“Old Ideas” – The New Leonard Cohen Album

Yesterday, I received this email from Jarkko Arjatsalo, web master of LeonardCohenFiles and LeonardCohenForum and a reliable liaison between Leonard Cohen’s fans and his management,

Dear Allan,

Leonard confirms that his new studio album is finished.

The title will be “Old Ideas”. All songs are brand new except “Darkness”, the only song from the recent concert tour.

The album will be released in Spring 2012, but the exact date has not yet been fixed.

There are no decisions about a new tour.


The remainder of this post deals with information and speculation about that new album.

“Old Ideas” Is An Old Idea

“Old Ideas” was the original name of the most recent Leonard Cohen studio album, “Dear Heather,” released in 2004.  According to Wikipedia, “Cohen changed the title as he was assured it would mislead people to believe that it was a compilation or Best Of.”

Tom Sakic, writing at LeonardCohenForum in October 2009, explained the contextual connotations of the phrase, “old ideas” as Cohen used it in conjunction with “Dear Heather:”

...  Mr. Cohen did say later in an interview that the original idea was to release new album very soon after Dear Heather, and Dear Heather (originally titled Old Ideas) was supposed to be an inter-album “without the song structure” (his words quoted by Sharon in an interview for dearheather.com) with which he finally wanted to finish his “old ideas” – covers (Byron, F.R. Scott), tributes (Layton, McClelland, A.M. Klein), recitations, spoken poetry recordings of other poets (Scott) and his own (To a Teacher), outtakes (The Faith), previously unfinished pieces (Undertow, Morning Glory), duets (Letters, Undertow), live versions (Tennessee waltz) etc. Dear Heather is, imho, like Book of Longing, it contains jokes and doodles (Because Of, Dear Heather), sketches (Morning Glory, Dear Heather), paraphrases of other poets, diary entries (Morning Glory), serious long poems (Letters) etc. Some kind of scrapbook, only in musical way. That’s why there are so many styles, approaches etc. on Dear Heather, and you can hear the traces and echoes of Leonard’s previous work in every song. Even “Morning Glory” resembles the melody of instrumental piece “Tahoma Trailer” from The Future CD. I think that he really wanted to empty his head of half-finished songs, “old ideas”. And I really do miss *that* title, more appropriate and true to this “Zen” CD made of little forms.

“Old Ideas” Is Also A Corporate Structure

Old Ideas, LLC (Limited Liability Company) is the publishing company of record for Leonard Cohen’s music since the release of  “Dear Heather.” Previously, Cohen’s music was published by his own company, Stranger Music, which was sold to Sony BMG.

Old Ideas, LLC also holds the trademark “LEONARD COHEN.”1

A Change In Plans To “Old Ideas”

Previous Heck Of A Guy posts (such as The New Leonard Cohen Album – “Forthcoming”) have carried Tom Sakic’s well-informed, scholarly summaries, based on interviews with and statements by Leonard Cohen, of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s works-in-progress  as a likely track list for the new album.  Tom – along with the rest of us who fancy ourselves knowledgeable Cohen followers – routinely included the new songs from the Leonard Cohen World Tour, “Feels So Good,” “Lullaby,” “Darkness,” and “Born In Chains,” as probable inclusions on the new album.

From the bulletin issued yesterday, however,  via Jarkko Arjatsalo, web master of LeonardCohenFiles and LeonardCohenForum, it appears only one of those songs first presented  during the World Tour will be found in the new album:

All songs are brand new except “Darkness”, the only song from the recent concert tour.

We do know about some new songs. For example, according to Leonard Cohen delays Europe tour after back injury by Dean Goodman (Reuters, 06 February 2010),

Cohen, who is known to take years to craft a new song, has just finished writing a tune called “Different Sides,” his musical collaborator, Sharon Robinson, told Reuters at the Grammy event. It was not known when the song would be released.

Of course, the fact that a Cohen song is new does not necessarily mean is is one of the new songs on the new album.

A significant part of the confusion is generated by the fact that Leonard Cohen has been responding to questions about the new album for at least the last five years.

In a June 24, 2006 interview broadcast on KCRW, for example, Cohen played recordings of two songs, “Puppets” and “Book Of Longing,” that were presented as demos for a “forthcoming” album being developed then (i.e., June 2006), during the same time Cohen was writing Book Of Longing and producing Anjani’s Blue Alert. (In the interview, Cohen describes the album as “forthcoming,” but, no doubt hearkening to previous problems with record companies, wisely declines the host’s request that he predict when the album will come out, noting only “It’s hard to say.”) As Cohen put it, “… I have dozens of lyrics I’m setting to music now.”2

Over the past five years, Leonard Cohen may have changed his mind a time or two.

After all, Cohen is the guy who once completed, along with John Lissauer,  one side of an album, “Songs For Rebecca,”3 but then abandoned it, with five of the songs showing up later on in concerts during the November 1975 North American tour; two ended up on 1977’s “Death of a Ladies’ Man” and the other three were released on Recent Songs in 1979.4

Leonard Cohen is not the sort of chap who is plagued by those infamous hobgoblins of foolish consistency.

“Old Ideas” As A Leonard Cohen Album Title

Leonard Cohen has a taste for open-ended, if not irredeemably ambiguous album titles. His first albums, for example, were called “Songs Of Leonard Cohen” and “Songs From A Room.” These are not the type of names that impose significant restriction on an album’s range of content.

Cohen himself notes

I like to have very neutral titles. My last album was called ” Recent Songs ” and that was the most perfect title I’ve ever come up with. But ” Various Positions ” is okay. My next one is going to be called ” Songs in English.”5

Heck, within the universe of Leonard Cohen album titles, “Old Ideas” comes off as startlingly specific.

New Speculations On “Old Ideas”

So, what should one expect from a Leonard Cohen album titled “Old Ideas” that is filled, one is  told, with “brand new” songs (other than ‘Darkness”)?

Beats me. It would seem that the definition of “brand new” as used in “All the songs are brand new except ‘Darkness”’ is key.  Given Cohen’s self-professed song-writing methodology of repetitive revising and rewriting, sometimes over a period of several years, it  is  difficult to conceive of an album of Cohen songs, save one, that originated since the World Tour ended in December 2010.

How about  this – “brand new” songs means songs that never previously published, and  “Old Ideas” means “old ideas?” Maybe someone told Leonard Cohen that he is 76 (77 next month), causing him  to realize that if he’s going  to do anything with all those blackened pages of all those notebooks he’s collected over the years, now is the time to do so. In any case, it  is easy to imagine Leonard Cohen, motivated by a vision of posterity rather than prosperity (as was true for the World Tour) deciding  to return to unrealized conceits, unfinished lyrics, and uncompleted projects that reflect his oldest musical and poetic themes rather than breaking new ground.6

There are, for example, Cohen songs that seem to have disappeared.  In Sincerely, L. Cohen by Brian Cullman (Details for Men, January, 1993), Leonard Cohen spoke about a song called “Love Is The Item:”

After my novel Beautiful Losers was published, I thought maybe I’d be able to make a living as a writer. The reviews were really encouraging, but I don’t think it sold but three thousand copies between the U.S. and Canada, so I had to do something. I felt I could go to Nashville and make a record there. I was familiar with that music and liked it, and I had written some songs–“Love is the Item” and “Tonight Will Be Fine”–and I borrowed money to go there. On my way to Nashville I stopped through New York and heard Judy Collins, Phil Ochs and Tim Buckley, Bob Dylan. I’d never heard these singers before, and of course they spoke to my heart. [emphasis mine]

That song title, along with some other unfamiliar titles, reappeared in a 2003 LeonardCohenForum post titled Please help identify this acetate master.  The pertient discussion is repeated and expanded in a second thread, The Leonard Cohen ’60s acetate:

… I have since played the acetate, here’s what I found:

It is Leonard Cohen, on both sides of the record (side two is simply marked “n/g” in grease pencil on the label area. I believe this is the sound engineer’s shorthand for “no good”). Despite one skip (which may have had to do with some movement near the turntable) and a fair bit of crackle, the mono sound is rich and all there. Just LC, closely miked, with guitar. The vocals sound much deeper and more resonant than the early lp’s—possibly this was helped along by my turntable running slow. In many cases he announces the titles of the songs before playing them.

As I’m not expert in Leonard Cohen’s catalogue, I’m basing some of my conclusions below on lyric searches that I did using the Leonard Cohen concordance online. I suspect that some of the familiar songs may have different lyrics from the eventually recorded versions, but I haven’t been able to compare in most cases.

SIDE 1 (labeled “side four” and “Asylum Records”)

1. “It’s My Own World Now” Unreleased song

It’s my own world now/ It’s my own world now/I don’t know where/I don’t know why/ and I don’t know how/you say you are my friend/well let me travel to the end…

2. “Nancy” This seems to be an unreleased song, though part of the chorus was used in “Diamonds in the Mine.”

Nancy, where have you been sleeping?/Your doctor phones me everyday/And your mother wants to see you in safekeeping/and your mother wants your father to pay/oh there are no letters in the mailbox/and there are no grapes upon the vine/and there are no chocolates in the boxes anymore/there are no diamonds in the mine…

3. “Love is the Item” (Cohen first announces this as “You can’t give your pain away,” a line from later in the song). Unreleased song.

Love is the item that is moving fast in the fire sales all over town/ and darling I regret/this offer’s got to last/no payments and nothing down…

4. “Works of Charity” Unreleased song.

Explaining to me why you’re late/That’s just another way to wait/I don’t care about your works of charity/reading all the telegrams you get/from all the fishes in your net…

5. “The Storeroom”—Unreleased song that appears at least one concert bootleg. I don’t know whether there are any differences between this version and that one.

SIDE 2 (no label. “n/g” is written in grease pencil)

1. “The Stranger Song”
2. “Last Year’s Man”
3. “Suzanne”
4. “Everybody’s Child” (unreleased song)
5. “Master Song”
6. “Tonight Will be Fine” (Substantially different lyrics from released versions.)

In an entry in the same threads, Jarkko wrote

I have some new information directly from Leonard. This is what he says:

“It’s My Own World Now” became “The Butcher”.

“Love Is The Item” and “Works of Charity” were some of the first songs he wrote (they have not been released)

According to Leonard these songs (and several others) exist on a demo tape he did for Polygram in the early sixties.

Could updated versions of “Love is the Item” or “Works of Charity” – or similar revitalized artifacts of Cohen’s past – be on “Old Ideas?”  Again, I dunno.  But it is an intriguing idea, eh?

And, of course, ongoing readers will not be surprised to learn that the “old idea” that DrHGuy most wants to see on an album is The Best Leonard Cohen Song You’ve Never Heard (Probably), aka Do I Have To Dance All Night.”


Update 23 August 2011:

New Songs, Including Born In Chains, Will Be On Later Album

Jarkko Arjatsalo, who broke the news of Leonard Cohen’s new album “Old Ideas” being released in Spring 2012, today posted this additional statement at LeonardCohenFiles:

Leonard’s comment about the “missing” songs:

The other new songs, such as Born in Chains, will be on the next album, G-d willing 

“The next album” refers here to a subsequent album after Old Ideas!

  1. According to Trademarkia,the trademark “LEONARD COHEN” is used in these contexts:

    Downloadable musical sound recordings; Musical sound recordings; Visual recordings and audio visual recordings featuring music and animation; Downloadable MP3 files, MP3 recordings, online discussion boards, webcasts and podcasts featuring music, audio books and news broadcasts; Phonograph records featuring music; Pre-recorded CDs, video tapes, laser disks and DVDs featuring music; Audio cassettes featuring music; Audio tapes featuring music

    Posters; Event programs; Lithographic works of art; Prints in the nature of lithographs, paintings, drawings

    Entertainment services in the nature of live musical performances; Entertainment services, namely, live, televised and movie appearances by a professional entertainer []

  2. See Two Very Raw, Unreleased Leonard Cohen Songs “Puppets” And “Book Of Longing” []
  3. Yep, that’s “Rebecca” as in “Rebecca De Mornay.” []
  4. Wikipedia []
  5. Leonard Cohen as interviewed by Robert Sward, Montreal, Quebec – 1984 []
  6. There is a precedent. Such a methodology accounted for the songs of the “Blue Alert” album. Anjani salvaged poems and lyrics Leonard Cohen had set aside or abandoned to create, with further assistance from Cohen, the tracks on that album. []

4 responses to ““Old Ideas” – The New Leonard Cohen Album

  1. just out of curiosity, does anyone know which five songs were the “Songs For Rebecca”?

  2. So these five songs were Iodine, Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-on, The Traitor, The Smokey Life and Came So Far For Beauty? Interesting! Very interesting! Guerrero was included in the Another Other Leonard Cohen Album, but I must admit I hadn’t figured out it was an early Iodine before reading this…;p

  3. Hi Stamatina,
    According to the Anthony Reynold’s book, John Lissauer wrote the music and collaborated with Leonard. They recorded five new songs and recut three earlier ones – then Leonard’s manager withdrew from the project and Leonard worked with Phil Spector instead..
    “Came So Far For Beauty” was one of the songs, a song called “Guerro” (which I think then resurfaced as “Iodine”, one named “Trader Song” and a new version of “Diamonds in The Mine”. Not sure what else…this YouTube video is quite interesting….