Leonard Cohen Songs Key In Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Singers Of Mercy: How McCabe & Mrs Miller Changed The Western Soundtrack by Charlie Brigden (The Quietus: April 29th, 2018) is an insightful essay on Altman’s use of Leonard Cohen’s music in his landmark movie. An excerpt follows but the full article, available at the link, is recommended reading:

‘Sisters of Mercy’ introduces McCabe’s prostitutes and notably the male reactions, the gawping construction workers and McCabe’s own shyster approach to it all that comes to a head when Alma stabs one of the punters. Cohen’s music just lingers as it’s clear McCabe is in over his head, and it’s no coincidence that this immediately precedes the arrival of Mrs Miller. Mrs Miller’s theme is ‘Winter Lady’, and we first hear it echoed in her smoky yellow room, post-opium session, but it’s used beautifully when she stands outside in the falling snow, scared at the inevitable fate of her and McCabe, Cohen uttering “you chose your journey long before you came across this highway”.

More McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Other posts about Leonard Cohen’s music in McCabe & Mrs. Miller and video clips of Cohen’s music in that film at 

Highly Recommended Reading: Stranger Songs: The Music of Leonard Cohen in McCabe & Mrs. Miller By Robert Christgau

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Over the years, at least a half-dozen posts on the topic of the music of Leonard Cohen in McCabe & Mrs. Miller have appeared at Cohencentric and its predecessors.1 Even if you’ve read all the reviews referenced in those entries, there is still more to learn from Stranger Songs: The Music of Leonard Cohen in McCabe & Mrs. Miller by Robert Christgau (Criterion: Oct 5, 2016). The excerpts below indicate Christgau’s grasp of detail and his nuanced, articulate observations.

Before Altman even tried to negotiate permissions, he laid Cohen’s songs over his footage, and the mesh amazed him. “I think the reason they worked was because those lyrics were etched in my subconscious, so when I shot the scenes I fitted them to the songs, as if they were written for them. I put in about ten of them at first—of course, we way overdid it—and then we ended up with the three songs that were finally used, and I thought they were just wonderful.”

The film version of “The Stranger Song” differs from the one Altman had played to death on successive copies of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s late-1967 debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen—produced, as it happens, by another John Simon (rather too schlockily, Cohen always thought). After starting off with the first three verses of the album version, the soundtrack interpolates a long, elegiac, Spanish-tinged guitar solo—amplified acoustic, I think—by David Lindley, for forty years now a go-to multi-instrumentalist but at the time merely a member of the California band Kaleidoscope, who were handpicked by Cohen to play behind him on the record only to be cut off at the pass by Simon the producer. Then the album version returns for two verses, after which it doubles back to the capper of the second verse, with the final three verses saved for a later scene. Thus the mood-setter ends: “That is curling up like smoke above his shoulder/It is curling just like smoke above his shoulder/He was just some Joseph looking for a manger/He was just some Joseph looking for a manger.”

The entire piece can be read at

Stranger Songs: The Music of Leonard Cohen in McCabe & Mrs. Miller

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View Videos: Leonard Cohen’s Music in McCabe & Mrs. Miller

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s music in McCabe & Mrs. Miller can be found at 

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  1. DrHGuy.com & 1HeckOfAGuy.com []

“I heard the delicate nylon strings of [Leonard Cohen’s] first few albums, coupled with the intimacy of the way his voice was mixed, & I slowly stylistically moved…into the land of expertly written poetry set to music.” Marissa Nadler

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I first discovered Leonard Cohen through two unlikely sources. First, the line in Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’. Then, Nina Simone’s upbeat version of ‘Suzanne’. I was intrigued and went to the mall in suburbia to pick up all of the cassette tapes of Leonard Cohen that I could find. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. Needless to say, this outing to the music store was the start of an incredibly long love affair with Leonard Cohen. I fell in love, most of all, with his lyrics, if you could even call them that. He’s been an incredibly influential figure in my life and pretty much single handedly guided me towards a specific genre of music. I heard the delicate nylon strings of his first few albums, coupled with the intimacy of the way his voice was mixed, and I slowly stylistically moved away from whatever I was into at the time and into the land of expertly written poetry set to music.quotedown2

Marissa Nadler

Leonard Cohen – We love to speak with Leonard by Gabriele Benzing (OndaRock)

Marissa Nadler Covers Winter Lady by Leonard Cohen

Credit Due Department: Photo by Courtney Brooke Hall – owner, CC BY 3.0, Wikipedia

Video: “Winter Lady” By Joni Mitchell Meets “Winter Lady” By Leonard Cohen

The Leonard Cohen – Joni Mitchell Match-up

Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell have much in common. Both are Canadian, both are respected singer-songwriters who came of age professionally in the late 1960s, both have roots in the folk movement, and both ran with the same Bob Dylan-Judy Collins group of colleagues.

And, it turns out, for a brief time in 1967, they also shared the same bed during a short-lived romantic liaison described at Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things.

And, in 1966 Joni Mitchell wrote and sang a song called “Winter Lady,” a ballad which was never released on an album, while Leonard Cohen, in 1967 (the year Mitchell and Cohen met and had their fling) copyrighted and performed a different song called “Winter Lady,” which was released on his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in December 1967.1

Quelle coincidence, eh? Well, even if this is only a case of cosmic serendipity, the comparison of the two songs leads to intriguing insights about Cohen and Mitchell.

“Winter Lady” By Joni Mitchell And “Winter Lady” By Leonard Cohen – The Video

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  1. Cohen’s “Winter Lady” was also featured in the soundtrack for Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. []