1969 – Leonard Cohen Is In Rat Subterranean News

… I myself felt no urgency to produce one but somehow a kind of pressure did develop to produce another record. [The record company] wanted another record. My management wanted another record and I suppose I wanted one just to prove to myself that I wasn’t entirely impotent so I tried to put together some songs but I really didn’t have any songs and I just let it go, man, I just left. – Leonard Cohen, Rat Subterranean News, 1969.

The P. Dingle Interview Of Leonard Cohen

Two weeks ago Heck Of A Guy presented  Leonard Cohen In Seventeen Magazine – 1968; in yet another instance of cosmic homeostasis, today’s post features the contrapuntal  1969  interview of Leonard Cohen by P. Dingle in Rat Subterranean News.1

Given Leonard Cohen’s notoriety as a drug user which earned him the nickname “Captain Mandrax” in those days and the countercultural imperatives of papers like the Rat, one might expect a 1960s journalistic fantasia along the lines of Confessions Of A Canadian Opium Eater (apologies to Thomas De Quincey). If so, one will be disappointed.

The article, in fact, follows the Standard Leonard Cohen Interview Template with a brief biographic introduction, an exposition of Cohen’s early musical career, a description of the Montreal poetry scene, a comparison of New York and Nashville musicians, a discussion of Cohen’s songwriting methodology and the commercial aspect of musical performances, and the obligatory references to the Buckskin Boys, Bob Dylan, Irving Leighton, Bob Johnston. As usual Leonard Cohen provides astute, interesting commentary, only a fraction of which is in direct response to the questions asked of him.

Only the final portion strikes the reader as something that would be surprising to find in, say, a Rolling Stone or New York Times interview held today:

Rat: What do you think about the revolution?

L.C.: I think constantly about it.

There is a bit more about the revolution (mostly consisting of Cohen paraphrasing the title of Emmett Grogan’s2 1968 tract, “There is a Great Deal to be Silent About”) before the article ends with the slightly modified lyrics of “The Old Revolution.”

Nonetheless, like 98.35%3 all Leonard Cohen interviews, reading this specimen is a treat.

The Format

The original color scan of the piece is shown below (click on image to enlarge). For ease of reading I have also posted, below the original scans, an enlarged, black and white version of the article as one long column.

Credit Due Department: This article was found at Babylon Falling, which offers a feast of such literary and photographic delectations, many of which originally  ran in the underground press in the 1960s and 1970s. The proprietor of the site explains

Between 2007 and 2009 I owned and ran a bookstore and gallery called Babylon Falling in San Francisco.  I’ve since relocated to Brooklyn and in an attempt to justify my hoarding I post scans from my collection of 60s and 70s underground newspapers and counterculture magazines, 90s Hip Hop magazines, and political ephemera.

I recently finished work on a book, On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. (PM Press, 11/1/11), and as the publishing date approaches I’ll be throwing up a bunch of great material that couldn’t fit into the book but is still interesting…scans, stories, and studio visits.

  1. Revel In New York describes the Rat Subterranean News:

    The Rat was an underground, New York anarchist newspaper started by Jeff Nightbyrd, Alice Embree and Gary Thiher in 1968. They covered things like the Weather Underground, The Black Panthers, The Young Lords, street drugs, bombings, music and sex.  They’re rumored to have to started the “Paul is Dead” rumor, which had millions of people playing Beatles records backwards looking for cyrptic messages and received content contributions from people like R. Crumb and William S. Burroughs. []

  2. Emmett Grogan, who died in 1978, was a founder of the Diggers, a radical community-action group in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.  He also sang back-up with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Dylan dedicated his 1978 album Street Legal to Grogan. []
  3. This falsely precise percentage is simultaneously my strategic nod toward conventional politesse and a signal of my conviction that 100% of Leonard Cohen interviews are a treat. []

2 responses to “1969 – Leonard Cohen Is In Rat Subterranean News

  1. Great – thanks for this Allan, I always wondered where that great pic originally came from. Now I know!

  2. Thanks for this Allan,

    Yes, a very familiar pic but not so for the article which I had never seen before and found very interesting. I chuckled at this line, “I don’t really have a career as a singer”.
    Well, life is really like a box of chocolates, isn’t it!