The Must-hear 1976 Leonard Cohen Glasgow Interview
On May 15, 1976, after completing an especially well-received concert lasting over two hours at the Apollo in Glasgow, Scotland, Leonard Cohen returned backstage where he signed autographs and gave an intriguing, wide ranging interview that is, unaccountably, almost unknown except to the most ardent Cohen cognoscenti. Today’s Heck Of A Guy post takes a step toward rescuing this interview from its undeserved obscurity by spotlighting it, along with Leonard Cohen’s poetry reading during that Glasgow concert.
If you haven’t heard this material already, you are in for a treat.
In just over 16 minutes, Leonard Cohen manages requests for autographs and photographs, makes nice with the interviewer, and covers a wide variety of topics, some of which are, as far as I can determine, mentioned only rarely, if at all, in other interviews:
- The grace (rather than virtue) that leads to rapport between entertainer and audience
- The introduction of a new song to his concerts: “Do I Have To Dance All Night”
- Why he withdrew his novel, ” Notes For The Clean Life,” after submitting it for publication
- His slow, difficult process of writing songs
- Music to which he is currently listening
- His delight over Janis Joplin’s excitement over a prize awarded in L.A.
- Being attracted and attractive to many women
- Arguing with his record label over the title of his recently issued album
- His expectations of music critics, including one who Cohen says called him a “boring old drone1
- The erroneous attribution of a pop song to Ray Charles (Yes, you read that right – Mr Singer-Songwriter-Icon got the source of a song wrong – and it’s a song title that may sound a tad incongruent with Cohen’s typical patois - “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” It’s all true; read the footnote.) 2
Listeners should be aware that there is a substantial amount of background noise (as one might expect backstage after a concert) and that the interviewer’s Scottish accent may be difficult for some (say, those of us raised in the Ozarks) to decipher at first. My own experience is that accommodation to both takes place within two or three moments, following which the audio was relatively easy to comprehend. Also, those searching for the titular reference to “the perfect ass” will find their quest fulfilled in the poetry reading discussed in the next section.
Leonard Cohen Interview – Glasgow, 1976
The 1976 Leonard Cohen Glasgow Poetry Reading
True to his 1976 concert posters proclaiming him the “Poet Of Rock Music,” Leonard Cohen augmented his singing by reading his own poetry at these shows. At Glasgow, the selections, according to the setlist at LeonardCohenLive, were
11. I did not know until you walked away… ( poem )
12. Come down to my room… ( poem )
13. A person who eats meat ( poem )
14. Valentina gave me four months… ( poem )
15. I know there is no such thing as hell or heaven… ( poem )
16. the 15-year old girls… ( poem )
17. The Music Crept by Us ( poem )
18. It’s Good to Sit with People… ( poem )
LeonardCohenLive also notes that these are “the only known renditions of the poems Valentina gave me four months… and I know there is no such thing as hell or heaven… both from “The Energy of Slaves.”
Leonard Cohen Poems – Glasgow, 1976
- According to Nadel’s biography of Cohen, it was a review of Cohen’s 1970 Isle of Wight performance in Melody Maker that stated, “Leonard Cohen is an old bore who should just return to Canada which he never should have left to begin with!” and Ricki Farr, a concert official at the Isle Of Wight Festival who objected to Cohen’s fee, who said “Leonard Cohen lays on this trippy thing about love and peace and all that crap. I think Leonard Cohen’s a boring old crone and he’s overpaid. I think he should go back to Canada.” (Ira Bruce Nadel, Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen, p 178) [↩]
- In the interview, Cohen alludes to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” as a Ray Charles song. As far as I can determine, Ray Charles never performed this hit, and he certainly didn’t write it or popularize it. According to Wikipedia, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” is a song written by Mickey Newbury. Said to reflect the LSD experience, the song was intended to be a warning against the danger of using LSD. First recorded in 1967 by Jerry Lee Lewis, who rejected it, it was a hit for The First Edition (with Kenny Rogers on lead vocals) in 1968. It was Rogers’ first top ten hit in the Billboard charts, but was not typical of the country folk harmonies that characterized most of The First Edition’s catalog. However, the group was already familiar with rock music, bouncing from country, to pop, to rock, and to folk music. The innovative song features Rogers on lead vocals and was the group’s second single. The psychedelic hard rock arrangement made quite an impression in the music field. According to Rogers, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite song. Producer Mike Post reversed a few riffs to create the intro, and the solo played by Glen Campbell was heavily reverberated. Another studio guitarist, Mike Deasy, provided the acoustic lead guitar parts. A partial list of artists who have covered the song, found in the same Wikipedia article, follows: Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Newbury, The First Edition, Bettye Lavette, Kenny Rogers, Die Haut with Nick Cave, Mojo Nixon and the Second Edition, Mickey Newbury, Supergrass, Wayne Perkins, Tinsley Ellis, Willie Nelson, Reef, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, JerryJeff Walker, Children of Bodom, Zueri West, and Dubious Ranger [↩]