Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

A Celebration Of Leonard Cohen’s Significance: A Review Of A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

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Full Disclosure: I read this book in pre-publication form and offered notes to the author, who has retaliated by writing extraordinarily nice things about me in the acknowledgements and footnotes.

Coming Attractions: The Q&A With Liel Leibovitz will be posted tomorrow

A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

A Broken Hallelujah by Liel Leibovitz1 is a difficult book to categorize.  It is not, as the author points out in the opening sentence of the preface, a biography – although it does include a significant amount of biographical data. Nor is it, strictly speaking, a book of literary criticism or literary theory – although the language and concepts of these fields certainly populate the text. The blurb at the W.W. Norton website labels A Broken Hallelujah a “meditation,” which risks being read as off-puttingly  New Ageist or off-puttingly classicistic and is, in any case, so encompassing a term as to be simultaneously irrefutable and useless as a classification.

At the risk of damning with faint praise, I suggest categorizing A Broken Hallelujah as an appreciation, albeit a particularly nuanced specimen of the species. This designation denotes not only an understanding of the subject but also an acknowledgement of its value and benefit. Further, an appreciation carries the connotation of the author’s intense personal investment in the presentation.

Leibovitz examines Cohen’s prose, poetry, and songs within the contexts of literature (especially Canadian literature), music (especially rock and roll), and culture (especially Jewish culture). He points out, for example, the consequences of Cohen performing as either a prophet Vs a priest. In another instance, he contrasts novelist Mordecai Richler’s declaration that he “look[ed] forward to the day when [the border between the US and Canada] will disappear and Canadians will join fully in the American adventure” to Cohen’s unequivocal Canadian nationalism which led him to condemn Richler’s stance as “an outright betrayal.”

This strategy is especially effective in presenting an extraordinarily sophisticated but comprehensible perspective on the influences of Judaistic thought, beliefs (sometimes conflicting beliefs), and history on Cohen’s writing. This accomplishment alone would justify the price of the book.

The downside of the contextual comparison tactic is that it is not always clear why certain juxtapositions are offered rather than others. A section given over to Keith Emerson’s2 forays into progressive rock in the 1960s does illustrate a contrast to Cohen’s musical style but nothing in the text presents a compelling reason for selecting Emerson instead of a number of other rockers for this role. More to the point, extending that exposition to more than a page in length to make the point that Leonard Cohen used less elaborate instrumentation than Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, who shipped “200 separate items of equipment, valued by Customs at just over $100,000″ (including 13 different keyboards) for a Madison Square Garden show, verges on overkill.3

On the other hand, such idiosyncratic choices are part and parcel of the personal aspect – and appeal – of such a book, engaging the reader in the author’s process.

Further, Leibovitz provides more than analysis; he also offers several pieces of information, garnered from Cohen’s archives, that were previously unpublished – or at least were unknown to me. Yesterday, for example, an article, adapted from this book, about “the previously undiscovered speech [bolding mine] that launched Leonard Cohen’s career” appeared in The New Republic: The Prophet in the Library.

A Broken Hallelujah is not a casual read. One would be ill advised to pick it as the book to take on spring break to pass the time on the beach between tequila shots and wet t-shirt contests. with Jimmy Buffet on continuous play in the background. Nor is it hard labor. A Broken Hallelujah is well crafted and captivatingly written.

Most of all, it is rewarding.

A Broken Hallelujah, Liel Leibovitz’s appreciation of Leonard Cohen, rewards the reader not only with information, enlightenment, and entertainment but also with a celebration of the significance of Cohen’s work to the individual.

Book Information

Note: A Broken Hallelujah sports different titles, book covers, publication dates, and not coincidentally, publishers in the US and the UK. It is, however, otherwise the same book between those different covers.

A Broken Hallelujah Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen  by Liel Leibovitz
US Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Now listed as “In Stock” at Amazon

A Broken Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen’s Secret Chord by Liel Leibovitz
UK Publisher: Sandstone Press Ltd
Release Date: May 15, 2014

  1. Liel Leibovitz may be familiar to ongoing readers from references in posts on this site to his essays on Leonard Cohen, such as Wall of Crazy (Tablet: December 11, 2012) and  St. Leonard’s Passion (Tablet: Jan 31, 201s). []
  2. This is the Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, not the Emerson who wrote Self-Reliance and was the correct match for “Transcendentalist” on your high school English exams. Ralph Waldo Emerson is, however, also mentioned several times in A Broken Hallelujah. []
  3. Yes, I’m aware that me criticizing some else’s prolixity may call to mind the aphorism about the pot calling the kettle black. []

Read “The Prophet in the Library” – Adapted from A Broken Hallelujah By Liel Leibovitz

Jack Robinson

The Prophet in the Library The previously undiscovered speech that launched Leonard Cohen’s career by Liel Leibovitz (New Republic: March 29, 2014) is adapted from A Broken Hallelujah, a book by Liel Leibovitz.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Jack Robinson

Now Online In Its Entirety: Songs From The Life Of Leonard Cohen

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This is the complete classic 1988 BBC video documentary (70 minutes) just uploaded to YouTube. The footage includes clips from Cohen interviews, segments from Judy Collins and Jennifer Warnes, Cohen family home movies, and portions from other Cohen videos such as Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen.

Songs
From 1988 Tour

First We Take Manhattan
Suzanne
Chelsea Hotel # 2
Take This Waltz
Hallelujah
Who By Fire
Bird On A Wire
Red River Valley
So Long Marianne
Famous Blue Raincoat
The Partisan
Joan Of Arc
Ain’t No Cure For Love
Tower Of Song
Dance Me To The End Of Love

Songs From The Life Of Leonard Cohen
Video from Jon Renes

“[Leonard Cohen] is fully engaged in producing a new album to be released next year.” Robert Kory

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Kayla Frost posted this image of the “polite rejection” (of an unspecified request) she received from Robert Kory (“rbk”), Leonard Cohen’s Business Manager, via Statigram on March 26, 2014.

Her caption follows:

What a polite rejection! Well, I tried… :) Also, I love that his manager said he’s not my man cause Leonard has an album called “I’m Your Man.” Intentional?

According to Kory’s note (dated March 25, 2014) – which is exceedingly polite – Cohen’s “new album [is] to be released next year.”

Credit Due Department: Thanks go to Linda Sturgess, who alerted me to this post.

Why Leonard Cohen Got A Violinist In 2012 Instead Of 2008, The Chinese Tour Proposal & More

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Alex Bublitchi Interview Covers Recruitment, Rivals, Tour Plans, His Violin, …

„Trăiesc unul dintre cele mai minunate momente ale vieții“ Interviu cu Alexandru Bublitchi by Larisa Turea, Valeriu V. Turea is a lengthy interview with violinist, Alex Bublitchi, who joined the Leonard Cohen Tour in 2012.  The interview was published in the Nov 2012 issue of Observator Cultural. The interview was conducted and posted in Romanian. The excerpts below were generated by first processing the text with Google Translate and then editing the result into vernacular English.  The headings were not part of the original article but were created and added by me for reading convenience. Finally, much of the original interview, including, for example, content about  Bublitchi’s violin, his training, and Cohen’s personal praise of his work, is not included below but is accessible at the link.

“Who is the boy with the violin?”
The Recruitment Of Alex Bublitchi

Interviewer: Tell us how you Cohen recruited you.

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Mario Mas

Alex Bublitchi: Well, life is interesting. I played in the theater orchestra but always wanted to do something special, especially something other than classical music. I played ​​in Barcelona with a friend by the name of Mario Mas. We played the Flamenco song he wrote, that is to say world music. I made ​​a little demo for Mario and his father, Javier Mas, an exceptional musician.

Interviewer: One of the most famous guitarists in the world.

Alex Bublitchi: Right. Javier listened and wondered “Who is the boy with the violin?” Mario said, ” A friend ” and Javier asked for my phone number. He contacted me and told me he has two projects with music by Leonard Cohen. [Javier Mas was the musical director and arranger of Leonard Cohen's tribute concerts in Barcelona in both 2006 and 2007.] He asked me if I know who Leonard Cohen is. I answered honestly that I have no idea. This happened in 2005-2006. Then he asked me to meet and bring my violin. He spoke about his Cohen project, and I talked about music. He asked me if I can improvise. I said yes, and he asked me if I could help him with the project. And I accepted, even though it meant that he had to lie to the service because the theater had me under contract. I was on vacation, I had a program to perform … But I wanted very much to participate in Javier’s project so I told them that I am worn out. It took a bit of theater, but I finally got out of the situation. They gave me two weeks off, said hurry back. I said good-bye, got into a car, and we went straight to rehearsal …

Interviewer: The theater later found out?

Alex Bublitchi: No … Maybe they found out, but they did not say anything. The project was well publicized. I was trying to hide. In many photos, everyone else smiles but I’m just a dude standing to the side with his hand over his face. No one from the theater said anything to me about it, but it’s curious that the day after the project, I got a call, asking “Feeling better?” “Yes …” “Good, come to work.”

Alex Bublitchi Meets Anjani Thomas Who Mentions Leonard Cohen’s Unrequited Search For Violinist

At that project, I was introduced to Anjani Thomas, Cohen’s faithful collaborator, who arrived with his son, Adam Cohen. We did a rehearsal and Anjani said, “You know, Leonard has been looking for a violinist for many years, but he can’t find one.” I, believing these stories are molded from a glass of wine, said yes, yes … But she continued, “Look, could it be …” To which I replied that, in principle, in theory, yes, I would be interested. Afterward, it seemed a nice thought, a kind word as an excellent project ended with everybody happy. That was in the summer.

The next winter, we launched a project again, a kind of Spanish Tour with Cohen’s music sung by Spanish stars, using arrangements by Javier Mas, our musical director. This gave Cohen’s original songs a Mediterranean flair, so to speak – The Gypsy ‘s Wife in a gitano flamenco singing style. It was intriguing and interesting. Master liked it very much, I realized.

Anjani and Adam Cohen said Leonard would like to go on tour and more than likely the original members of the band would accompany him on tour …

My life continues; it’s business as usual. Javier is gone.

Auditions For Tour Violinist: Christine Wu

Cohen began rehearsals and auditions for a violinist in the U.S. Many came and played. The audition was won by a very talented lady, Christine Wu, a great classical violinist. but perhaps not given to improvisation. Here you have to be very flexible. For example, when you start to play, they tell you, play something, look, in the middle of this song, come on, play something, but play it like this, you know … And clearly , if you did not improvise like a jazz player, you lose … I mean, I never played jazz seriously, but I listened to it all the time. I was always a jazz enthusiast, but if you are not trained this way, then you don’t know how to do it … Unfortunately, many musicians practicing classical music just read the notes. However, they accept it. But after two weeks when it seemed they were satisfied with her performance, Cohen said, “Thanks, but we won’t need you … ” It was a tremendous blow. She had already signed a contract and, I believe, then sued. Finally, it was resolved.

Auditions For Tour Violinist: Rafi Hakopian

They called a famous Armenian violinist, Rafi Hakopian, who played with Cohen in the ’70s and ’80s. Curiously, he does not speak a word of English although he has lived in Los Angeles for about 40 years. He came with his son, who translated, and played what he wanted. Cohen said, “Look, we have an arrangement. Please play here and do not play here.” He said, “Yes, yes” and played everywhere. Again, after two weeks, it was “Thanks, but this is not what we need.”

Call The Guy From Moldova

Then Cohen visited Javier and said, “You know, I’ve listened to the recording made ​​in Spain, I liked the arrangements, everything was great. That violin boy … who is he?” “Well, he’s a guy from Moldova who plays in Barcelona … ” “Call him and ask him if he wants to come.” Javier called me and explained the situation, finally asking if I want to come … I was in the Asturias, where I had to play in a concert with the orchestra, so I say, “Obviously I want to come …”

International Complications Arise

I was contacted by Cohen’s lawyers, who told me that he’s very difficult to contact, that there are several “filters.” I explained that, as a native of a country that is not a member of the European Community, there will be difficulties … But the Americans said, “We will be careful to do this correctly,” i.e., going through the proper court procedures … It is clear that the I will have to end my work in the theater, I could not combine the two activities … I said, “Thank you very much, I absolutely loved working here for three great years, but now I want to do something else.” I went to Madrid and at first, it was easy. I quickly obtained the U.S. visa. Complications arose when it came to visas for the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. No reasons were given for the refusals. One of the managers told me later it was impossible and they could not do anything despite a huge effort.

2008: Violin Out; Saxophone In

At that time, it was decided not to take a violinist on tour. Instead, a guy who played saxophone and many other wind instruments [Dino Soldo] played the solos written for violin . Anyway, it was well received by the public, everything was fine …

Violin Forgone But Not Forgotten

But the traditional songs of mourning need to be played by a violin … Leonard Cohen’s paternal grandfather’s birthplace was somewhere in Poland in the former Russian Empire … the violin fits his soul exactly.

The Tour was to last a year but went so well that it went on for three years instead. The Tour ended, and I went on with my life, they with theirs. Meanwhile, I have received Romanian citizenship.

Leonard Cohen Picks Up Prince Of Asturias Awards & Violinist

One day Javier calls me and says, “Look, the Spaniards are giving Leonard Cohen the Prince of Asturias Award [The ceremonies attendant to the Leonard Cohen's Prince Of Asturias Award took place in Oct 2011], and the Prince of Asturias Foundation wants us to perform a concert paying tribute that he will attend.” …”Yeah, no problem, with great pleasure.” And so I joined this project featuring violin, lute, Spanish guitar, percussion, and two girls singing. It sounded great.

He came, accepted his award, and listened to our concert. And then I think he realized what he left behind. After the concert, he approached each of us. He shook hands with me, and in his ​​serious voice said, “Beautiful playing, Alex. Beautiful.” And I looked down, as if I were embarrassed, ashamed of something. I did not even look at him … maybe because of what had happened previously. I thanked him but I kept wondering how to tell him that I now had a Romanian passport …

Alex Bublitchi Joins The Band

Afterward, the lawyers called to inquire about my legal situation as a new project was underway. I told them everything was fine, no problems getting visas, “so we can start … if you want …” Now, everything happened very fast. rehearsals were scheduled to begin on June 15, but we were all so excited and wanted to meet quickly. I arrived on May 2nd, and we met the next day … He’s extremely sensitive, stylish, and speaks very warmly. He said, “I’m glad you came, you know us by now.”

At the first rehearsal, we did not just replay the same songs. Rather our approach was sitting and talking for a time. Leonard began to play his guitar and to murmur something. The saxophonist sat nearby and began to play along with him. I took my violin and I sat. Then he continues the song, and when the time comes to improvise, he stares at someone. It sets the tone. He looks at me, nods his head, and I start to play, to improvise. He continues one stanza, again looking at me, I play again – the same song, repeating the verse. I thought that I would give way to another instrument, but he is looking at me a third time so I try to improvise something different. We all played and played. It took about ten minutes, it stretched out. Finally , he removed his glasses and said, ” Friends, this will be something extraordinary.” And everyone cheered … It was a kind of baptism by fire. You know, sometimes it happens that all the musicians are very good, but it just doesn’t work. But we knew that in this case there was a fantastic, special chemistry. I could not imagine anything better.

2013 Concerts Planned In South America, South Africa Three Year Tour Contract Extension?

Interviewer: And you signed on for a limited period …

Alex Bublitchi: Right. The contract is for 18 months. Obviously it all depends on his health … and after 18 months if all goes well, it is possible to extend up to three years. After the North American tour, there are concerts planned in South America, South Africa, all continents … He says: “We have to follow the sun.” At concerts in Dublin, I played outdoors in incredible cold, my breath turning to steam. Heaters were blowing hot air, but we still had to play dressed for winter. It was miserable. Leonard handled it very well, the rest of us not so well, H is durable physically, does meditation, arises early, eat little. He has a Japanese Zen teacher named Roshi, who is 105 years old.

_________________________________

The Chinese Tour Offer
But There’s A Catch

Interviewer: Will you play venues other than, let’s say, traditional European locations … Asian, for instance?

Alex Bublitchi: Leonard Cohen has received offers from China, but probably will not go, because the Chinese ask him to change the lyrics about Tienanmen Square, for example, and he will not change the lyrics. India has made proposals for concerts. .. We plan to return to Europe in a year with a tournament. Then, we plan to hold concerts in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and maybe South America.

Credit Due Department: The photo atop this post is by Tomoyuki Furuta. A special thanks goes to Laurence from Paris who alerted me to this article.

Leonard Cohen’s Favorite Song He Played While Writing The Favourite Game: “I Wonder” By Ray Charles Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

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Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

- Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

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Leonard Cohen Writes The Favourite Game, Plays Favorite Ray Charles Album In Hydra

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Leonard Cohen told his interviewers and biographers about playing Ray Charles records continuously while he was writing The Favourite Game on the terrace of  his house in Hydra:1

I had a little record player that ran on batteries. I would work outside on my terrace [of the house in Greece], and if I would forget how fast the sun was moving and forget to move, the record would melt, right over the turntable. I used to play Ray Charles all the time and I lost a couple of Ray Charles records, I still have them, they’re just like Dali watches,2 just dripped over the side of the turntable.3

Both Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man and Ira Nadel’s Various Positions identify the Ray Charles album to which Cohen listened as The Genius Sings the Blues (released Oct 1961)

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Nadel goes on to immediately identify Cohen’s favorite song:

[Cohen] would work … aided by amphetamines and a Ray Charles record, The Genius Sings the Blues. His favorite song, played over and over, contains the line “Sometimes I sit here in this chair and I wonder.”

Well, it turns out that no song on The Genius Sings the Blues includes that line in its lyrics. Those words are actually from a Gant & Leveen song called “I Wonder,” which was performed by Ray Charles, among many others, and released on his 1962 Greatest Hits album.4

Ray Charles Greatest Hits

I suspect the confusion about the album’s identity arose from the song, “I Wonder Who,” on the tracklist of The Genius Sings the Blues.

Further, I suspect that there were, as Cohen reported, “a couple of Ray Charles records” that he played until they warped in the Greek sun: The Genius Sings the Blues, named the Cohen biographies by Simmons and Nadel, and Ray Charles Greatest Hits, named by – well, DrHGuy.

Ray Charles – I Wonder
Video from samWilckersson

  1. An earlier post featuring DrHGuy’s inspired but inaccurate speculation about the identity of the Ray Charles record can be accessed at Ray Charles Singing “You Win Again” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox []
  2. The reference, of course, is to Dali’s “Soft Watch.”


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  3. Leonard Cohen: The Romantic in a Ragpicker’s Trade by Paul William. Crawdaddy, March 1975. []
  4. “I Wonder” was also included on a four song French EP issued in the 1960s, but it seems unlikely Cohen would have owned this version rather than the much more easily available Greatest Hits. []