecca, a Leonard Cohen-John Lissauer collaborative project in the mid-1970s, was abruptly abandoned after at least five songs were recorded for it. Cohencentric will soon publish a comprehensive post about what some call the Lost Leonard Cohen Album (including who lost it) because (1) it’s interesting and (2) there is a significant amount of confusion and misinformation about Songs For Rebecca.

Consider this a teaser for the main event.  (Update: The two other posts in this series are now online. Links to them are found at the end of this entry.)

Origin Of The Title “Songs For Rebecca”

An example of the above-referenced misinformation online is this excerpt from the Leonard Cohen biography at Canadian Bands:

Columbia released THE BEST OF LEONARD COHEN in 1975, and eager to get to work on his next album, tentatively titled SONGS FOR REBECCA (for his friend, actress Rebecca De Mornay), Cohen and Lessauer [sic] had actually completed half a record, and several had been performed live.

Well, for one thing, it’s John “Lissauer” rather than “Lessauer,” but typos aren’t our concern here. The notion that Songs For Rebecca was named for Rebecca De Mornay is an egregious (and surprisingly prevalent) error, one that even cursory fact-checking exposes as inaccurate. Songs For Rebecca, you see, was a project that began in 1974 and ended in 1976. It wasn’t until at least ten years later that Leonard and Rebecca became an item.

Leonard Cohen & Rebecca De Mornay – A Summary (for more, see ): For five years or so (accounts, as they tend to do, vary) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Leonard Cohen and Rebecca De Mornay were in a relationship that progressed through a phase “a press officer call[ed] ‘an exclusive dating situation'”1 and into an engagement that was eventually broken off because, according to Cohen, “finally she [Rebecca De Mornay] saw I was a guy who just couldn’t come across. … In the sense of being a husband and having more children and the rest.”2

So, who is the Rebecca of Songs For Rebecca?

None of the (reliable) accounts I’ve found of the project identify the titular Rebecca. The most likely suspect, I submit, is the Rebecca whose story is recorded in Genesis. We know Leonard Cohen was familiar with this Rebecca because the dedication he chose for his 1992 album, The Future, comprises the two verses of Genesis 24:45-46 (KJV), neatly conflating the biblical Rebecca with Rebecca De Mornay, who is also co-credited as a producer of the album:

And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water; and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.

And who is the narrator, the “I” in “And before I had done speaking in mine heart…?” Well, that would be the servant Abraham sent to find a wife for his son, Isaac. It was that servant who devised the test to find the right woman to be Isaac’s spouse. Standing by the well in Abraham’s birthplace with his men and camels, he prayed to God:

And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master. — Genesis 24:14

And, according to Jewish tradition, that servant of Abraham who found Rebecca, who did marry Isaac, was Eliezer (meaning “God is my help”) – which is also Leonard Cohen’s Hebrew name.

Heavy, eh?

Next In Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album

The second post in this series is now online at Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album: Collaborator John Lissauer Talks About The Project, How It Began, & How It Ended

The third and final post in this series is now online at .

Credit Due Department: Rebecca De Mornay (1993), Photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s forthcoming new Leonard Cohen-book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1). The painting is Rebecca and Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

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  1. The Joking Troubadour of Gloom by Tim Rostron. The Daily Telegraph, April 26, 1993 []
  2. Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already by Pico Iyer. Shambhala Sun. Sept 1998 []