Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

The Essence Of Leonard Cohen’s Songs’ Universality In 8 Words

I can’t believe that my predicament is unique. 1

  1. From Stolen Moments: Leonard Cohen by Tom Schnabel. Acrobat Books, 1988. Found at Speaking Cohen. []

“Hello People” – Leonard Cohen’s Oct 6, 1963 Handwritten Letter To Redmond Wallis

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The Cohen-Wallis Correspondence

Ongoing readers may recall the January 4, 2014 post, “Does danger cure?” Postcard From Leonard Cohen (& Marianne) To Redmond Wallis 1965, which featured a postcard (see below) from Leonard Cohen, then living on Hydra, to Redmond Wallis, a writer from New Zealand who also lived on Hydra but was staying in London when the card was sent.

postcard

postcard

It turns out that postcard was not the only surviving correspondence between these two authors.

From Leonard Cohen (Montreal) To Redmond Wallis (Hydra): Oct 6, 1963

The letter atop this post (click on image to enlarge) contains no secrets or profundities yet does offer a number of treats to fans of Leonard Cohen or anyone who admires epistolary skill:

  • First, it’s a handwritten letter from a 29 year old Leonard Cohen residing in Montreal with Marianne and her son. If Cohen scribbled out a grocery list in that situation, Cohen fans would be interested (and, yes, I would post it)
  • It provides insight into Leonard Cohen’s perspective in 1963
  • There is a reference to a potentially interesting historical tidbit that is unfamiliar, at least to me.

Annotations follow.

The Opening

Cohen opens the letter with a casual to the point of offhand salutation, “Hello people,” which he follows by a verse of prose-poetry describing fall in Montreal.

Autumn here, the one I always remembered, red trees and sunlight, a bright wind swirling the leaves and skirts, the buildings more solid for all the fragile movement of the trees and walkers.

The Book, The Critics, & The Publisher

Then, sans segue, Cohen reports on the status of his book:

Book on the best seller list here, no thanks to publisher or critics, the first negligent, the second unnecessarily vicious.

The book is likely The Favourite Game, published in 1963 by those slackers, Secker & Warburgat.

Mailing Address

The address proffered for mail, “599 Belmont Avenue, Montreal 6,” is the street address for Cohen’s childhood home in Westmount.

The Mysterious Synagogue Cornerstone, Cohen Shunned By Bores, Masha Ill

The final paragraph is self-explanatory with one exception:

The synagogue has rejected the cornerstone, many people who always bored me now refuse to talk to me, my mother is sick – a white uniform roams over the house – everything is the same.

I am unfamiliar with the events associated with “The synagogue has rejected the cornerstone.” I can only offer the possibly relevant information that the cornerstone of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim was laid by president Lyon Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s paternal grandfather, in 1921.1

Credit Due Department: This letter is archived at the National Library of New Zealand – Wellington

  1. Wikipedia []

Video: Leonard Cohen Recites 1988 Version Of “In My Secret Life”

secretlife

Rencontre avec Leonard Cohen – 1988

A March 16, 1988 video interview with Leonard Cohen conducted by Jean-Louis Sbille for the Belgian Rock On TV! program offers a discussion of Cohen’s then just released I’m Your Man album (including the banana-centric cover art), his first band, The Buckskin Boys, linguistics, his attempt to translate Edith Piaf’s songs, and the return of this trio, last seen performing high camp versions of First We Take Manhattan in France and Germany, but here lip-syncing Take This Waltz.

lips

While the majority of the interview is carried out in French, its most striking element is in English – Leonard Cohen’s recitation of an early version of In My Secret Life.

Leonard Cohen’s 1988 In My Secret Life

Although In My Secret Life was not released until 2001 on the Ten New Songs album as a collaboration with Sharon Robinson, Cohen had spoken to interviewers about working on the lyrics as early as 1988.1

He recited one verse on a 1988 UK Radio 2 interview with Gloria Hunniford.2.

I saw you this morning, you were moving so fast,
I had to relinquish my grip on the past,
But I turned to you still like a man to his wife
Though I’m held in the chains of my secret life.

Cohen also recited a slightly different version of the same verse at his April 28, 1988 concert in Jaahalli Helsinki, Finland.3

Ah, we’re moving so swiftly, we’re moving so fast
I had to relinquish my grip on the past
But I turn to you still like a man to his wife
Though I’m here in the chains of my secret life.

Neither of these recordings are easy to access.

In this instance, however, he offers up two verses in a live video-recorded presentation.

The video cannot be embedded but can be viewed at this link: Rencontre avec Leonard Cohen. The recitation of In My Secret Life begins at 6:14

My transcription of the lyrics follows:

In My Secret Life (1988)

I smile when I’m angry.
I cheat and I lie.
I do what I have to do
To get by.
But I know what is wrong
And I know what is right.
I’m a master of truth
In My Secret Life.

I saw you this morning.
You were moving so fast.
I had to relinquish
My grip on the past.
But I turn to you still
Like a man to his wife
Though I’m held in the chains
Of My Secret Life.

In My Secret Life (Ten New Songs: 2001)

I saw you this morning.
You were moving so fast.
Can’t seem to loosen my grip
On the past.
And I miss you so much.
There’s no one in sight.
And we’re still making love
In My Secret Life.

I smile when I’m angry.
I cheat and I lie.
I do what I have to do
To get by.
But I know what is wrong.
And I know what is right.
And I’d die for the truth
In My Secret Life.

Hold on, hold on, my brother.
My sister, hold on tight.
I finally got my orders.
I’ll be marching through the morning,
Marching through the night,
Moving cross the borders
Of My Secret Life.

Looked through the paper.
Makes you want to cry.
Nobody cares if the people Live or die.
And the dealer wants you thinking
That it’s either black or white.
Thank G-d it’s not that simple
In My Secret Life.

I bite my lip.
I buy what I’m told:
From the latest hit,
To the wisdom of old.
But I’m always alone.
And my heart is like ice.
And it’s crowded and cold
In My Secret Life.

Credit Due Department: I was alerted to this video by a Facebook message posted by Marina Wimmer. I was also assisted by translations by Coco Éclair.

  1. For example, A Light-Hearted Apocalypse by Tim de Lisle. The Independent, 12 October 1997 []
  2. News Update 1995; LeonardCohenFiles []
  3. Bootleg notes []

Video: Leonard Cohen Addresses 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival Audience On Revolution, Performs Bird On The Wire

charlie-me2rge

Bob Johnston, Leonard Cohen & Charlie Daniels at 1970 Aix En Provence Festival

Leonard Cohen At 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

On August 2, 1970 Leonard Cohen & The Army performed at the Aix-en-Provence Music Festival, an event overshadowed by Cohen’s much publicized appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival later that month.

The Aix-en-Provence concert was the apogee of weirdness for the astoundingly weird 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. Leonard Cohen made his onstage entrance astride a white stallion, he reported having been shot at by Maoists, he dedicated (in French) The Partisan “to the police; that they leave their armour, internal and external, and that they join us,” and finally challenged critics in the crowd:

At the end of the song, Cohen intervenes one last time in English: “Those who are trying to sabotage know that they are faced with armed men; I want to say: armed with guns and ready to use them. If you believe that freedom is being able to shout anything at anytime, then you know nothing of freedom. But if you want to attack us, then come up on the stage. We will defend ourselves.” Needless to say, no one went up and the silence was respectful during the last two songs.1

Cohen’s performance began with him addressing the audience on “the link between money and the festivals” and revolution. He then opened the set with Bird On The Wire.

While the recording from the Aix Festival is only poor to fair, it is authentic and many of the photos included have never before been published.

Leonard Cohen – Bird On A Wire At Aix-en-Provence 1970
Video from Allan Showalter

Other posts about Leonard Cohen at 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post taken by Steve (no last name given) and found in the French magazine, Rock & Folk: No 44, September 1970. Contributed by Dominique BOILE

Leonard Cohen’s introduction and his performance of “Bird On The Wire” were recorded by an audience member at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The copy used in this video is from the private collection of Hippy1948.

All of the photos of Leonard Cohen in the video, save two, are by Claude Gassian from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

  1. Leonard Cohen by Jacques Vassal, Rock & Folk n°44 September 1970 []

Leonard Cohen’s 1988 Binéfar Concert, Civic Pride, Regional Rivalries, & 4000 Seats, Some Unsold

benetin

Binéfar & The 1988 Leonard Cohen Tour

Binéfar  is not the kind of place one would expect to find on a Leonard Cohen Tour. The entire Wikipedia entry for Binéfar, Spain follows:

Binéfar (Spanish: [biˈnefar]) is a municipality located in the province of Huesca, Aragon, Spain. According to the 2008 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 9,288 inhabitants.1 It is probably best known for the children’s theatre group “Los Titiriteros de Binéfar”.

Nonetheless, on June 11, 1988, Leonard Cohen did indeed perform in Binéfar (although some of the 4,000 seats in the venue were empty). How the show came to be scheduled, then became the center of a politico-social maelstrom, and finally transformed into an abiding element of the region’s musical and cultural heritage makes for an intriguing tale. It was, however a tale that couldn’t be told until a few months ago.

Except for its listing in Jim Devlin’s Is This What You Wanted and CohenLive.com as “1988/06/11 Huesca, Espana – (unknown venue)” and the occasional mention in a blog or forum by someone who attended the show,2 little was documented about this event until 2013. Then, on Jan 15, 2013, 25 años de Leonard Cohen en Binéfar was posted at Somos Litera with the photo atop this post and the following text:

This year marks twenty-five years one of the most important musical acontecimeintos history Binéfar. In 1988, Leonard Cohen included the town literana on tour in Spain. That June has been in the memory of many people who could enjoy one of the living legends of the music of our time. In Litera We are working on an extensive report on this unprecedented milestone. (Photo: Jaume Josa) [via Google Translate]

An Extensive Report On This Unprecedented Milestone

And, indeed, on the 25th anniversary of the concert, the “extensive report” promised in that original post manifested itself as two articles published in the June 2013 issue of Somos Litera (pp 78-80).

Thanks to the translation skills of Coco Éclair, I have composed a summary of the articles in English. Note: This is not a word per word translation but a summary of the approximated text stylized into English vernacular. We have tried to remain faithful to the original content – including points and interpretations with which we might disagree and which we have no way of confirming. As a convenience to readers, screen captures of the articles have been placed at the top of the respective summaries.

benefar1

An Unlikely Concert And A Milestone

By Pepe Espluga Trenc, Sociologist

In 2013 everyone knows that Leonard Cohen is one of the great figures of contemporary Western culture, both for his literary and musical work. Twenty-five  years ago, however, his status in the media was quite different, and his character must be placed in its historical context to realize how unusual his performance in Binéfar really was.

In 1967 Leonard Cohen (Montreal, 1934) was an established figure in contemporary Canadian literature. He could, however, barely make a living and consequently decided to increase his income by playing some of his poems and selling them to singers in the New York folk and rock scene. Then, after Cohen established himself with a few songs, a clever manager decided to release his work as an album and launch him as the Canadian Dylan.

He recorded three relatively popular albums between 1968 and 1971 – “Songs Of Leonard Cohen,” “Songs From A Room,” and “Songs Of Love And Hate” – which made him a key figure among the Beat Generation and the hippie counterculture of the era. During the 70s he continued to release albums of remarkable quality but with diminishing media coverage, becoming a survivor of a remote music scene, swept away by punk, new wave, disco, techno, and the new romantic ’80s.

By the ’80s his popularity waned, as evidenced by the fact that his 1984 album, “Various Positions,” took six years to record and was marketed only in Europe because his record company, CBS, refused to distribute it in America. At that point, Leonard Cohen was a depreciated outsider who spent his time isolated in a Buddhist monastery, and the recording industry itself was dead and buried.

In February 1988 he released a new album, “I’m Your Man.” Everything seemed to indicate it would be a another step into his descent into media irrelevance. Further, in this album, Cohen exchanged his customary acoustic guitar sound for the synthesizer, which alienated him from his fan base of the ’60s and ’70s. Cohen was 54 years old at the time and few of his fans, even his original, long-term fans, bought his records.

To promote his new album, Cohen embarked on a European tour (he would give 59 concerts in Europe between April 5 and July 2, 1988 before beginning his North American Tour in October 1988).

It was precisely at this time that the City Council of Binéfar decided to hire him. Unexpectedly, “I’m Your Man” became a blockbuster, hitting the charts in several European countries (it was one of the ten top selling LPs in Spain for several weeks), unanticipatedly boosting Cohen’s career. Since then, his musical and cultural impact has grown steadily.

In light of this upswing in Cohen’s fortunes, the decision by the City of Binéfar to hire him for a 1988 concert proved both timely and providential, coming as it did  when he was a rising star with a huge potential audience. Because of his new found popularity, for example, CBS committed to an enhanced promotional program in America. The album sold by the millions and concert attendance grew exponentially. However, Binéfar wasn’t filled. Why?

The Impact Of The Binéfar Concert

herminia-sirvent

Leonard Cohen – Binéfar 1988. Photo by Herminia Sirvent

The Binéfar concert took place in the framework of the 1988 European Tour, the Spanish portion of which began in Madrid (May 9).  Following several subsequent concerts in Central Europe, Cohen returned in late May to perform in San Sebastián (May 20), Palma de Mallorca (May 21), Sevilla (May 22), Almería (May 23) and Barcelona (May 24).  Several concerts then ensued, including shows in Paris, London, Dublin and Lisbon, before Cohen played Binéfar (June 11) and Bilbao (June 12). The Tour ended in Roskilde (Denmark) on July 2.

Although the Spanish press published extensive announcements about and reviews of the Cohen Tour, the Binéfar concert was ignored by the periodicals other than the newspapers located in nearby Aragonese and Catalan towns; La Manana, Segre, Heraldo de Aragón, Journal of Alto Aragón, and Day Aragón did devote many pages to the event. Also radio stations Lleida, Huesca and Zaragoza were generous in their coverage.

Initially, most local reporting focused on municipal pride -  how is possible that Binéfar was chosen and not our city?

Later, however, the stories reflected their admiration for the drive of a people capable of embarking on adventures of this magnitude. The image projected of Binéfar during those days could not have been more positive, as is evident from the envy expressed by many journalists, in praise that went beyond purely musical considerations.

Oddly, the announcement of the concert in Binéfar launched a strange combination of underground political struggles, friction between different individuals, and suspicions on the part of elected and appointed officials, local organizations, and even the local radio, which generated a pervasive unease and a certain hostility.  Because of this environment, Mari Carmen Perez, the Councilor Of Festivities and the one held primarily responsible for the quality of the concert, had to redouble  her efforts to overcome local fears while she promoted the show throughout Aragón and Cataluna, seeking the cooperation of other institutions (DGA Council of Huesca, Coca-Cola, etc).

Despite the Cohen concert being considered a perfectly acceptable event by the City Council, a prominent notion in the local public opinion held that the show was an unnecessary luxury that could, if it did poorly, deprive that year’s important municipal festivities of funding.

These concerts and discord had a negative impact on the local audience which in other circumstances might have flocked to the concert. Consequently, this once in a lifetime event did not play to a full house.

Despite this disappointment, Leonard Cohen’s visit was a milestone in the modern history of Binéfar as a demonstration of courage and initiative in a truly unique location.

benefar2

a story … that is ours,
and our children’s,
and our grandchildren’s …

By Paco Aznar M.
Director de Somos Litera

I was there, standing

At 21 years of age and eager to see Cohen, I preferred to stand in front of four thousand chairs strewn in the central courtyard in the fairgrounds (for me, iw is forever Algadonera). One of the many affectionate memories of those days is the matter of chairs. I could not understand how you could enjoy a concert if you were seated. One was living at the time when an abundance of concerts were scheduled in the area that had nothing to do with the Cohen show: Sinister in Alcampell, Cabinet Callgari or 091 in Esplus, Toreeros Dead or Bunk in Tamarit Koratu, in Almacellas.

Leonard Cohen’s concert in Binéfar was a magical moment in the history of our town, unaccustomed to special events. It was singular, unique … Twenty-five years later, one can not help but become excited about those heaven-lit two hours by a musician-poet who is, alongside Dylan, Springsteen, and the Stones, one of our time’s living musical legends. It was the cultural milestone of a small town in Spain, accomplished through the blessed courage of a councilwoman named Mari Carmen, surnamed Perez.

Mari Carmen gladly fought with indomitable strength against the habits, customs, and other traits peculiar to a small town. Now, a quarter century later, the merit lies in those who, with the head of the council , trusted, persisted and worked for an unequaled event. They wrote the story.

Reviewing the archive, we can corroborate the media attention that described the concert, stressing the uniqueness of the event of the place by the sea, and the hero. Some comments questioned the suitability of the town, more accustomed to Bombero Torero [a comedy troupe of dwarf bullfighters] than to the musical poetry of a global talent like Cohen. Actually, we can also verify, in retrospect, rejoicing at the entrance of the lack of public at the concert, an “I told you so,” from the vantage point of an arrogant urbanite. Meanwhile, “The Vox Binéfar” dedicated a cover prior to the concert, with an inside page which made it clear that the presence of Leonard Cohen would not influence the rest of the major festivals of that year. Other information is limited to an emotional article by Ernesto Romeu, “Manhattan, Berlin, Binéfar.” The rest one has to imagine.

In any event, there were many such as these individuals. With order and harmony, with rigor and imagination, with will and decision, “they moved to the rhythm of silence!” seizing the opportunity to arouse the supine pulse of habitual rituals.

They did so on June 11th, 1988, and today very much deserve the recognition of a story that is ours, and our children’s, and our grandchildren’s …

Credit Due Department: A special thanks to CHEMA of Barcelona for first alerting me to this Leonard Cohen concert photo and the stealth concert where it was taken.

  1. By way of comparison, Madison Square Garden in New York, a Leonard Cohen venue in 2012, has a capacity of 18,000. []
  2. For example, María Jesús Lamora (Blog antiguo) []

Listen To Part 2 Of Inside The Music: Various Positions: Leonard Cohen In His Own Words

Michael Reichmann2

This is Part Two of Various Positions, the CBC Inside the Music program featuring Leonard Cohen. Part One was posted March 14, 2014. CBC will be posting the second part in a week but there is no need to wait until then. It turns out these are actually CBC “Rewinds” that were originally broadcast in early 2012. So, rather than await the CBC rebroadcast next week, I’ve embedded the 2012 show below.

From the CBC site,

Waiting for the Miracle, explores the spiritual evolution of Cohen’s life and music taking us almost to the present. Produced and presented by Philip Coulter.

Go To Embedded Player

The embedded player starts automatically so it has been moved to the page below.

Listen to Part 2 at Inside The Music: Various Positions: Leonard Cohen In His Own Words – Part 2

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post taken by Michael Reichmann