Introduction: This is an entry in Cohencentric’s Leonard Cohen On Nakedness series. The origin of this investigation of Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on nakedness and his employment of “naked” and its equivalents in his songs, poems, art, and novels can be found at “I love to see you naked” Leonard Cohen On Nakedness.
Memories By Leonard Cohen
The comment by Thomas D. Ryan of “American Hit Network” writing on the Amazon page for Death of a Ladies’ Man is reasonably representative of the response of the music press, the public, and, ostensibly, Cohen himself to Memories:
To add injury to the insulting production, the lurid topics of most of this album’s lyrics are as dated as coke spoon necklaces. Cohen carries on in the pre-Aids era of mid-seventies decadence without ever managing to transcend his insipid surroundings. He sounds like he’s lost on the dance floor, trying to seduce whomever ambles by. “Memories” is almost beyond ridiculous. The arrangement is as decadent as anything ever mustered by the Roman Empire, all to service Cohen’s obsession with seeing his partners’ naked body. [emphasis mine]
Cohen has introduced Memories at several concerts; the following is typical:
It brings me from the exulted and sublime considerations of these musicians and technicians to an extremely banal experience which I have put into a song frozen like a fly in amber and somewhat less important. But this is a song into which I’ve placed my most banal adolescent recollections and I think this song will probably live forever. It’s called Memories.1
Cohen’s own facial expressions, displayed in these screen captures from the 1979 Rockpop Special video, however, reveal the misleading nature of such contemptuous statements.
Those photos disclose that Mr. Cohen, on or about the 31st day of October, 1979 did, at the ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland, with intent and forethought, conspire to and commit personal enjoyment during the performance of the song known as Memories.
Part of the joke in Cohen’s performance of Memories is the absolute deadpan delivery which mocks the seriousness of the Frankie Avalon style of singing about teenage love. Note that Mr. Cohen starts strong with his face firmly expressionless, but when he starts the first refrain of the key line, “Your naked body,” he can’t fight off the grin. In the video, he turns away at the point he gives up altogether the effort to restrain his smile.
Regardless of the hyperbole (Cohen’s words at the very end of the song, after the last “naked body” on the lyrics sheet are “her divine, her immaculate, …), the dramatized expression of adolescent angst, the outlandish impersonation of 1950s singing idols, and the obligatory inclusion of Cohen’s patented ironic style, “Memories” unmistakably proclaims the power exercised by the longing to “see your naked body,” even though that force is all too likely to result not in triumphant union but in humiliation, social manipulation, or heartbreak.2
Leonard Cohen Performs “Memories”
Leonard Cohen – Memories
ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland: October 31, 1979
Note: All posts from this series will be collected at Leonard Cohen On Nakedness
Originally posted Jan 2, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric