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Leonard Cohen – Carpet Diem
The oriental rugs on which Leonard Cohen has performed during the previous Tour as well as the current campaign have not gone unnoticed.
The set was tenderly elegant (brocade rugs and red velvet chairs!)1
Saw Leonard Cohen last night, truly civilised performance, Persian carpets on stage, velvet chairs and a gentleman’s grace to you don’t see.2
Leonard Cohen’s band took their places, the instruments assembled on different levels on a huge red Persian rug.3
The stage looked fantastic minimalistically decorated with a Persian carpet, …4
The effort required to achieve and sustain this aesthetic is evident in this elegantly worded excerpt from a Sept 6, 2012 Leonard Cohen Tour Diary post by Leif Bodnarchuk and in the stage preparation photos for the 2012 Verona Concert that follow it:
Some members of The Winning Team, self included, left the hotel early this morning, to deal with the carpets; soaked by Jupiter’s vengeance in Verona, they were dripping wet when rolled and loaded into the truck outside the amphitheatre. In Toulon, behind the venue, in a little-used driveway, Chris, Dan and I hung the heavy, sodden tapis along a sharply cut fence; clawing at the grids of steel, we balanced one-handed on the fence’s anchors of concrete road dividers, pulling the smelly, six feet depth of forty-four foot lengths over us and onto their would-be clothesline. Hanging, the three black runs dripped water, staining the off-white concrete anchors a dark grey. It is quite the convenience, all told, that we should be granted the space and near-perfect conditions to hang the unsavoury rugs. It could be raining here too; one always suspects wrath is in plentiful supply where the gods concern themselves.
The black carpets may have been long and wet, but they were light compared to the thick, drenched ‘reds.’ It took the strength of three men [What, you lot?] to manage the hang; two on the flanks, with the ends of rolled carpet in one hand, lifting-by-claw ourselves onto the anchor, one person on the ground. Keep the rug rolled, lift it, unfurl the end and flap it over the spikes which will easily tear the skin of one’s arm. Unroll the coil of carpet a couple of feet, centre-man holding the bulk; shove upwards, the unfurl curling over the fence; unroll, shove, unroll, shove. Répétez twice more. (Of the five reds, the rear pair were not greatly affected by the rain.) Surely, this situation of men fighting against wet, smelly rugs is precisely what springs to mind when fantasying over the luxuries of world travel, sleeping in hotels, and eating fine cheeses in private planes.
… When time came for our setup, the black runs of carpet were not yet dry and the decision was made to forget about them today. With some spare black, we ran a token; an aesthetically pleasing row of rug, taped together to make the forty four necessary feet along the front of the stage. We have no choice but to use the reds, the downstage edge of the front trio still quite wet, damp to the touch. Overall, the stage does not carry its established visual appeal, but we have at least conquered the ‘squelchy’ period of wetness.
Laying The Carpet For The 2012 Verona Concert
Photos by Martine Nevens
How The Rugs Came To Be
Leif also spoke to the origins of the rugs:
Q:The carpets for the tour look expensive and I’m wondering if they are Persian, and pure wool. The intricacy of the patterns is amazing.
Hi — I’m not sure what they are, but they weren’t crazy expensive, I’ve heard. Leonard’s daughter picked them up in Vienna ages ago, and we’ve been carrying them since.
Taking my cue, I followed up with Lorca Cohen, who responded,
The carpets story. Not very interesting and I remember almost nothing. One day we realized we needed carpets. It was one of the first shows and we were in some town (Leif may remember better than I). I just ran around like a mad woman looking for options in any large store. We finally found the right thickness and sizes and bought them. Lucky for us they were about 90 euros each. All this to say they do the job and were oddly inexpensive. Guess we just got lucky.
By way of comparison, Eric Clapton told an interviewer in 2001 that the rug he used on stage was
Very expensive – ten thousand dollars – hand woven. It’s a new one. Positioning of the rug is critical (laughs). The rug came about because we were getting static.5
The same source also quotes Greg Lake of Emerson Lake and Palmer on the expense of the Persian rug that group used on stage in 1974:
[It[ cost me a small fortune....I use it to keep from being electrocuted on the stage!
"Dad seems to like it that way"
Given the wear and tear on the rugs described by Leif, I also asked Lorca about contingency carpets should replacements be needed. Her reply follows:
We have no backup carpets. If something happens, we can just live the same story again. They are pretty run down, but dad seems to like it that way.
Musicians & Oriental Rugs
Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton, and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer are not the only musicians to employ oriental rugs. Their use by rock bands goes back to at least 1970 when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had one for their show at the Filmore West.6
A Metafilter thread titled "Why do rock bands like Oriental rugs so much?" provides the following nuggets of information:
The Grateful Dead have been using oriental rugs for over 40 years. I remember seeing it and staring at it at a show at the Nassau Coliseum in or around 1978. I first heard it was so Jerry wouldn't get lost on stage, or so that when Jerry was looking at his feet he would see cool patterns on the rugs.
Tangential but mildly interesting: the carpet is basically an antiquated stage. During the middle ages, fairground performers travelled with a carpet under their arm which they rolled out for shows. To this day performers who tumble on the ground (handstands, flips, etc.) are known as “carpet acrobats.”
During the 1970′s it was a trendy thing for symphony orchestras to give concerts where the audience lolled around on rugs and cushions. They were called ‘Rug Concerts’. I assume that they used oriental rugs although I can’t find any pictures to confirm this. I know this happened with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Pierre Boulez and with the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.
So, Why Do Musicians Work On Carpet?
Quora , in the person of AJ Minich, programmer & guitarist, offers enlightening responses to “Why do musicians put oriental rugs on stage to stand on?”
Interesting question – as is true of most things in music, there are logical answers and then there are touchy-feely answers. Among the logical:
- Stages are generally slippery, both due to typical stage construction and the fact that many artists sweat heavily and/or spill booze on the stage during performances. An oriental rug is a reliable, portable way to get some traction.
- Stages are generally hard, and most performances involve standing for long periods of time. A rug provides a fair amount of cushioning to reduce fatigue during extended sets.
- Many instruments involve foot pedals (keyboards, electric guitar, drums), and as mentioned before, the stage is slippery. In the heat of performing, it’s easy to accidentally kick one of these pieces out of reach (or even off the stage, as Slash has famously done with his Wah pedals). Placing pedals on the rug helps keep them in front of the artist.
- A typical music setup may involve dozens of wires crisscrossing the stage (or hundreds, as in U2′s rig). Placing these under the rugs decreases the chances that a musician will trip over them in the midst of the performance.
- Stages are built to reflect sound, and given the placement of amplifiers and loudspeakers, this makes the stage the loudest place in the venue during a concert. Musicians need a way to reduce the noise level onstage so they can hear each other and stay in sync – and a thick rug is a relatively cheap, easy, effective sound attenuator that doesn’t affect the audience.
All that said, you could accomplish the above points with just a normal floor carpet, so why spring for a full-on oriental rug? Among the touchy-feely reasons:
- An oriental rug is classier than carpet, and gives the musician an extra way to express his or her creative side. And if you don’t think musicians go out of their way to seem especially creative at concerts, go to one of Prince’s shows. You’ll see.
- Being on stage in front of tens/hundreds of thousands of people is a harrowing experience for even for veteran performers, and any sign of familiarity helps the musician relax, feel at home, and play better. An oriental rug is not only a subconscious reminder of home – most musicians (Trey Anastasio from Phish, Mike McCready from Pearl Jam) actually practice on oriental rugs, for many of the reasons listed above. Thus having the rug there on the concert stage makes performing feel more routine.
And finally, there’s the last reason: tradition. Professional orchestras used rugs under certain percussion instruments starting hundreds of years ago, and the habit of putting rugs down under the loudest pieces has trickled down to modern-day music setups. So ultimately, the reason they still use oriental rugs may simply be because that’s how the techs have always done it.
The Other Leonard Cohen Carpets
Leonard Cohen has experience with offstage carpets as well:
Before you know it, you’re crawling across the carpet in your underwear trying to find a rhyme for ‘orange.’7
And there is that carpet he keeps for his mouse.
- SPIN – Best & Worst from Coachella – Friday [↩]
- Cecilia McAllister via Twitter [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Live – United Hearts Tour [↩]
- Ticketmaster Reviews [↩]
- Persian and Oriental Rugs in Rock Shows by John Farr [↩]
- Persian and Oriental Rugs in Rock Shows by John Farr [↩]
- “Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe?” by Adrian Deevoy. The Q Magazine, 1991 [↩]