Introduction: Dave Curless & The New Skin For The Old Ceremony Cover Art Versions
The multiple variations of the cover art for Leonard Cohen’s New Skin For The Old Ceremony have proven a source of confusion since the 1974 release of the album. The problem has persisted in part because a thorough, authoritative, and online-accessible explication of the issue has not been available – until now. Happily, Dave Curless, a long-time, knowledgeable follower of Leonard Cohen signed on as guest author to write such a guide.
Dave Curless is a former teacher of children with special needs, specifically those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. He is now retired and lives in the north of England with his lovely wife, Joanie (who still toils tirelessly at the chalk face ) and two of his three sons.
As a teenager, his interest in music and literature was fed and nurtured partly by his older sister who would return home from university with the latest sounds of the sixties. He had his Road to Damascus moment on hearing the then newly released ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ in 1968 – and having seen the light, he has been following it ever since. He posts on the Leonard Cohen Forum under the cagey pseudonym of Davido and has contributed to a number of music-related projects and websites. Over the years, he has accumulated an extensive collection of Leonard Cohen-related material.
Along with Pete Needham and his wife Liz, he is currently working to raise the profile of Tír na nÓg,1 an Irish alt.folk duo named after the mythical Land of Eternal Youth, who had a cult following in the early 1970s. Tír na nÓg has reformed, and recent tours have been gaining momentum. For more information, see the official Tír na nÓg website.
He also contributed to Tony Palmer’s recent DVD re-release of the Grierson Award-winning film Bird On A Wire and the imminent re-issue of Tír na nÓg’s first three albums on Cherry Red/Esoteric label.
From across the Channel from Dave, Dominique BOILE has supplied images of authentic New Skin For The Old Ceremony LP covers (as well as other pertinent graphics) from his private collection.2
Update: Since this article was published, two supplemental posts on the same issue have been added:
- Spanish New Skin For The Old Ceremony Cover – It’s Like The English Album Cover But With Another Side Of Wings
A Guide To New Skin For The Old Ceremony LP Covers By Dave Curless
Old Skins: Leonard Cohen Album Covers Before 1974
In 1974, dedicated and eager fans of Leonard Cohen, myself included, waited with excitement to get their hands on his latest LP. We would certainly have been forgiven for expecting the cover art to follow trend and show yet another monochrome portrait of the man himself. After all, this is what we had on the four preceding albums.
With his debut LP in the winter of 1967 we were likely impressed and intrigued by the sepia-toned portrait of a formally-dressed, smartly-groomed young (-ish) poet-cum-singer on the cover, transfixing the viewer with his dark-eyed gaze.
The cover of Songs From A Room in 1969 showed the very simple but effective stark black and white portrait of the mysterious, obscured singer emerging from the darkness – intimate, brooding, enigmatic; is that a cap on his head, a guitar beneath his hand?
The portrait of Cohen on the cover of Songs of Love and Hate in 1971 differed essentially only in that it conveyed a different mood – longer-haired, unshaven, slightly sinister and unnerving smile, with, perhaps, an air of mania? A black and white portrait nonetheless.
1973 saw the release of Live Songs. On the album cover is a striking, monochrome picture of a casually-dressed Cohen with very closely cropped hair, thumb in belt, puffing on a cigar and staring somewhat menacingly out at the viewer.
In 1974, however, the black and white portraiture concatenation was abruptly and dramatically interrupted with the release of …
New Skin For The Old Ceremony
The album’s original cover design by Teresa Alfiera was indeed a departure from this trend.3 It showed, in full colour, what appeared to be, two naked, winged and crowned ‘angels’ in a sexual embrace: the coniunctio spirituum – an image from the alchemical text Rosarium philosophorum. It caused a bit of a stir, to which the record label, CBS Columbia, reacted by employing their own curious censorship to protect the delicate sensibilities of the public. What is interesting is not just why it was deemed necessary to censor the image, but the fact that the methods employed to ‘cover-up’ the image were not consistent throughout the world, but were implemented in line with the perceived public values and the changing limits of censorship at that time, which were undergoing drastic changes during the early 1970s.
As a result, in 1974, the year of its release, identical New Skin For The Old Ceremony LPs were distributed under four distinct covers, each featuring distinctly different art.
The Original and Best: The Naked Truth
The original image, in its uncensored version as shown above (album cover from Holland), is explained on the reverse of the cover:
The Cover: Symbolic representation of the coniunctio spirituum, or the spiritual union of the male and female principle, from the alchemical text Rosararium philosophorum (1550), reprinted in Artis Auriferae (1593), Bibliotheca chemical curiosa (1702) and, most recently, Psychology and Alchemy by C. G. Jung (1953).
It is most likely that the image would have come to public attention in C.G.Jung’s essay, The Psychology of The Transference (2nd ed.1966) where it is held by Jung to depict the union of psychic opposites in the consciousness of the enlightened saint.4
Update: Leonard Cohen described the reaction to the cover, although his sanguinity re the European acceptance of the art turns out to have been unjustified:
The original cover was a 16th century picture from an alchemical text depicting two angels in an embrace. Columbia felt unclothed angels were too much for the American public. A quarter of a million copies have been sold in Europe with this cover and there was not a single reference made to it. Since I designed it, I finally won the battle with Columbia, and they are reinstating the old album cover with a modesty jacket.5
New Skin For A North American Promo
The white-label promos in Canada and the U.S. featured a photo of Leonard in place of the original image on both the front and the back of the album cover (Front Cover photograph: Erica Lennard. Back Cover photograph: Sam Tata).
This version was retained on the first issue of the LP in Canada. Columbia Canada thought the ‘angel’ artwork too risque, so reverted to the more comfortable, tried and tested monochrome portrait .
The promos in the US were then superseded by the original image featuring the coniunctio spirituum – which I believe were quickly recalled and re-issued, hidden by a wrap-around sheet; the black and white photo of Cohen appears on the front and song lyrics appear on the back.
This cover scheme showed up in other countries as well. The images below are from Japan.
On A Wing And A Prayer
Perhaps the quirkiest issue was the first version released in the UK. The original cover was censored by the addition of another wing to the female which covers the ‘offending’ body parts! Ingenious, perhaps, it satisfied the censors – but showing five wings in total, rendered the image absurd. Furthermore, a smaller, uncensored image was retained on the reverse.
A Pale Imitation Of The Truth
Then there is the Korean version: monochrome green. The original image but reprinted in a pale green monochrome.6
Magna Est Veritas: Sundazed Records
Leonard Cohen’s first five albums were recently re-issued by Sundazed Records. Remastered and sourced from the original Columbia Records stereo masters, each album has been pressed on high-definition vinyl, with complete original cover art.
New Skin For The Old Ceremony features the original, uncensored cover art but also includes a copy of the wrap-around sheet with the black and white photo of Cohen (Sam Tata) on the front and the song lyrics on the back – as an additional insert, not a cover-up. Hallelujah!
Bonus: More Formats – More Variations
DrHGuy Note: While the above discussion by Dave Curless cogently covers the important points re the multiple covers of the New Skin For The Old Ceremony LPs, I couldn’t resist adding this section featuring images of ads for the album and, from Dominique BOILE, the album in other formats.
- Image #1: Spain – extra wing
- Image #2: Turkey – no colors
- Image #3: Italy – no extra wing
- Image #1: France – original graphic
- Image #2: England – extra wing
Both the cassette and 8-track formats were packaged in covers featuring the Leonard Cohen portraits, the cassette bearing the photo by Erica Lennard, and the 8-track the photo by Sam Tata.
The ads – of course – were no more consistent than the covers of the album they were promoting.
- DrHGuy Note: Tír na nÓg is also the name of a pub in Raleigh, NC, 25 miles from Heck Of A Guy World Headquarters in Durham, NC. [↩]
- While Dominique Boile is likely to already be familiar to ongoing readers, information about him can be found at Premier Leonard Cohen Fan And Archivist Dominique BOILE – The Q&A. [↩]
- In fact, it would take another four studio albums until 1992′s The Futureheralded another change from the ‘portrait’ cover-art. [↩]
- For more information about these symbols, see
• Gnosis Archive: C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Renewal by Stephan A. Hoeller
• The Hierosgamos Theme In The Images Of The Rosarium Philosophorum By Karen-Claire Voss [↩]
- Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik. Melody Maker:1 March 1975. [↩]
- This is not the only Cohen album to undergo this treatment when released in Korea. See Very Withdrawn Leonard Cohen On Back Of Korean Death Of A Ladies’ Man LP [↩]