Leonard Cohen On His Songs – “The kind of songs you sing when you don’t feel like singing”

Wiltern Theatre

Leonard Cohen Concert Review – June 29, 1985 Los Angeles

Searching for a reference to a Leonard Cohen held at the Wiltern in 1988, I came across this review by Ethlie Ann Vare in Billboard (June 9, 1985) of  the  Cohen show that took place that Los Angeles venue June 29, 1985.

Most of  the review appears to have been composed by the boilerplate phrases that one assumes is given to all reporters assigned to Cohen Concerts. For example, “Cohen is first and foremost a poet.”  Moreover, he uses “his usual self-depreciating tone” when speaking to the “reverential crowd.” And there is the appearance of the always popular “Cohen hasn’t toured America in [fill in the number – 10 in this case] years.”

Leonard Cohen On His Songs

The description Cohen gives his own songs, however, doesn’t seem to be found elsewhere online and certainly seems worth memorializing. His songs, he told  the audience, are

The kind of songs you sing when you don’t feel like singing

Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen

While not recorded in the review, it was also at  this concert that Cohen described himself as

… an old veteran of the rainbows, rambling on in his invisible trench.1

Leonard Cohen On Guilt

The other quotation recorded by Ms Vare is thoughtful and poignant but  appears elsewhere in slightly altered form:

Guilt has gotten a lot of bad press lately.  Guilt is the only way we know we’ve done something wrong.

This is a rephrasing of his introduction to “The Law” the previous night, June 8th, 1985, in San Francisco:

It’s [The Law is] about our current dismal catastrophe. It’s about the Age of post-guilt. Guilt has been given a very bad name. There are entire medical industries that are devoted to describing guilt as a disease. Actually it’s the only way that we know that we’ve done something wrong.2

At the December 4, 1988 Mannheim concert, he worded it

Yes, guilt is a very under-estimated emotion. It has a lot of bad press today, guilt has. Actually, it is the only way we know when we’re doing a wrong thing. 3

And Ethlie Ann Vare Scores

I’m also going to give the author credit for her rendering of Cohen as “the black-clad troubadour of the minor key” and her hyperbolic observation, “You can’t really sing along [with Cohen’s songs] (hell, he can’t really sing along) … .”

And A Final Word About Record Labels

The phrase “Cohen’s new Passport album” used in the review refers  to Various Positions, the album that Cohen’s label Columbia Records refused to release  in the US. (Yep, this is when Walter Yetnikoff, president of the company, called him to his office in New York and said, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.”) Various Positions was subsequently picked up by the independent label Passport Records. The album was finally included in the catalog in 1990 when Columbia released the Cohen discography on compact disc.

Credit Due Department: The photo of the Wiltern Theatre was taken by Carol M. Highsmith, who has stipulated it as part of public domain. It was found at Wikipedia.

  1. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. University of Texas Press. 2007 edition []
  2. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []
  3. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []

One response to “Leonard Cohen On His Songs – “The kind of songs you sing when you don’t feel like singing”

  1. He only writes about love
    not all of it can understand and accept