Leonard Cohen On Autos, America, & Apocalyptic Dance

French Farrago Falls Short Of Aspirations Of Grandeur But Succeeds As Pulpit For Cohen

This two-part video originally broadcast on French TV (identified in the YouTube introduction as “most probably made during the 1993 tour” and on the YouTube video title as “1991 French TV report” but more likely the 1992 Megamix program shown on the French M6 Network1 ) is a 17 minute, 19 second pastiche that includes segments of an interview with Leonard Cohen, taped musical performances by Cohen (with backup singers, Perla Batalla, and Julie Christensen), a recording of Cohen’s recitation of “The Genius” from “The Spice-Box of Earth,”2 home movies of Cohen’s childhood (featuring a young Leonard Cohen hell-bent on high velocity skiing and tricycle riding), views of Paris, Manhattan, and Berlin, portions of music videos, scenes from the offices of the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, a discussion of the I’m Your Fan tribute album by Christian Fevret of that periodical, fragments from documentary films featuring Leonard Cohen, and a cover of “Lovers, Lovers, Lovers” by Ian McCulloch.

From my perspective, the structure of the program is as problematic as its massive, disparate content. The interweaving and overlapping of portions of musical performances with fractions of interviews detracts from both components. And some of the self-consciously stylistic elements, such as the series of  quick cuts between Cohen walking into the studio and through the studio’s hall to the interview room and the parallel takes of him walking through a hallway in the Dance Me To The End Of Love video are too banal to be evocative.

Leonard Cohen walking to interview (left) and in music video (right)

Nonetheless, many of the individual components, such as the reading of the poem and the songs themselves,  are worthwhile and, as I’ve pointed out before, Leonard Cohen gives good interview.

During this video, Cohen talks about the importance of his childhood spent under the care of his “kind,” Jewish parents, his view of songwriting a difficult task that keeps his efforts “fully employed,” the significance of his new-found (at the time of this interview) technique of writing songs with a synthesizer rather than, as had previously been the case, with a guitar, the robbery of the distinctiveness of cities by the automobile, and the assumption of of ones songs by a new generation of musicians as a gratifying continuation of the “apocalyptic dance.”

He also offers, perhaps at the interviewer’s specific request, a variation of his classic explanation of why he is not a pessimist:

“I don’t consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin.

Especially striking are his conclusion that public expression lags behind and is less important than private experience and his well articulated conviction that art is an inadequate if popular substitute for religion.3

Leonard Cohen – French TV Interview 1992 (part 1)

Video from beautyandbeastvideo

Leonard Cohen – French TV Interview 1992 (part 2)

Video from beautyandbeastvideo

  1. Diamonds In The Mine describes the 1992 Megamix show on Network M6, France as “TV spot looking at I’m Your Fan. It includes an interview with Leonard in Paris. Ian Mc Culloch sings Lover, Lover, Lover and Christian Fevret explains the genesis of the 1991 tribute LP I’m your Fan.” []
  2. The Genius (“For you I will be a ghetto Jew ..”) from “The Spice-Box of Earth”

    For you
    I will be a ghetto jew
    and dance
    and put white stockings
    on my twisted limbs
    and poison wells
    across the town

    For you
    I will be an apostate jew
    and tell the Spanish priest
    of the blood vow
    in the Talmud
    and where the bones
    of the child are hid

    For you
    I will be a banker jew
    and bring to ruin
    a proud old hunting king
    and end his line

    For you
    I will be a Broadway jew
    and cry in theatres
    for my mother
    and sell bargain goods
    beneath the counter

    For you
    I will be a doctor jew
    and search
    in all the garbage cans for foreskins
    to sew back again

    For you
    I will be a Dachau jew
    and lie down in lime
    with twisted limbs
    and bloated pain
    no mind can understand

    []

  3. I am reminded of congruent notions expressed by psychoanalytic thinkers in the 1950s and 1960s who warned that psychoanalysis was not a replacement for religion. []

2 responses to “Leonard Cohen On Autos, America, & Apocalyptic Dance

  1. Powerful. Thanks for posting this here. I’ll come back to it.

  2. Ah, more Leonard. Thank you.
    BTW, your link is broken for part 2; they have reloaded the video.