Were you consulted about the songs in McCabe?
I was living in Franklin, in Tennessee, and I’d come into Nashville just to see a movie–we’d been living out in the sticks for a long time. And I saw this movie called Brewster McCloud. Have you seen it? It’s a very, very beautiful and I would say brilliant film. I sat through it twice. Maybe I just hadn’t seen a movie in a long time, but it was really fine. I was in the studio that night, in Nashville, and I got this call from a chap called Robert Altman. And he says, ‘Listen, you know, I love those songs, I’ve built a film around them, can I use them?’ I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘Well, I did M*A*S*H, that’s my film.’ I said, ‘I know it was enormously successful, but I haven’t seen it. Is there anything else that you’ve done that I might know?’ ‘Well, I did a picture that’s been completely buried, that you wouldn’t know about, it was called Brewster McCloud.’ I said, ‘Listen, I just came out of the theatre, I saw it twice, you can have anything of mine you want!’ I did do some additional music–only one thing that was used, I did a guitar background for a little soliloquy by Warren Beatty; it’s just barely perceptible but that is one of the nicest things I ever did, I love that piece. Then I saw the picture, the finished picture without the music, the soundtrack hadn’t been completed. And I said, ‘Listen, man, I’ve got to tell you–if we ever work together again I want you to know you can get an honest opinion from me–I don’t like it.’ He was quite hurt, as I would be too, but… Then I went to the theater in Montreal, and I saw the picture with the music and everything, and it was great! I called Altman in London, it took me two days to track him down, and told him, ‘Forget everything I said, it’s really beautiful.’
From Leonard Cohen: The Romantic In A Ragpicker’s Trade by Paul Williams (Crawdaddy, March 1975).
More posts about Leonard Cohen’s music in McCabe & Mrs Miller are found at McCabe & Mrs. Miller