The Daily Mail Goes Anachronistic On Leonard Cohen
The decision to release the concert schedule for the Leonard Cohen 2008 World Tour to the public and the press the day after the singer-songwriter’s1 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may or may not have qualified as the cagey PR tactic to which it aspired, but it was certainly embraced with enthusiasm and gratitude by the legions of reporters, copywriters, and bloggers responsible for reformulating the bare facts of the schedule into a newsworthy event for publication, each scribbler frantically attempting to compose a piece distinguishably more appealing than that produced by his or her equally desperate competitors working with the same raw data.
The timing of the official notification handed every wannabe entertainment journalist an easy to manage hook for the story,2 but, in fact, the then-impending honor had already been used for this purpose in an earlier fusillade of articles.
Heck Of A Guy readers will recognize that a similar situation occurred when the Cohen World Tour, sans schedule, was made public in January. At that time, the results of an extensive, intensive meta-analysis of Internet coverage3 of the Tour’s announcement was summarized in The Leonard Cohen Tour: Posting Permutations and Pix Mix thusly:
… the spectator [is afforded] not only a light amusement but also an opportunity to assess the personality of the publication based on its selection of photos and nonessential facts in the attempt to create a very special post about the tour. From my casual and unofficial count, these extraneous elements occur most frequently in these posts:
- Leonard’s Cohen’s age: 73
- Time since last tour: 15 years
- Reference to the tour announcement appearing at leonardcohenforum.com, with or without a caveat (e.g., “if the posting is legit”)
- Speculation that tour is motivated by financial losses secondary to the theft of Cohen’s funds by his former manager
- Mention of Cohen’s impending induction into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
That Leonard Cohen’s Hall-of-Famedness was so blatantly conjoined with his tour schedule may have emphasized the point but added nothing new to the mix.
The Jingoism Hook – O Canada
On the other hand, the list of concert sites is a genuinely fresh addition to the available facts. Moreover, it is a data domain that enables the emergence of gloriously chauvinistic provincialism. The blurb from The Canadian Press is instructive:
Leonard Cohen Announces World Tour
After Hall Of Fame Induction
Hot on the heels of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Leonard Cohen has announced a world tour. It’s being hyped as the first time the Montreal-born performer takes to the live arena in 15 years. Cohen, who was inducted into the hall of fame Monday night in New York City, will kick off the tour June 6 and 7 at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. He’ll give three shows at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on June 23, 24 and 25 at Place des arts. He’s expected to play Europe for the rest of the summer.
This piece has a couple of the essentials, the reference to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and the 15 year gap since the last tour.4
The article goes on to list the dates and specific venues of the five Canadian performances, appending as an afterthought the wonderfully nonspecific and even a bit skeptical comment “He’s expected to play Europe for the rest of the summer.”5
I suspect only the civility and and tact seemingly inherent to Canadians prevented a final paragraph on the lines of “And he isn’t scheduled to appear anywhere in the United States. Suck on that, Yanks. Nanner, nanner, nanner.”
The first lines of the Globe and Mail article, Cohen tour his first in 15 years, are equally revealing:
He may be Montreal’s man, but Toronto might just be his mistress.
Iconic Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen has revealed plans for his first proper tour in 15 years, and it kicks off in Toronto, at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, on June 6 and 7. And it’s not the first time the cloistered Cohen has picked Toronto for a comeback.
So, not only is the alliteratively cloistered Cohen an “iconic Canadian singer-songwriter,” he is an “iconic Canadian singer-songwriter” with a special connection to one particular Canadian city – Toronto – where the Globe and Mail is the hometown paper.
The nationalism angle is uniquely appealing in that, by its nature, reverting to pride of place renders the exposition automatically superior to analogous essays originating in other areas. And, this phenomenon is hardly an exclusively Canadian aspect. Heck, if Leonard’s tour had begun – as God surely intended – in Chicago, we would be reading headlines that start with USA! USA! USA! …
Still, xenophobia has its limits – namely ones geopolitical boundaries – and while an invaluable tool, is thus insufficient on its own to establish ones story as better than the rest.
For that lesson, DrHGuy spotlights …
The Daily Mail’s Time Warp
The Daily Mail article by Tahira Yaqoob is an exemplar of creative hook formulation followed and supported by a masterful sequencing of the elements that have become standard for this story.
First and foremost is the headline,
Sixties Crooner Leonard Cohen
Makes Comeback Concert Tour
Well, it turns out that, although I had never, before reading the Daily Mail piece, thought of Leonard Cohen as a “crooner” and even now I’m uncertain of the definition of “crooner,” there in the list of singers of that category in the Wikipedia “Crooner” article is one Leonard Cohen, [update: when checked on August 11, 2010, Leonard Cohen was no longer on Wikipedia's list of crooners] along with Regis Philbin, Paul Anka, Justin Timberlake, and Tom Waits. And, Leonard Cohen did begin singing professionally in the 1960s. Finally, given the 15 year lapse in live performances, one can justifiably call this tour a “comeback.” Think of this headline as the lexical equivalent of a photograph taken through a fish-eye lens – the data in both instances are correct, but the presentation of that data is skewed.
Factual accuracy, however, does not distract or dilute the implication set forth by the headline, especially combined with that great photo of the young, clean-cut Cohen performing early in his career (albeit in the 1970s than the previously referenced 1960s), that Leonard Cohen, once a star, hasn’t been heard from since the days of The Monterey Pop Festival.
There is more.
Again With The Cult
The lede, “His morose tones attracted a cult following in the 1960s,” especially taken in conjunction with the headline, leaves the reader with the picture of a charismatic singer who developed a group of devoted fans in the Swinging Sixties but, returning to the theme, then went into suspended animation until the time was deemed right for his comeback.6
In the next line, Leonard Cohen is not just 73 years old, he is “at the pensionable age of 73.” The 15 years since the last concert tour is apparently insufficiently impressive for the Daily Mail’s purposes. Their story focuses instead on Leonard Cohen making “a comeback more than 40 years after he first took to the stage.” [emphasis mine]
That it isn’t until the third sentence that there is an appeal to nationalism – “The Canadian singer-songwriter – named by Prince Charles as his favourite musician … ” [emphasis mine] by now seems a show of extraordinary restraint.7
The remainder of that line does incorporate the 15 years since the last world tour factoid (waste note, want not).
Let’s see, what’s left? How about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Yep, that’s in the fourth line.
And the money issue? The fifth line references “the successful and lucrative reunion of classic bands such as Led Zeppelin, whose comeback world tour could match the £250 million reaped by the Rolling Stones’ Bigger Bang tour.”
The piece begins to ramble at this point, but it hardly matters. If there is more, by golly, folks are going to read it – because they are hooked.
Yep, The Daily Mail’s take on the Leonard Cohen World Tour Schedule is the hookiest of them all.
- The talking heads on the Chicago major television network affiliate I watched after the awards ceremony repeatedly referred to “Leonard Cohen the songwriter.” It isn’t clear to DrHGuy if (1) no one producing, writing, editing, or reading the news at that station knew that Leonard Cohen sings as well as writes songs, (2) this selective omission was a sly deprecation of his singing skills, (3) they confused “Leonard Cohen” with “Samuel Cohen,” the birth name of Sammy Cahn, the songwriter responsible for “Thee Coins In The Fountain,” “All The Way,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” and many others, who died 15 years ago, or (4) all concerned are brainless ninnies who don’t see the need for fact-checking. [↩]
- DrHGuy, it should be noted, is not demeaning narrative hooks. On the contrary, he is altogether wild for hooks. Consider, for example, the preceding post, Is It The Leonard Cohen 2008 Tour Or Is It A DrHGuy Parody?. In this case, DrHGuy is, as is true for many topics, all hook all the time [↩]
- Based on whatever I happened to remember from the posts I happened to skim that morning [↩]
- I’m unclear why the time since the last tour is characterized as being “hyped.” “Hyped” typically indicates an attempt to publicize an element of a story in an exaggerated or misleading manner; the 15 year gap seems to be nothing more or less than simple arithmetic [↩]
- This classic structure is forever exemplified in the perhaps apocryphal Sunday Post headline, “Titanic Sinks. Dundee Man Drowned!” [↩]
- Update: the Cohen Cult motif was the focus of an article in The Star less than two weeks later – see Oh My Cohen! They’re Calling Us A Cult [↩]
- For the Prince Charles likes Leonard Cohen story, see item #7 of Ten Lesser Known Facts About Leonard Cohen. [↩]