Memories By Leonard Cohen
This is the 2nd entry in the Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen On Nakedness series.1
Ongoing readers may recall that Leonard Cohen’s “Memories,” a song that first appeared on Death of a Ladies’ Man, the Phil Spector produced album released in 1977, has been featured more than a half-dozen times at Heck Of A Guy.2
The seminal post, Two Leonard Cohen Memories, published two years ago includes an exposition of the song’s origins, its critical reception, and its fate vis-à-vis the Cohen concert repertoire.
As that article noted, the comment by Thomas D. Ryan of “American Hit Network” writing on the Amazon page for Death of a Ladies’ Man is reasonably representative of the response of the music press, the public, and, ostensibly, Cohen himself:
To add injury to the insulting production, the lurid topics of most of this album’s lyrics are as dated as coke spoon necklaces. Cohen carries on in the pre-Aids era of mid-seventies decadence without ever managing to transcend his insipid surroundings. He sounds like he’s lost on the dance floor, trying to seduce whomever ambles by. “Memories” is almost beyond ridiculous. The arrangement is as decadent as anything ever mustered by the Roman Empire, all to service Cohen’s obsession with seeing his partners’ naked body. [emphasis mine]
Cohen has introduced “Memories” at several concerts; the following is typical:
It brings me from the exulted and sublime considerations of these musicians and technicians to an extremely banal experience which I have put into a song frozen like a fly in amber and somewhat less important. But this is a song into which I’ve placed my most banal adolescent recollections and I think this song will probably live forever. It’s called Memories. (London 06/12/79)
Cohen’s own facial expressions, however, reveal the misleading nature of such contemptuous statements.
The above series of still shots from the Rockpop Special “Memories” video (available at Two Leonard Cohen Memories) discloses that Mr. Cohen, on or about the 31st day of October, 1979 did, at the ZDF-TV Studio in München, Deutschland, with intent and forethought, conspire to and commit personal enjoyment during the performance of the song known as Memories.
Part of the joke in Cohen’s performance of “Memories” is the absolute deadpan delivery which mocks the seriousness of the Frankie Avalon style of singing about teenage love. Note that Mr. Cohen starts strong with his face firmly expressionless, but when he starts the first refrain of the key line, “Your naked body,” he can’t fight off the grin. In the video, he turns away at the point he gives up altogether the effort to restrain his smile.
Regardless of the hyperbole (Cohen’s words at the very end of the song, after the last “naked body” on the lyrics sheet are “her divine, her immaculate, …), the dramatized expression of adolescent angst, the outlandish impersonation of 1950s singing idols, and the obligatory inclusion of Cohen’s patented ironic style, “Memories” unmistakeably proclaims the power exercised by the longing to “see your naked body,” even though that force is all too likely to result not in triumphant union but in humiliation, social manipulation, or heartbreak.3
Leonard Cohen Performs “Memories”
From the several videos available of Cohen and others singing “Memories,” I’ve chosen this partial tape from 1980 because (1) it’s an especially exuberant performance by Cohen, (2) there is a bonus, a tenet of Cohenistic philosophy tacked on at the end, and (3) I haven’t posted it in the past.
Leonard Cohen – Memories (1980)
Video from messalina79
All posts from the Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen On Nakedness Series can be found at Leonard Cohen On Nakedness Catalog
- Joni Mitchell & Tom Robbins On Leonard Cohen and “Naked”
Joni Mitchell observed
Leonard Cohen owns the phrase naked body, for example; it appears in every one of his songs.
Somehow, Joni made this seem a bad thing – go figure.
Writing on Leonard Cohen’s voice in the liner notes of the “Tower of Song” tribute album, Tom Robbins addressed the “naked” issue from a different perspective:
It is a voice raked by the claws of Cupid, a voice rubbed raw by the philosopher´s stone. A voice marinated in Kirschwasser, sulfur, deer musk and snow; bandaged with sackcloth from a ruined monastery; warmed by the embers left down near the river after the gypsies have gone. It is a penitent´s voice, a rabbinical voice, a crust of unleavened vocal toasts – spread with smoke and subversive wit. He has a voice like a carpet in an old hotel, like a bad itch on the hunchback of love. It is a voice meant for pronouncing the names of women – and cataloging their sometimes hazardous charms. Nobody can say the word “naked” as nakedly as Cohen He makes us see the markings where the pantyhose have been. [emphasis mine]
These two quotes led me to investigate the appearance of “naked” and its variations in Cohen’s writings, songs, and art and create a series of posts featuring those works. [↩]
- A partial list of posts featuring “Memories” includes
- Blackeyed Susans And David McComb & The Red Ponies Cover Leonard Cohen’s “Memories”
- Leonard Cohen & The Celibates Perform “Memories”
- Last Shadow Puppets Go Orchestral With Leonard Cohen’s “Memories”
- Leonard Cohen – A Dance Down Memories Laine
- The Musical Beseechment Of Women
- Lou Reed-Anjani Duet You’ve (Probably) Never Heard
- Two Leonard Cohen Memories
- Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. One can think of “Memories” as an early iteration of Cohen’s notion of the “broken Hallelujah.” [↩]