Cohen Is Our Main Man by Brendan Kelly. Montreal Daily New: July 23, 1988. Photos by Pete Purnell. Originally posted Jul 2, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
Portrait of musician Leonard Cohen originally photographed for Rolling Stone Magazine – #leonardcohen #music #musician #folkmusic #rockmusic #spokenword #poet #poetry #artist #imyourman #reduxpictures #reduxreps @reduxpictures @reduxreps @rollingstone @officialleonardcohen #portrait #bwportrait #blackandwhiteportrait
I had to start singing before the birds, and the traffic on Olympic, and before my daughter’s dogs started barking. It was very relaxed at those times, four or five a.m., to come in and find the right place to stand or sit, and have the right drink or smoke in your hand, lean back, go back, erase, go forward. It was a very luxurious way to do the vocals. I was able to take the time to find exactly the right mood for the narrator, until the vocals married with the track and the song’s content, so the voice represented the song rather than simply unfolded it.
Leonard Cohen by Eric Rudolph (Mix: Feb 1, 2002). Photo of Leonard Cohen taken by Ethan Hill in 2001 and published in Rolling Stone.
How do you think your writing and music has changed since studying under Roshi?
I’ve been studying with Roshi for over thirty years, so it’s hard to say. Roshi came to the studio one night when I was recording New Skin for the Old Ceremony. That was in the seventies. In those days I was being written off as a morbid old depressive drone peddling suicide notes. (Still am, in some circles). Roshi slept through most, but not all of the session. The next morning I asked him what he thought. He said, ‘Leonard, you should sing more sad.’ That was the best advice I ever got. Took a while to put it into practice.
From October 16, 2001 Online Web Chat
DrHGuy Note: Leonard’s reference to “morbid old depressive drone” is one of many comments he made over the years to an insulting review of his 1970 Isle Of Wight performance. See Leonard Cohen On Being Labeled A “Boring Old Drone Who Should Go The Fuck Back To Canada.”
I’m not sure of exactly what I want to say next. It has to do with maybe an image you may have formed of yourself. That has something to do with this business of coming of age. But maybe it changes, all the way through, maybe the next record will be the epitome of simplicity and will be absolutely out of the hole.
Well, I understand what you mean. I’ll try to relate it to something particular: this song ‘Like a Bird on a Wire’ which I was telling you about. I tried many versions and in a way the history of that song on the record is my whole history. I tried it in many different ways. At about four in the morning I sent all the musicians home except for my friends Zev who plays Jew’s harp, Charlie McCoy who was playing the bass, the electric bass, and Bob Johnston who’s the A & R man; I asked him to just sit at the organ from time to time. And I just knew that at that moment something was going to take place. I’d never sung the song true, never, and I’d always had a kind of phony Nashville introduction that I was playing the song to and by the time I came around to start my own song I was already following a thousand models. And I just did the voice before I started the guitar and I heard myself sing that first phrase, ‘Like a bird on a wire,’ and I knew the song was going to be true. I knew it was going to be true and new and I sang it through and I listened to myself singing, and it was a surprise. Then I heard the replay and I knew it was right. I’d never sung it true and I didn’t think I could ever sing it true again because I’m not a performer. But there is one moment and it happens to coincide with the huge mechanical facilities of Columbia Records, that’s what I call magic. And it did, it happened that way. I suppose a master, a master of chance and someone who deeply understands phenomena, could see the method and technique. I learned a lot from it, I’d like to apply it right now, we may get to that moment.
An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel, Winter 1969.
One of the reasons was that I was so wiped out physically by the end of my last tour because I was drinking heavily. I was drinking about three bottles of wine by the end of the tour… Before every concert. I only drank professionally, I never drank after the concert. I would never drink after intermission. It was a long tour. It must have been 60 to 70 concerts. [Interviewer: Why did you need to drink?] I was very nervous. And I liked drinking. And I found this wine, it was Château Latour. Now very expensive. It was even expensive then. It’s curious with wine. The wine experts talk about the flavour and the bouquet and whether it has legs and the tannins and the fruit and the symphonies of tastes. But nobody talks about the high. Bordeaux is a wine that vintners have worked on for about 1,000 years. Each wine has a very specific high, which is never mentioned. Château Latour, I don’t know how I stumbled on it, but it went with the music, and it went with the concert. I tried to drink it after the tour was over, and I could hardly get a glass down. It had no resonance whatsoever. It needed the adrenaline of the concert and the music and the atmosphere, the kind of desperate atmosphere of touring—desperate because I was drinking so much! I had a good time with it for a while, but it did wreck my health, and I put on about 25 pounds.
Cohen wore earplugs to a Dylan show? by Brian D. Johnson (Maclean’s: June 12, 2008)
I think if I had one of those good voices, I would have done it completely differently. I probably would have sung the songs I really like rather than be a writer. When I was a kid I always had this fantasy of singing with a band. We’d have get-togethers and I’d sing ‘Racing with the Moon,’ stuff like that. I just don’t think one would have bothered to write if one could have really lifted one’s voice in song. But that wasn’t my voice. This is my voice.
“Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough” By Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988. Photo by Johann Agust Hansen.
Then you have invented for yourself a very non-typical existence for a performer.
I think the value of anybody on a stage is where he comes from. It’s not really so much what he does at the moment, assuming that it reaches a certain level of excellence. The interesting thing for me is what a man or a woman brings from his or her own personal kind of ambience to the stage. I’m only valuable at this moment because I don’t live that star’s life. When I stand on a stage, I feel I bring my private life with me there and that that’s what’s interesting or amusing. That’s what’s entertaining about me. When I see other people perform, I think the same way. When I see Joni Mitchell perform, I think this is really the story of a girl who moved from the prairies to Beverly Hills. When I see myself, I think this is the story of a guy who was born in Montréal and lives there still. And there are different kinds of stories, you know? And I think that’s what’s interesting about all of us.
Leonard Cohen Looks at Himself by Danny Fields. Soho Weekly News, Vol. 1, #9. December 5, 1974
But on occasions like this, when you find yourself on a tour, you have no choice but to face your work every day. You have to sing songs that may have stopped meaning something for you … I think a song always has two or three doors to enter it. If you know which door to choose, you can almost always enter the song. And that’s what I try to do on stage: find a door that at that moment seems appropriate. Because if you approach a song in a cynical way, you end up making it boring.
Leonard Cohen Words And Silences by Constantino Romero. Vibrations 2 (November 1974). Republished in Rockdelux 356 (December 2016). Via Google Translate. Photo taken by Bernd Morlock and originally posted to Facebook by Sandra Gallian.