Leonard Cohen seems to have had an atypically high number (perhaps even a bunch) of banana connections, and where else, if not Heck Of A Guy, are you likely to find them gathered in one place?
The Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man Cover Has A Peel
And there is a story behind that cover art. In Various Positions, his biography of Cohen, Ira Nadel describes the scene:
At a Los Angles warehouse to watch the filming of the [Jennifer] Warnes’ video, “First We Take Manhattan,” Cohen was photographed by publicist Sharon Weisz in his dark glasses, charcoal gray pin-striped suit, and white T-shirt, eating a banana. For him, the image was precise and revealing:
Sharon showed it to me later and it seemed to sum up perfectly. “Here’s this guy looking cool,” I thought, “in shades and nice suit. He seems to have a grip on things, an idea of himself.
The only thing wrong, of course, is that he was caught holding a half eaten banana.
And it suddenly occurred to me that’s everyone’s dilemma: At the times we think we’re coolest, what everyone else sees is a guy with his mouth full of banana…”
He admired the photo so much that it became the signature image for his 1988 hit album I’m Your Man, and the poster image of his 1988 world tour.1
The Other Banana Album
Surprisingly, no one seems to have connected the Cohen “I’m Your Man” banana cover with the other famous album featuring that fruit in the art: the 1967 debut record by The Velvet Underground And Nico – The “Andy Warhol” album.
It doesn’t require a hot-shot shrink to hypothesize that Cohen, whose attempts to win over Nico were, by his own testimony, unsuccessful, was finally able to capture her symbolically by transposing the banana on the “Andy Warhol” cover into his own hand on the “I’m Your Man” (a wish-fulfillment recreated as an album title).
On the other hand, one supposes, sometimes a banana is just a banana. … and, occasionally, maybe a cigar.
Leonard Cohen Sings Banana Song And Yes, We Have No Bananas – Irving Layton Plays Second Banana
According to I’m Your Live Man: Leonard Cohen Concerts & Live Recordings Catalogue, the content for the October 25, 1991 episode of Much Music TV (Much Music TV Studio, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ), in which Cohen and Irving Layton were interviewed, included
1. Recitation of “If You Could See What’s Coming Next” *
2. Impromptu “banana song” at the sight of I’m Your Man cassette cover, and then Irving Layton & Leonard’s duet “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (!?) [emphasis mine]
+ Interview * early lyrics of “The Future”
Comments: Much Music TV interview by Denise Donlon, with Cohen and Irving Layton. (1 day after Layton’s award at the “International Festival Of Authors” in Toronto; few days before Leonard’s Investiture Ceremony for Order of Canada, October 30).
While I have been unable to find a video of two of Canada’s premier poets singing “Yes, We Have No Bananas,”2 Heck Of A Guy, in association with YouTube, is pleased to offer Leonard Cohen singing “The Banana Song” to Irving Layton and the TV audience. (The final seconds of this video, with Cohen dressed in monk’s garb, were obviously tacked on to the broadcast footage in the tragically mistaken notion that this would make Leonard Cohen singing “The Banana Song” funnier.)
Cohen Subverts Banana Song Intent
As far as I can determine, this Heck Of A Guy post is the first critique of Cohen’s performance to point out that he has altered the original lyrics.
An informal transcription of Cohen’s version of “The Banana Song” follows:
I´m a Chiquita-banana and I’ve come to say
that bananas must be eaten in a certain way.
You can put them in a salad – you can bake them in a pie,
any way you are to eat them
it´s impossible to beat them,
but bananas like the climate of the very very tropical equator
so you must never put bananas in the refrigerator
oh no no no…
Now, check out the official Chiquita Banana Song lyrics, according to TV Acres Advertising Mascots – People – Chiquita Banana:
I’m Chiquita Banana, and I’ve come to say
Bananas have to ripen in a certain way.
And when they are flecked with brown
and have a golden hue,
Bananas taste the best, and are the best for you.
You can put them in a salad. You can put
them in a pie – aye.
Anyway you want to eat them it’s
impossible to beat them.
But bananas like the climate of the very,
very tropical equator.
So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator.
Yes, that’s right. Leonard Cohen deleted the “ripening” lines, stripping the the instructional content from the song and thus subverting its didactic purpose.
The pure and complete original is featured in this 1940s commercial played in theaters.
Chiquita Banana Commercial (1940s)
Ongoing readers know that the Heck Of A Guy crack operatives have uncovered a number of otherwise unreported Leonard Cohen phenomenon, such as the “Everybody Licks” predecessor to today’s “Everybody Knows” lyrics, the mystery of Cohen’s stamina at age 74, and the strange parallels between Leonard Cohen and the X-Files Cigarette-Smoking Man.
To solve the case of the sabotaged “Banana Song” lyrics, however, required only a review of the Heck Of A Guy “Do I Have To Dance All Night” Archive, which turned up art for a Latin flavored version of “Do I Have To Dance All Night,” pulled by Cohen’s record company before the 7″ single was pressed.
Drafts of liner notes indicate that a romance between Cohen and Chiquita Banana began during his trip to Cuba but ended badly, apparently because Ms Banana’s highest priority was developing her career as an advertising mascot rather than forming a relationship and because, as the title suggests, she was devoted to dance, even if that meant deferring sex.
While initially bitter (apparently, the earliest working title of the song was “Do I Have To Dance All Night, Bitch”), Cohen was later able to overcome his anger and recompose the tune for use in his European concert tours. Nonetheless, even now, 50 years after his loss of his top banana, Cohen’s profound sadness over this unrequited love has resulted in his refusal to release the song for sale on this side of the world.
Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen
The final offering of this banana extracted post is the book, Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen by Roger Green. Because I find it difficult to describe, I am turning that task over to the good folks at Publishers Weekly, who write
A British poet turns 53, moves to a Greek island, becomes obsessed with the island’s most famous ex-resident-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen-and writes a book about it all. It’s an eclectic mixture of memoir, diary, scrapbook and philosophical ramblings. Green, the poet, finds himself living next door to a garden full of banana trees owned by 1970s pop star Cohen (referred to only by the initial “L.”). Inexplicably, Green becomes powerfully attracted to the bananas and their absent owner. He begins to see bananas everywhere: in the Old Testament (did Adam and Eve clothe themselves in banana leaves?), in Robbe-Grillet poems, on the cover of L.’s album I’m Your Man. He even goes so far as to befriend some of L.’s old acquaintances on the island, including a fellow poet and L.’s former lover, Suzanne, who is, alas, not the Suzanne of the famous L. song. The goal of all this good-natured stalking is unclear, but this isn’t a book of goals, or even conclusions; it’s simply an expression of what is, clearly, an enviable and rewarding existence. Green’s idiosyncrasies occasionally annoy-as when he starts a new paragraph with the sentence, “I think I’ll start a new paragraph”-but just as often he produces little treasures, such as a raunchy 1950s rumba celebrating “Chiquita Banana, down in Martinique,” who “dresses in bananas with the modern technique.”
I will add that, while Amazon lists the volume at $25.15, there are several new books offered by private sellers at Amazon for as low as $0.61. Somewhat more surprising is Amazon’s report that Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen by Roger Green, Let Us Compare Mythologies by Leonard Cohen, and Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen are “Frequently Bought Together” for a total price of $50.88.
- Nadel, Ira. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon; 1st edition (October 8, 1996) 245-6 [↩]
- For those readers who have never heard “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and those who simply wish to revel in one more rendition of the classic, I suggest popping over to YouTube to watch the 1903 short subject, Move On, featuring “Yes! We Have No Bananas” performed by the Green Brothers Orchestra, Produced by Michael J. Loughlin for the Thomas A. Edison Music Video Co. [↩]