Guest Author: Guy Minnebach
This post was researched and written by Guy Minnebach,1 a 54 year old former newspaper editor from Antwerp, Belgium, who has swapped journalism for tourism. He now lives with his wife Françoise and their cat La Pobrecita – the most beautiful exotic shorthair – in Budapest, Hungary where they rent out luxury apartments to citytrippers. Guy is a passionate collector of Andy Warhol album cover art, a coffee addict and a proud member of the Leonard Cohen Club Hungary.
Covering New Skin For The Old Ceremony
Several blogs offer collections of censored or banned LP cover art. Rock ‘n’ roll has always fostered controversy, and this has not always been limited to the music and lyrics. A number of covers have achieved notoriety over the years: the Beatles’ gory ‘butcher cover’ on Yesterday & Today, frontal nudity on John and Yoko’s Two Virgins and Roxy Music’s Country Life, the naked teenage girl on Blind Faith’s first album, the airbrushed genitals on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs… 2
Inexplicably, even the most extensive and elaborate lists fail to include Leonard Cohen’s 1974 New Skin For The Old Ceremony. This omission is unwarranted and perplexing, given that this album is certainly a contender in the categories of “Most Unnecessarily Censored Album Cover,” “Highest Number Of Replacements For A Censored Album Cover,” and “Most Creative Methodology For Obscuring A Censored Album Cover.”
And the plain brown envelope, please …
The Cover Art Cover Up
In an earlier post, Leonard Cohen’s New Skin For The Old Ceremony: The Cover Art Cover-Up, Dave Curless discussed the original art for the cover of New Skin For The Old Ceremony (see above), which featured a 16th Century drawing (yes indeed, a 16th Century drawing was judged too disturbing to be distributed on record covers in the 20th century) of two winged figures in spiritual and/or physical union, and three replacement covers designed to be less objectionable. A precis of those three iterations follows:
1. In the US and Canada, black and white photographs of Leonard Cohen were used instead of the drawing.
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).
2. Also in the US, some copies of the original version were issued shielded by a wrap-around sheet beneath the album’s plastic seal, this time featuring Cohen’s portrait by Sam Tata on the front and song lyrics on the back.3
Israel Goes Its Own Way
Like his counterpart in the UK, an unknown Israeli artist altered the original 1550 drawing, but he did the job with a tad more subtlety.
At first glance, in fact, one may not even notice the change. A surgically precise incision has been made in the bottom figure’s arm just above the elbow – the graphic surgeon did not deign to hide the scar – and then the arm has been displaced downward. As a result, the hand more thoroughly and securely covers the genital area of the figure.
In the original drawing the hand covers the area between male and female genitals, leaving room for interpretation. No such ambiguity, however, is tolerated on the Israeli cover where it is certain that no sexual act is taking place.
The back cover of this Israeli issue is identical to the censored US cover, featuring the iconic black and white Leonard Cohen portrait by Sam Tata.
Close examination of a copy of the camouflaged Israeli cover purchased on eBay from a seller in Karmiel, Israel discloses that it is a standard CBS factory printed cover, not a one-off produced ad hoc, for example, by an overzealous, self-appointed defender of local mores.
Further, the renowned online music shop Eil describes this same Israeli cover version as “scarce” and offers potential buyers the opportunity to request the next available copy, indicating that such specimens do come onto the market, albeit rarely.
Finally, Israel did begin to allow distribution of the original cover in the 1980s. A ‘Nice Price’ reissue of New Skin For The Old Ceremony (CBS 32660), fabricated, printed, and distributed in Israel, displays the original cover art.4
Comparison Of Israeli New Skin For The Old Ceremony LP Versions:
Orange labels, old boxed CBS logo
Back cover: Sam Tata photo of Leonard Cohen
Red labels, new CBS logo
Back cover: miniature version of drawing
More Skin In The Game?
Given the number and variety of album covers discovered so far, one cannot consider this a closed case. Cohen fans around the world: – check your copy of New Skin For The Old Ceremony. Who knows what other versions might turn up? As The Man (might have) said,
Cover cover cover, come back to me
Update: The admonition to readers to check their album covers worked. See Spanish New Skin For The Old Ceremony Cover – It’s Like The English Album Cover But With Another Side Of Wings_____________________
- Guy Minnebach was also the guest author of Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga’s Poem, And The Andy Warhol Scene [↩]
- Useful information about banned cover art can be found at http://www.listal.com/list/censored-record-covers and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_controversial_album_art [↩]
- Author’s note: I am the proud owner of a still sealed copy of the original US issue with the wrap covering the original cover under the seal. Never opened it and never will. It clearly shows that in US music stores this version was presented to the buyers with yet another different front cover – albeit a temporary one – than the usual censored cover: the censored cover has a Cohen photograph by Erica Lennard on front, the Sam Tata picture on the back; the ‘wrap around’ cover has the Sam Tata picture serving as front cover, with Cohen’s name and the album title on top. The back of the wrap contains the complete lyrics of the album. [↩]
- The CBS Nice Price series offered a substantial part of their back catalogue for a lower than average price in the mid Eighties, not long before – or together with – the introduction of the CD. In fact, the CD of New Skin For The Old Ceremony bears the same number 32660 in Israel and Europe. [↩]