In commemoration of the June 18, 2013 Leonard Cohen concert, today, DrHGuy.com is featuring photos & videos from that momentous show.
Credit Due Department: Posted by Sig. R. via Twitpic
In commemoration of the June 18, 2013 Leonard Cohen concert, today, DrHGuy.com is featuring photos & videos from that momentous show.
Credit Due Department: Posted by Sig. R. via Twitpic
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.
I never made a big distinction between that which we call a poem and that which we call a song. It was the sort of expression which used beauty, rhythm, authority and truth. All these ideas were implicit. … I made no distinction between the popular expression and the literary expression. I knew that “The Great Pretender” was a very good poem; I made no hierarchies.
- Leonard Cohen1
The Platters released “The Great Pretender” as a single on November 3, 1955. The words and music were created by Buck Ram, the Platters’ manager and producer.
Video: The Platters – The Great Pretender
Boys like to play with guns. I like them myself.
Indeed, Leonard Cohen has owned a number of guns as well as alluding to guns in his poetry, novels, and songs. As is true with most subjects that arise in Cohen’s interviews, he has been forthcoming about his experience with and thoughts about guns, discussing the matter without braggadocio (no one is likely to confuse his views with those of, say, Ted Nugent2 ) or apology. This post is a noncomprehensive sampler of connections between Leonard Cohen and pistols, rifles, bullets, small arms, handguns, … .
Note: This entry consolidates material previously posted on this site along with new information. The gun images that populate this post are illustrative only and do not portray any guns actually owned by Leonard Cohen and may not accurately depict the specific gun described in the text. Firearms of the same caliber may be produced by more than one manufacturer and in various formats.
Update: A supplement to Leonard Cohen & Guns has been posted at The (Big) Guns Of Leonard Cohen
When asked about his interest in guns, Cohen responded
I don’t hunt. I like target practice. I kind of fell into it [gun ownership] because I was interested in becoming a cowboy at one time. … When I lived in Nashville I had a lot of admiration for these guys I saw around. They were very attractive. I liked the way they spoke, and I liked their sense of honor that these men had. A lot of them carried gun or had rifles in the back of their trucks. That’s when I started getting interested in firearms.3
Leonard Cohen’s Walther PPK is mentioned in Ira Nadel’s biography of Cohen, Various Positions (Random House of Canada, 1996), as “the largest weapon he [Leonard Cohen] had at the time [when Cohen lived in Franklin, Tennessee, where he moved in 1968].” Of course, this declaration implies that Cohen owned other, albeit smaller caliber, guns. Nadel also notes that
One of his [Cohen's] favorite places in Nashville was the Woodbine Army Surplus store. A journal from that period contains photographs of various gun counters; he became the poet with a gun.
In his introduction to “Memories” at the June 8, 1985 San Francisco concert, Cohen tells the audience about his Walther, comparing it to Phil Spector’s weapon (more about Phil Spector and guns later):
A song that I wrote with the great R’n’R master by the name of Phil Spector. A delightful chap. You really get to know him, you really did get to know him. And I had a Walther PPK. He had a just an ordinary 45.4
And, a Walther PPK/S5 earns a place in one of the poems from Cohen’s Energy Of Slaves:
Each day he lugged
a hunk of something precious
over to his boredom
and once or twice a week
when he was granted
the tiny grace of distance
he perceived that he laboured
as his fathers did
on someone else’s pyramid
Thoughts of rebellion
Thoughts of injustice
New Year’s resolutions
The seduction of a woman
All these he engraved
numbly letter by letter
Serial No. 115142
stolen from one slave by another
I moved there [Franklin Tennessee]. I had a house, a jeep, a carbine, a pair of cowboy boots, a girlfriend. … A typewriter, a guitar. Everything I needed6
The Winchester rifle is discussed in this excerpt from from a 1992 interview7
After New York, Mr. Cohen lived for a year on a 1,500-acre homestead in Franklin, Tenn., rented for $75 a month. “Ah, that was a very pleasant period of my life,” he says wistfully. “There was a shack — a well-equipped shack, but not much more than that — beside a stream. There were peacocks and peahen. They used to come to my cabin every morning. I’d feed them. I had one of those centennial rifles that Remington put out, I think, in ’67.” He pauses. “When was this country founded? ’76?” He seems somewhat dismayed that mathematics could interfere with a colorful detail of his story. “Anyway, I had some kind of centennial rifle. I would amuse myself by shooting icicles on the far side of the creek.” [emphasis mine]
Later, Cohen later elaborates on his expertise:
I was pretty much a bust as a cowboy [laughs] But I did have a rifle. During winter there, there were these icicles that formed on this slate cliff… and I’d stand in the doorway and shoot icicles for a lot of the time so I got quite good.8
Note: While the Bicentennial of the United States, the date of which Mr Cohen was attempting to plug into his formula in order to calculate when he purchased the rifle, was, one supposes, a significant enough event, it was not the occasion the Winchester Repeating Arms Company chose to celebrate with the manufacture of their Centennial Rifle. Chuck Hawks explains:
1966 was the Winchester Repeating Arms Company’s 100th year of operation. To commemorate this occasion, Winchester produced a run of fancy Model 94 rifles. These were based on post 1964 Model 94′s actions with a gold plated receiver and forend cap, brass “rifle” (curved) buttplate, saddle ring, and a heavy octagon barrel with a full length magazine that was nicely polished and deeply blued. The straight hand stock was select walnut. All were in caliber .30-30 Winchester. There were rifle (26″) and carbine (20″) barrel lengths, and sets of rifle and carbine with consecutive serial numbers were also offered. The point to all of the gold and brass was to make the 1966 Centennial reminiscent of the brass framed Winchester 1866 “Yellow Boy” rifle that was Winchester’s first product.9
In 1973, Cohen flew to Jerusalem to sign up on the Israeli side in the Yom Kippur War (“I will go and stop Egypt’s bullet”10 but was instead assigned to entertain front-line troop emplacements in the Sinai Desert. Cohen armed himself by stealing a .45 pistol from a deserted shed at a desert airport.11
The .45 pistol pictured is a Colt M1911 pistol, first adopted by the US military in 1911 and which, despite its age, is still used alongside modern pistols throughout the world today. It may not be the model of .45 Cohen purloined.
Leonard Cohen’s father, Nathan Cohen, served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I and consequently possessed a gun Nadel (Various Positions) calls “a military souvenir.” In “The Favourite Game” Leonard Cohen describes the weapon the protagonist’s father had received while serving in the military and kept in a bedroom drawer as “a huge .38.” The problem is that the only handguns Canadian forces were issued or allowed to purchase during World War I were .45 caliber pistols.12 Of course, “a military souvenir” could include any handgun Nathan Cohen came to own as a result of the war.
Nathan Cohen’s gun is embedded in the lyrics of “Rainy Night House,” which Joni Mitchell wrote about an outing she and Leonard Cohen took:
It was a rainy night
We took a taxi to your mother’s home
She went to Florida and left you
With your father’s gun alone
Upon her small white bed
I fell into a dream
You sat up all the night and watched me
To see who in the world I might be
The .38 pistol in the image is the Smith & Wesson Military & Police Model initially developed in 1899 and subsequently used by the military and police forces in many countries.
The Chelsea Hotel often served as Cohen’s residence in New York. On at least one stay at the Chelsea, the Canadian singer-songwriter was armed. The following excerpt is from a 1969 interview:13
In 1986, Leonard Cohen told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air
I have some pellet guns now and my children and I set up a little target range in my house in Montreal and we do target practice with that.14
In that same 1986 NPR interview,15 Cohen explained
They [my guns] were taken away from me. My lawyer locked up my Walther PPK automatic. … I didn’t have a license in the state where I happened to be so he didn’t think it was a good idea for me to carry it around. I never carried it around but I had it in my possession.
And, I think my rifles are locked up in somebody’s closet. I haven’t used anything for a long time.
No doubt the best known gun pointed toward Leonard Cohen was Phil Spector’s .45. The anecdote has been repeated several times by Cohen. This excerpt, in fact, comes from a 2004 article, the title of which was inspired by the incident – “Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head?”
His album Death of a Ladies’ Man was produced by Phil Spector, the reclusive genius of girl-group pop. “I was flipped out at the time,” Cohen said later, “and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns – the music was a subsidiary enterprise … At a certain point Phil approached me with a bottle of kosher red wine in one hand and a .45 in the other, put his arm around my shoulder and shoved the revolver into my neck and said, ‘Leonard, I love you.’ I said, ‘I hope you do, Phil.’”16
It turns out that the gun Phil Spector held to Leonard Cohen’s head isn’t the only gun in a Cohen-Spector story. The following excerpt is from Leonard Cohen by John Walsh (Mojo, September 1994):
[John Walsh:] But most of the time [Cohen spent with Spector] was spent dodging bullets. Both the clinically paranoid Spector and his bodyguards were packing heat through the recording session. What was Spector shooting at?
[Leonard Cohen:] “Me! He was threatening me and the musicians. On Fingerprints there was a fiddle player, a good old country boy, a big guy. He played a riff, and Phil went up to him, pulled out a .45 and said he didn’t like the way he was playing it. The fiddler was a guy who’d grown up with guns. He just put his fiddle in its case and walked out of the studio, and that was the last we saw of him.”
[Leonard Cohen:] “It was a dark time. My family was breaking up. I thought I’d lost control of the record. All the takes were just scratch vocals – Phil used to confiscate the tapes at the end of each session. And all this madness with guns. … But I did challenge his bodyguard to draw on me. I started insulting him. I said You’re a motherfucking pussycat. You don’t even known how to use that [gun].”
During his expedition to Cuba, Cohen was in the cliched position of bringing a knife to a gun fight:
Wearing his khakis and carrying a hunting knife, he was suddenly surrounded by twelve soldiers with Czech submachine guns. It was late at night and they thought he was the first of an American landing team.17
Happily, Cohen convinced them he was harmless:
They arrested me, and the only words I knew at the time were ‘Amistad de pueblo.’ So I kept saying, ‘Amigo! Amistad de pueblo!’ and finally they started greeting me. And they gave me a necklace of shells and a necklace of bullets and everything was great.18
Finally, there is Cohen’s report of a possible shooting at the 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival concert:
I think I was shot at once at a big festival in Aix-en-Provence. That was when the Maoists were very powerful in France and they resented the fact that they actually had to buy a ticket. A lot of them broke down the fence and came into the concert and I did notice one of the lights on the stage go out after a kind of crack that sounded like a gunshot. I don’t know. But they’re tough critics, the Maoists.19
There are too many allusions, references, and metaphors related to guns in Leonard Cohen’s work to provide an exhaustive list in this post. The following samples are representative.
From “Love Calls You By Your Name:”
Shouldering your loneliness
like a gun that you will not learn to aim,
Well, maybe there is a God above,
But all that I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.
From “Field Commander Cohen:”
Leave it all and like a man,
come back to nothing special,
such as waiting rooms and ticket lines,
silver bullet suicides,
and messianic ocean tides,
and racial roller-coaster rides
and other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.
From “Night Comes On:”
We were fighting in Egypt
When they signed this agreement
That nobody else had to die
There was this terrible sound
And my father went down
With a terrible wound in his side
He said, Try to go on
Take my books, take my gun
Remember, my son, how they lied
And the night comes on
From “The Lists” (Flowers for Hitler and Selected Poems 1956-1968)
Then it began again
the sun stuck a gun in his mouth
From “Why Did You Give My Name To The Police?” (Flowers For Hitler and Selected Poems 1956-1968)
You too must find the moment hopeless
in the Tennyson Hotel.
I know your stomach.
The brass bed bearing your suitcase
rumbles away like an automatic
promenading target in a shooting gallery
From “I Dream Of Torturing You” (The Energy Of Slaves)
I dream of torturing you
because you are so puffed up with pride
You stand there with a bill of rights
or an automatic rifle
or your new religion
From “Any System You Contrive Without Us” (The Energy Of Slaves)
Any system you contrive without us
will be brought down
You have your drugs
You have your guns
You have your Pyramids your Pentagons
With all your grass and bullets
you cannot hunt us any more
From “Bullets” (Flowers for Hitler and Selected Poems 1956-1968)
Listen all you bullets
that never hit:
a lot of throats are growing
in open collars
like frozen milk bottles
on a 5 a.m. street
throats that are waiting
for bite scars
but will settle
for bullet holes
From Beautiful Losers:
I loved the magic of guns.
I saw a king without dominion. I saw a gun bleeding. I saw the prince of Paradise Forgotten.
… sent you the sub-machine guns which the firecrackers concealed in my brilliant smuggling operation
I wanted to attend cocktail parties wearing a machine gun
… just as a bayonet illumines unmistakenly the use of a rifle.
The mounted pistol pointed at several ranks of movable tin figures.
From The Favourite Game:
The gun proved he was once a warrior
He waited for the blast of a .38 which would clean the house and bring a terrible change. The gun was right beside the bed. He waited for his father to execute his heart.
Leonard Cohen May Have Woken Up This Morning & Got Himself A Gun – But He Didn’t Write A Song About It
You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun,
Mama always said you’d be
The Chosen One.
While a plethora of websites identify Leonard Cohen as the singer-songwriter of “Woke Up This Morning” (Chosen One Mix) aka the opening theme for The Sopranos, that song was written by, remixed and performed by British band Alabama 3.20
References can be found to the notion held by some that “Woke Up This Morning” is influenced by Cohen’s vocal style and by his song, “Democracy.” And Rob Spragg (aka Larry Love), does emulate Cohen’s graciousness in his response to the false rumor that Leonard Cohen wrote the song:
A little bit of mystery in rock ’n’ roll is cool. If people think Leonard Cohen wrote it it’s a compliment to me.21
But that’s it – “Woke Up This Morning” is not a Leonard Cohen song; it is an Alabama 3 song.
Leonard Cohen May Have Taken His Gun & Vanished But He Didn’t Write That Either
When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
Those are the opening lines of “The Partisan” on Cohen’s 1969 Songs From A Room album. And Leonard Cohen does sing “The Partisan” movingly. But, as the French Leonard Cohen site points out, “This song is actually an adaptation from ‘La complainte du partisan,’ written in London during 1943, by Emmanuel D’Astier de la Vigerie (called “Bernard” in the French Resistance) and Anna Marly. ” There is a nicely nuanced discussion of the evolution of the song, Cohen’s connection with it, and covers of it by other singers at that link: The French Partisan Song.
Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen in Havana is from Various Positions by Ira Nadel. Random House of Canada, 1996
“It’s Father’s Day and everybody’s wounded,” from Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan, isn’t likely to turn up on a Hallmark card. And, the Canadian singer-songwriter has consistently criticized his own record as a father:
I have never been a good civilian. my children like me. But the truth is that I tried to be a good father and husband, but I was not very good.1
On the other hand, he has just as consistently expressed his affection, admiration, and appreciation for his son, Adam, and his daughter, Lorca.
Cohen’s actions have evidenced his perspective on father hood. In the early 1980s, for example, he repeatedly traveled from his homes in Montreal, Los Angeles, and Hydra to live in a trailer he installed at the bottom of a path leading to the home in the south of France where Suzanne Elrod had moved with their children following their breakup.2
Similarly, when Adam, then 17 years old, was involved in a near fatal road accident, his father attended his bedside daily during his most helpless three months in hospital.3
Perhaps most telling are Adam’s own observations about his father.
This picture was taken in the kitchen of my father’s Greek fisherman’s house on the island of Hydra. He would often read my sister Lorca and me stories or poetry at the table. … My mother, Suzanne Elrod, left my father shortly before the picture was taken. Lorca and I moved to the south of France with her but would spend Easter and summer with my father. It was a bitter divorce but he managed to remain in our lives through their cold war. As a father now, I recognize the gargantuan effort that he put in.4
It was particularly admirable, I think, the way in which he managed to keep in touch with us despite the … the domestic unrest, shall we say, the post-divorce antagonisms.5
Finally, one should not overlook the fact that Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen, and Marianne’s son, Axel, were in every way a family. Cohen’s role as a father is described in this excerpt from Interview with Marianne Ihlen by Kari Hesthamar (Norway, 2005)7
INTERVIEWER: So how was Leonard as a father?
MARIANNE: Well, actually, he… I was terrified that Axel was going to disturb him, because he had to write. But what happened was that Axel would be lying prone on the floor drawing. And didn’t say a word. He was a nightmare with me. Then he would… uhuhuhu. You know what kids are like with mother. And so then Leonard would elegantly open the door into his tiny atelier, and say: ”Axel, I need your help.” And then it would be deadly silent in there for two hours. And little Axel drew and Leonard wrote. That’s how I experienced it. And little Axel was enormously proud. He called him Cohne.
Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen, Marianne, & Axel by James Burke. Photo of Leonard Cohen reading to children contributed by Dominique BOILE.
Note: This post is an entry in a series of essays considering the question, “What makes a song a Leonard Cohen song?” An introduction and links to all published posts in the series can be found at Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: Summary Page.
Leonard Cohen’s musical influences are varied and sometimes surprising.
He includes, for example, among his early influences “Scottish Border ballads, the Spanish flamenco songs, the Portuguese fado.”1
At age 15, Cohen was introduced to “The People’s Songbook,” and through it to such songs as “Passing Through,” “The Partisan,” and “Beloved Comrade.”
The song “Passing Through” is a song I learned when I was fifteen, from a very devoted socialist that I knew. That particular version of the song comes out of “The People’s Songbook” which was a song book developed out of the interest that the socialists had at one time in Folk Music, still have. It came out of the “Almanac Singers” who later became “The Weavers”, that’s the group that Pete Seeger was in – the book was edited by John Lomax. The book itself was very influential in interesting me in song and songwriting. I came across it when I was about fifteen.2
Leonard Cohen has frequently and unabashedly attested to his enjoyment of country music and the strong influence that genre has had on his own work. It is significant that Leonard Cohen has himself pointed out that “When I was 17, I was in a country music group called the Buckskin Boys.3 Writing came later, after music.”4
I’ve always loved country music. I lived in Nashville for a couple of years. Even in the dark periods of the seventies and the early eighties, I listened to a lot of country music because I felt that that’s where the emotion was, that’s where the lyric was, and that’s where real problems were being addressed. Country singers tend to be a little older. The audience tends to be a lot more loyal. So the singers and the writers can reveal themselves over a long period of time. You know that Johnny Cash is not going to be singing about anything frivolous, and you know that George Jones is not going to be presenting himself with any kind of bravado; you know that he is going to be telling the truth about himself in his song. When you have pop groups coming and going with tremendous rapidity, you can’t get the feel of the artist. 5
The musical values [of “urban folk music, country western”] are very sophisticated, not primitive as it’s usually taken to be. Very sophisticated and very, very minimal, but the emphasis is on the voice and the experience in the voice.6
[Country music] is the music I always reach for when I’m in the car. I like it because it’s a simple yet highly sophisticated music. It uses few chords, its simple structure lending it an attachment to austerity. Because of its simple structure, it has to be highly sophisticated if it is going to touch the heart without people saying yuk. Nobody gets away with anything in country lyrics. If you listen to them against pop lyrics, there’s no contest. Those guys know how to write a verse. It’s often complex stuff, about love and divorce and law and, eh, sometimes quite obscure feelings that make most pop music very, very kindergarten.7
[Europe has] this tradition of self revelation in popular music. We have it here – it’s called Country Western Music… I think that’s where the deeper and more complex subjects are treated.8
Similarly indicative of Cohen’s thoughtful, counterintuitive musical pathway is his preference for the Sid Vicious cover of “My Way” over Frank Sinatra’s:
I never liked this song ["My Way"] except when Sid Vicious did it. Sung straight, it somehow deprives the appetite of a certain taste we’d like to have on our lips. When Sid Vicious did it, he provided that other side to the song; the certainty, the self-congratulation, the daily heroism of Sinatra’s version is completely exploded by this desperate, mad, humorous voice. I can’t go round in a raincoat and fedora looking over my life saying I did it my way — well, for 10 minutes in some American bar over a gin and tonic you might be able to get away with it. But Sid Vicious’s rendition takes in everybody; everybody is messed up like that, everybody is the mad hero of his own drama. It explodes the whole culture this self-presentation can take place in, so it completes the song for me.9
Tellingly, Cohen has identified the “biggest influence on [his] music” as
The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. There was “The Great Pretender,” “Cross Over the Road.” 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.10
One of the most popular Leonard Cohen quotes is “I don’t know where the good songs come from or else I’d go there more often.”11 Well, if Mr Cohen hasn’t found the home of good songs, it isn’t for lack of looking. Consider his portfolio of referenced singers, songs, and lyric sources.
Leonard Cohen has specifically endorsed such disparate tracks as “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline, “Je ne regrette rien” by Joaquín Rodrigo, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” by The Beatles, “Etude Op. 10, No. 1″ by Chopin, “Black Lace” by Frankie Laine, “Y.M.C.A.” by Village People, and “Gums Bleed” by You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath.12
The list of musicians Cohen enjoys is equally long and varied, including Waylon Jennings, Beethoven, Pete Seeger, The Beatles, Chopin, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Josh White, Van Morrison, George Jones, Billy Joel, and King David.
And, Cohen has derived lyrics from an especially extensive, eclectic group of sources, including the King James Bible, an Andrews Sisters song, a Yom Kippur prayer, poems by Federico García Lorca, and Whitman, a Scientology precept, and a Burger King commercial.
I’m beginning to think that Mr Cohen, his protestations notwithstanding, has indeed discovered where good songs come from – and returns there quite often.
Next in this series: Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: #3. Artistic Design – The Utility, Magic, & Mystery Of Songs
Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post is by Ian Cook/Time Life Pictures. Image of The People’s Songbook found at Leonard Cohen Prologues
Excerpt from Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons: