Looking For The Best Song Referencing Leonard Cohen: Dark Side of the Gym By The National

The National – Dark Side of the Gym

“Just dance me to the dark side of the gym”

From Memories by Leonard Cohen

 is a Cohencentric series featuring a few of the many tunes alluding to Leonard Cohen. While most of the songs already posted in this category have been about Leonard Cohen and others name-check the Canadian singer-songwriter, today’s selection is the second entry that is built around one of his songs (the first was The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song By Jeffrey Lewis). Dark Side of the Gym, the title of a track on The National’s Sleep Well Beast album, refers to “Just dance me to the dark side of the gym,” a line from Memories, released on Leonard Cohen’s 1977 Death Of A Ladies’ Man. The melody and song structure of Dark Side of the Gym is also reminiscent of Cohen’s song.

Matt Berninger, frontman of The National, talks about Leonard Cohen in this excerpt from The National’s Super-Political Love Songs by Spencer Kornhaber *Atlantic: Sep 8, 2017)

Kornhaber: Speaking of sex being at the the core of all our dark desires: Leonard Cohen. You have a reference to him with the song title “Dark Side of the Gym.” What do you take from him?

Berninger: He wrote about sex, he wrote about God, he wrote about politics, all within the same verse. And they all were these beautiful, personal little stories. Everything feels so humongous, but then they also have all these little details.

“Famous Blue Raincoat” is the one I go back to just because it’s like The Great Gatsby or Lolita. That song has so many little details—about a house in the desert, and a lock of hair, and all this kind of stuff—but it’s so big. That song is just a giant, complex story that I don’t quite understand.

He’s one of 20 songwriters that I steal from. Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave—people like that really go right to the most sensitive parts of the skin. Which are the wires that are frayed and sparking? Those are the ones they’ll put their wet hand on. Because they just have to. It’s the only wire in the room that matters, the one that might burn the place down.

Posts about Leonard Cohen’s Memories can be found at Cohencentric: Memories.

Photo by Thepeoplesuck at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons

Leonard Cohen’s “Memories” Features Lines From The Shields’ Doo Wop Hit “You Cheated”

the-shields-you-cheated-dot-78

Leonard Cohen Sings “You Cheated, You Lied”

Careful listening to the outro of “Memories,” released as a track on the 1977 Leonard Cohen-Phil Spector collaboration, Death of a Ladies’ Man, reveals Cohen singing1

You cheated, you lied,
You said that you love me.

leonard-cohen-death-of-a-ladies-man

This YouTube recording of the album version of Memories starts just before those lyrics begin.

Those lines from “Memories” are significant because they are taken from the lyrics of the 1958 single, “You Cheated” by the Shields, a musical allusion2  the implications of which have been discussed. Three examples follow:

From Memories Leonard Cohen by Phil Kakulas3  (Words & Music November 2012):

The heightened atmosphere also inspired one of Cohen’s finest vocal performances, as he abandons all restraint to scream, moan and plead his case over the outro [of Memories], the song fading away to the strains of You Cheated, You Lied by The Shields – a nod to one of the song’s musical inspirations.

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  1. While most articles mention only Cohen singing these words, at least one listener reports Bob Dylan singing along: “Bob Dylan chimes in at the end of Leonard Cohen’s Memories, first harmonizing and then singing a few bars of ‘you cheated, you lied.’ he’s mixed down pretty low, too.” []
  2. The outro  also includes  a reference to singer Frankie Laine, but that’s another post. []
  3. Phil Kakulas was a member of The Blackeyed Susans, a group that produced an outstanding cover of “Memories.” See Blackeyed Susans And David McComb & The Red Ponies Cover Leonard Cohen’s “Memories” []

Blackeyed Susans And David McComb & The Red Ponies Cover Leonard Cohen’s "Memories"

David McComb

David McComb, an Australian singer-songwriter who died at 36 in 1999,1 was lead singer for The Triffids and later a member of the Blackeyed Susans. He also did a solo tour with his own backing band, The Red Ponies.

An especially well-done summary of the history and significance of the Triffids and McComb by UrPal, a contributor to LeonardCohenForum and a moderator of The Triffids web site, is available at “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On” By McComb & Peters Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox.

Memories By Leonard Cohen

I am an unabashed fan of “Memories,” a song originally concocted during the brief, stormy, and itself memorable collaboration-collision of Leonard Cohen and Phil Spector. Previous posts featuring “Memories” include the following:

  1. Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Memories & Death Of A Ladies’ Man
  2. Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Leonard Cohen On Memories
  3. Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Memories & I Am A Hotel
  4. Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: The 1979 ZDF-TV Droll, Deadpan Version
  5. Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Live Performances Of Memories Online

These covers by David McComb and The Red Ponies and by the Blackeyed Susans are outstanding additions to the collection.

Blackeyed Susans – Memories


Note: Originally posted Oct 27, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. McComb had a history of alcoholism, drug abuse, and cardiomyopathy, for which he underwent a heart transplant in 1996. He died a few days after being sent home from the hospital following a car accident. From Wikipedia []

Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Live Performances Of Memories Online

1985-Leonard-Cohen-Norway-VideosThis is the fifth post in the Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine series examining “Memories” by Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen Live Performances Of Memories Online: An Annotated Index

While not the equivalent of attending a live performance, viewing these videos of Leonard Cohen singing “Memories” should provide a reasonable  amount of entertainment and, if one is lucky, an entirely unreasonable spark of passion of the most unsophisticated, retrograde, and delightfully irredeemable sort.

Previous Posts Featuring Live Versions Of Memories

Recordings Of Live Performances

Leonard Cohen – Memories
Warsaw: March 22, 1985
Includes “Return to my dismal adolescence in Montreal” introduction. One of the most melodious versions available with none of the theatrics.
Video from messalina79

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Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: Droll, Deadpan Version – ZDF-TV 1979

rockpopThis is the fourth post in the Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine series examining “Memories” by Leonard Cohen.

Now, this is fun …

ZDF-TV Rockpop Special Memories Video

Leonard Cohen – Memories
ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland: October 31, 1979
Part of a set recorded for later broadcast1

OK, if you don’t recognize that this is a funny video after viewing it – and an amazing number of folks don’t – I probably can’t persuade you. Nonetheless, my humanitarian obligation to you as a fellow inhabitant of this planet is to at least attempt to rescue you from your tragic misperception. So, we’ll be taking a look at  Leonard’s humor, the backup singers (Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson) choreography, and the inspirational Frankie Laine. Buckle up.
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  1. According to the YouTube notes, the band at that taping included “Leonard Cohen – vocals, acoustic guitar, blues harp, Sharon Robinson – vocals, Jennifer Warnes – vocals, Mitch Watkins – guitars, Roscoe Beck – bass, Raffi Hakopian – violin, John Bilezikjian – oud, mandolin, Paul Ostermeyer – wind, Bill Ginn – keyboards, Steve Meador – drums.” Leonard Cohen Live lists the the complete set taped that day as follows: “1. Bird On The Wire, 2. The Guests, 3. So Long, Marianne, 4. The Window, 5. Famous Blue Raincoat, 6. Passin’ Through, 7. Memories, 8. The Guests (2), 9. Suzanne, -. The Partisan.” That same source notes that “tracks #1-2 were broadcasted on ZDF-TV ‘Rock-Pop,’ November 10, 1979” and “tracks #3-9 were broadcasted on ZDF-TV ‘Rock-Pop Special,’ December 2, 1979.” []

Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine: The Prom Version From I Am A Hotel

ihogelThis is the third post in the Leonard Cohen Down Memories Laine series examining “Memories” by Leonard Cohen.

I Am A Hotel: Memories

Within “I Am A Hotel,” the Memories video depicts a high school prom held at the hotel’s ballroom. Cohen not only appears as a resident of the hotel but also as the singer-bandleader providing live music for the dance from an elevated stage. A stylized dance performed by a bellhop and hotel maid is Interspersed with the prom scenes.

The sequence is too artsy, too fartsy for my taste, but hey, as the American Bandstand kids would point out, the song has a beat and – apparently – you can dance to it (at least after a few years of professional training). On the other hand, the brassy sax solo does grab me in an indecent way, and Leonard as the sunglasses-clad implacable singer coupled with Leonard as the leering hotel guest encouraging the bellhop and maid toward the (titter) climax is as creepy-nasty-exciting as ones first illicit sexual liaison with someone a lot more experienced and adventuresome in bed.

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