Leonard Cohen on “The Law” & Guilt

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[The Law is] about our current dismal catastrophe. It’s about the Age of post-guilt. Guilt has been given a very bad name. There are entire medical industries that are devoted to describing guilt as a disease. Actually it’s the only way that we know that we’ve done something wrong.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Introduction to “The Law” at the June 8, 1985 San Francisco show. Accessed at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law

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Guilt has gotten a lot of bad press lately. Guilt is the only way we know we’ve done something wrong.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Introduction to “The Law” at the June 9, 1985 Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, Accessed at the review of the show by Ethlie Ann Vare in Billboard (June 29, 1985)

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Yes, guilt is a very under-estimated emotion. It has a lot of bad press today, guilt has. Actually, it is the only way we know when we’re doing a wrong thing. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Introduction to “The Law” at the December 4, 1988 Mannheim concert, Accessed at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law

Credit Due Department: Photo by Pete Purnell

“Leonard Cohen Displayed That Knife-edge Walk Between Melancholy And Hilarity” 1985 L.A. Concert Review

June 9, 1985 Leonard Cohen Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles Concert Review

Most of  the review of the June 9, 1985 Leonard Cohen Wiltern Theatre (Los Angeles) show by Ethlie Ann Vare in Billboard (June 29, 1985) appears to have been composed by the boilerplate phrases that one assumes is given to all reporters assigned to Cohen Concerts. For example, “Cohen is first and foremost a poet.”  Moreover, he uses “his usual self-depreciating tone” when speaking to the “reverential crowd.” And there is the appearance of the always popular “Cohen hasn’t toured America in [fill in the number – 10 in this case] years.” There are, however, some noteworthy sections.

Leonard Cohen On His Songs

The description Cohen gives his own songs, for example, doesn’t seem to be found elsewhere online and certainly seems worth memorializing. His songs, he told  the audience, are

The kind of songs you sing when you don’t feel like singing

Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen

While not recorded in this review, it was also at this concert that Cohen described himself as

... an old veteran of the rainbows, rambling on in his invisible trench.1

From the same source,2 we learn

Dressed in black and playing a black acoustic guitar, Cohen sang new compositions like “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and a rollicking “Diamonds in the Mine.” Afterwards, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Al Kooper visited him backstage to congratulate him.

Leonard Cohen On Guilt

The other quotation recorded by Ms Vare is thoughtful and poignant (it also appears elsewhere in slightly altered form):

Guilt has gotten a lot of bad press lately.  Guilt is the only way we know we’ve done something wrong.

This is a rephrasing of his introduction to “The Law” the previous night, June 8th, 1985, in San Francisco:

It’s [The Law is] about our current dismal catastrophe. It’s about the Age of post-guilt. Guilt has been given a very bad name. There are entire medical industries that are devoted to describing guilt as a disease. Actually it’s the only way that we know that we’ve done something wrong.3

At the December 4, 1988 Mannheim concert, he worded it

Yes, guilt is a very under-estimated emotion. It has a lot of bad press today, guilt has. Actually, it is the only way we know when we’re doing a wrong thing. 4

And Ethlie Ann Vare Scores

I’m also going to give the author credit for her rendering of Cohen as “the black-clad troubadour of the minor key” and her hyperbolic observation, “You can’t really sing along [with Cohen’s songs] (hell, he can’t really sing along) … .”

And A Final Word About Record Labels

The phrase “Cohen’s new Passport album” used in the review refers  to Various Positions, the album that Cohen’s label Columbia Records refused to release  in the US. (Yep, this is when Walter Yetnikoff, president of the company, called him to his office in New York and said, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.”) Various Positions was subsequently picked up by the independent label Passport Records. The album was finally included in the catalog in 1990 when Columbia released the Cohen discography on compact disc.

Credit Due Department: The photo of the Wiltern Theatre was taken by Carol M. Highsmith, who has stipulated it part of public domain. It was found at Wikipedia.

Note: Originally posted Apr 19, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. University of Texas Press. 2007 edition []
  2. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. University of Texas Press. 2007 edition []
  3. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []
  4. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []