Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Read Online – Al Purdy’s “Highly Personal Look At The Writings Of Leonard Cohen” 1964


Compass Points By Al Purdy

In 1964, Al Purdy, who has been called Canada’s “unofficial poet laureate,” wrote a 14 page consideration of Leonard Cohen’s prose and poetry, which was published as Alfred Purdy, “Leonard Cohen: A Personal Look” in  Canadian Literature 23 (Winter 1965). It’s an interesting discussion – very much a poet’s perspective on another poet’s work.


Spoiler Alert

As a sampling from the piece, I’ve excerpted below the final two paragraphs (click on image to enlarge):


As far as I can determine, this paper is available for viewing only at the A.W. Purdy Digital Archive hosted by the University of Saskatchewan Special Collections. It’s an insightful, worthwhile read, accessible at

Compass points: A highly personal look
at the writings of Leonard Cohen

Must See Video Online Again: Leonard Cohen’s Brilliant 1988 Oslo Interviews & Performances


See This Video Now – It May Disappear Again

This video, first broadcast on Norwegian TV in May 1988, comprises interviews interspersed with performances from Cohen’s concert in Oslo Konserthus, Norway. As I posted then

The quality of the performances, the content of the interviews (which includes Cohen’s prose, poetry, and art as well as his music), the interviewer’s (Vera Kvaal) skills, and the video and audio recordings are uniformly excellent. The only obvious negative is the choice to sometimes interrupt the songs with interviews.


Topics include Cohen’s ties to Montreal, Israeli-Palestinian politics, Cohen’s self-view as a songwriter Vs a poet, his greater popularity in Europe than in the US, and his plans to install new parking meters after he takes Manhattan and Berlin.


Songs performed (some interrupted by interview segments) include First We Take Manhattan (complete), Joan Of Arc, I’m Your Man, Chelsea Hotel #2, Hallelujah, Tower Of Song, & Take This Waltz.

Leonard Cohen in Oslo 80′s
Video from Ft Mikke

Video: The Comedic Stylings Of Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen: Godfather Of Gloom

Among Leonard Cohen’s many nicknames,1 several fall into the category represented by this section’s heading2 – namely, Leonard Cohen is one morose son of a gun.

Consider, for example, these monickers that have been applied to the Canadian singer-songwriter:


  • Master Of Erotic Despair3
  • Poet Laureate Of Pessimism4
  • Laughing Lennie (Used sardonically)5
  • Grand Master of Melancholia6

There are more, but you get the idea. A few nicknames, however, hint that Leonard Cohen can be funny – but in his own special, gloomy way:

  • Joking Troubadour of Gloom7
  • Existential Comedian8
  • Mel Brooks Of Misery9

To counter the grotesquely mistaken perspective that Leonard Cohen is gloom incarnate, I’ve put together a video of Cohen humor. The majority of this video is devoted to remarks Cohen makes during his concerts presented here without the annoying interruptions of those songs he insists on performing between comic turns.

1. Acceptance of 1993 Juno Male Vocalist Award & demonstration of Cohen’s golden voice (1988)
2. Warning to audience that he is going to “fire up” his synthesizer & an exhibition of his solo skills on that instrument (2013)
3. Reverend Leo’s Toronto Revival Meeting (1993)
4. Five words Cohen chooses to describe himself
5. Meeting Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel
6. The Saga of Raphael Gayol (2010)
7. Cohen’s Zen names
8. Everybody wants a long stem (2012)
9. Cohen’s six stages of man’s allure to women (2013)
10. Cohen announces plan to resume smoking at age 80 (2013)
11. Leonard Cohen – Just a kid with a crazy dream (2009)

Volume 1

Because many of the segments are taken from the most recent tours, fans may be familiar with some of this material, but I find these routines entertaining even on repeated viewings. And, there are some bits I think will be new to most viewers.

Finally, the video’s title is actually “The Comedic Stylings Of Leonard Cohen: Volume 1;” if this video is well received, I plan a series of such efforts.

The Comedic Stylings Of Leonard Cohen
Video by Allan Showalter

  1. 163 of those aliases with examples of usage can be found at Leonard Cohen, AKA … – The Nicknames []
  2. “Godfather Of Gloom” is from Ten or More Questions I Should Have Asked Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. 2 July 1993 []
  3. Re: Master of Erotic Despair from 2000/01/28 []
  4. An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Richard Guilliatt, The Sunday Times Magazine (London), December 12, 1993 []
  5. Rock’s Backpages Audio, February 1988 []
  6. Cohen Regrets by Alastair Pirrie. New Musical Express, March 10, 1973 []
  7. The Joking Troubadour of Gloom by Tim Rostron. The Telegraph. April 26, 1993 []
  8. Ten or More Questions I Should Have Asked Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. 2 July 1993 []
  9. Back to Life with a Blast from the Rocket Man by Ben Thompson. The Independent: May 16, 1993 []

Video: Roscoe Beck Talks About New Leonard Cohen CD & Tour In 2014


Also Co-producing New Jennifer Warnes CD

In an interview during the 2014  NAMM1 meeting at the TC Electronic2 booth, Roscoe Beck spoke of his plans for 2014, including working on Leonard Cohen’s new CD, co-producing a new Jennifer Warnes CD, and “maybe a little more touring with Leonard at the end of the year.”

Note: The date of the interview is not given; the 2014 NAMM meeting took place Jan 23-26 in Anaheim, CA.

The video is cued to start with Roscoe’s discussion of his 2014 plans.

Roscoe Beck And Greg Koch TC Electronic NAMM 2014
Published Feb 7, 2014
Video from TC Electronic

Related Story: Arbetarbladet Story Claims Leonard Cohen To Play Göransson Arena In Sandviken, Sweden Nov 2014

Credit Due Department: I was alerted to this video by a LeonardCohenForum post by rpan.

  1. NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), commonly called NAMM in reference to the organization’s popular NAMM trade shows, is the not-for-profit association that promotes the pleasures and benefits of making music and strengthens the $17 billion global music products industry. Source: NAMM web site []
  2. TC Electronic is a Danish audio equipment manufacturer which produces guitar effects, bass amplification, computer audio interfaces, audio plug-in software, live sound equalisers, studio and post production equipment, studio effect processors and broadcast loudness processors and meters. Source: Wikipedia []

Video: Leonard Cohen & Anjani Thomas Talk About Their Musical And Personal Relationships


Originally posted on this site November 15, 2011, this brief (2 minutes) video featuring an interview with Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas by Luce Gauthier and clips from Anjani’s performances seems especially pertinent now with Anjani’s new CD scheduled for release soon.

The interview took place in Toronto during the promotion of the Blue Alert album (released in Canada on May 2, 2006) and appears to have originally aired on TFO, the Franco-Ontarian public television network.

While most fans will already be familiar with the information in the interview, this new opportunity to hear Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas articulate the strengths each brought to their collaboration in creating Blue Alert shouldn’t be missed.

Video from DiffusionLuce

Expanding Scope By Eliminating Content: Leonard Cohen’s Disciplined Revision Of A Singer Must Die


Both the studio and concert versions of the final verse are provided in Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs By Leonard Cohen (Vintage: November 1, 1994)

I think all my songs are political in a certain way but that one [A Singer Must Die] especially in the recorded version where the last verse is really very strong against a certain kind of authority. ~ Leonard Cohen1

A Verse Rewritten From The Studio To The Stage

Leonard Cohen released A Singer Must Die as the second track on the New Skin For The Old Ceremony album released August 1974, and he sang the studio version at concerts in 1974.  By 1975, he had completely rewritten the last verse of the song, creating the version he has sung since onstage.2 (The lyrics themselves are available in the next two sections of this post.)

Of course, Leonard Cohen revising the lyrics of his songs is hardly an exceptional event; rather, it is integral to his songwriting methodology, an extension of his habit of writing many, many polished verses and then discarding all except the pristine lines that precisely convey his message before presenting his work to the public. Cohen has expounded this strategy, often in quasi-apologetic tones, in several interviews. A short sampling follows:

I have about fifty verses of “Democracy” that I discarded.3

[Leonard Cohen] showed me the bookshelves crammed with volumes of notebooks, each packed not only with the famous finished versions of his songs, but also with the countless revisions of these songs, and all the discarded verses he labored over and ultimately excised from his songs. “The thing is,” he explained, “before I can discard the verse, I have to write it. The bad verses take as long as the good verses to write. The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines. You can’t see that in the raw.” He writes and rewrites his songs for as long as it takes4

Cohen explained that he had never stopped writing, and that he produced work slowly because of his painful perfectionism, a trait that led him to originally write 80 verses for Hallelujah. “My trouble is that before I can discard a verse I have to polish it first. It takes a long time.I never feel like I’ve stopped working. It might look to the marketplace that nothing is happening but the workshop has never shut down.”5

Further, Cohen does not consider the lyrics (or the musical arrangement) of a song locked in by its appearance on the playlist of a series of concerts (e.g., Chelsea Hotel6 )  or by its release on a recording (e.g., Hallelujah7 ).

Consequently, this post is focused not on the supposed rarity or novelty of Cohen’s alteration in the lyrics of the final verse of  A Singer Must Die but on the insight into Cohen’s goals as a songwriter proffered by a simple comparison between the two versions.

Lyrics of Final Verse of A Singer Must Die:
Studio Version (New Skin For The Old Ceremony)

I am so afraid that I listen to you,
your sun glassed protectors they do that to you.
It’s their ways to detain, their ways to disgrace,
their knee in your balls and their fist in your face.
Yes and long live the state by whoever it’s made,
sir,  I didn’t see nothing, I was just getting home late.

Leonard Cohen – A Singer Must Die
Performed With Studio Version Final Verse

Berlin: September 24, 1974
Video from ALB123Videos

Lyrics of Final Verse of A Singer Must Die:
Representative Concert Verse (Sligo: July 31, 2010)

And save me a place in a twelve dollar grave
With those who took money for the pleasure they gave
With those always ready, with those who undress
So you could lie down with your head on somebody’s warm breast
And the ladies go moist, and the judge has no choice,
A singer must die for the lie in his voice

Leonard Cohen – A Singer Must Die
Performed With A Concert Version Of Final Verse
Sligo: July 31, 2010
Video from albertnoonan

The Introductions & The Critics

One commentator appears obsessed with the notion that the song has to do with critics and singers. That commentator would be Mr Leonard Cohen. The following quotations are among his introductions to concert performances of A Singer Must Die.8

This song is for my critics and for my judges and for those who give marks to us everywhere, who evaluate our performance whether it is in the courtroom or the cloakroom or the bedroom. This is for the judges. [Frankfurt 06/10/74]

In this next song I wrote from the feeling of being on trial – everyone’s on trial -. In every living-room there’s a trial going on, in every bedroom there’s a trial going on, not just in the courtrooms, not just in the jails, but in the most private places of our lives, yeah we subject each other to judgement and to trial. [Hanover November 11th, 1979]

I’ve always been attached to those songs that you sing when you don’t feel like singing. I’ve read some reviews of my concerts, over the past several months, and I’m very happy that my suit is so well observed. Sometimes my suit whispers to me from the closet “Do not forget me” it whispers throughout the song and here, I crucify on this hanger (..) suit. [San Francisco June 8th, 1985]

The critics have begun to be very kind to me. I am reminded of that aphorisms articulated by the great cinema master who is now in disgrace, Woody Allen. “Most of life is just showin’ up.” [Boston 16/07/93]

Leonard Cohen Talks To John McKenna About A Singer Must Die & McKenna Talks Back

At least one interviewer directly addressed the fact that the lyrics of this specific song had been rewritten. This excerpt is from How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns, a radio interview with Leonard Cohen by John McKenna9 [bolding mine]:

JM: I’ve always thought A Singer Must Die to be one of Leonard Cohen’s most overtly political songs, but I wouldn’t have classed the bulk of his other songs as political. He disagrees.

LC: I think all my songs are political in a certain way but that one especially in the recorded version where the last verse is really very strong against a certain kind of authority.

JM: But, A Singer Must Die is specifically about politics. About the struggle of the singer to keep the truth in the face of lies. Listening to it the ghost of Victor Harrer[?] is in the air. So where did the song come from?

LC: I guess that’s some kind of basic view I hold about the thing, that it doesn’t really matter what the singer is speaking of, it doesn’t really matter what the song is. There’s something I listen for in a singer’s voice and that’s some kind of truth. It may even be truth of deception, it may even be the truth of the scam, the truth of the hustle in the singers own presentation, but something is coming across that is true, and if that isn’t there the song dies. And the singer deserves to die too, and will, in time, die. So the thing that I listen for is that note of something big manifested that is beyond the singer’s control.

JM: Cohen has rewritten the song significantly, moving it out of the specifically political realm and widening its relevance. Making the issues more mundane and thus, more universal. Bringing the war down to a struggle between individuals. Save me a place in the ten dollar grave with those who took money for the pleasure they gave. With those always ready, with those who undressed so you could lay down with their head on your breast. A struggle between men and women.

LC: Well I think that’s in there and me, I just happen to go through those conventional approaches to love. It is a very subversive position. Subversive is not quite the word – it’s a radical position in that song that is beyond left and right. It talks about a reaction, an organic reaction, a convulsive reaction, that’s not even a strategy or a plan of action, it just – you just can’t tolerate the way things are. You can’t lay the responsibility to the police or to the critics or to anything – but the whole song says there’s a lie and because there’s a lie it’s going to die.

JM: He has never recorded the re-written version, though it’s the one he sings in concert. It’s the one which appears on Jennifer Warnes album Famous Blue Raincoat. 

Yeah, What He Said, Except …

Agreeing with an analysis by someone else is a disconcerting experience for a blogger.  My most relished task is pointing out how the established critics, self-designated experts, journalists, biographers, and other grownups got it wrong about Leonard Cohen.

Alas, in this case, I fear Mr McKenna has quite neatly summarized the effect of the rewritten lyrics as “moving it [the song] out of the specifically political realm and widening its relevance.”

I do, however, have a possibly useful observation to add that makes for a more nuanced understanding of Leonard Cohen’s songwriting tactics.

Cohen, to paraphrase McKenna’s explanation, does indeed widen the relevance of the song – but he does not forcibly inflict a universal theme. He does not, for example, poetically limn the proposition  that the principles addressed herein are hereby held to pertain to love, war, court trials, business conflicts, tumult within relationships, critics judging artists, athletic contests, religious controversies, … .

Instead, he accomplishes this relevance-widening efficaciously and lyrically by courageously eliminating his painstakingly produced final verse, one he seems to himself admire (“… especially in the recorded version where the last verse is really very strong against a certain kind of authority”) and replacing it with – well, nothing much that’s new to the song.

Of the revised final verse’s six lines, the last two are, in fact, identical to the last two lines of the first verse, the only repeated lines in the song:

And the ladies go moist, and the judge has no choice,
A singer must die for the lie in his voice

The four new lines follow:

And save me a place in a twelve dollar grave
With those who took money for the pleasure they gave
With those always ready, with those who undress
So you could lie down with your head on somebody’s warm breast

Make no mistake – these lines are not empty placeholders.  This section clarifies, deepens, and enhances the notion that “A singer must die for the lie in his voice.” The imagery of a prostitute’s “twelve dollar grave” (it’s a three dollar grave in some versions; perhaps because of market fluctuations) is powerful. But the key is that the central theme, ”A singer must die for the lie in his voice,” has already been introduced. The last verse is enrichment of a motif, not new data.

The important change is the elimination of the angry, anti-authoritarian  rebuke to the  state. “Their knee in your balls and their fist in your face. / Yes and long live the state by whoever it’s made.”  Indeed.

There is no indication that Cohen retracted this sentiment because he repented this stance and become a supporter of fascist governments.

Instead, he has honored, as few can, the longstanding editing dictate that writers must ruthlessly revise.  Stephen King’s presentation of this principle is pertinent if a tad over-dramatic:

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings

Cohen trusts his own skill and judgement to prune distractions from his central message regardless of how much effort he expended on creating those beguilements  and how dazzling they might be  – and he trusts his audience to get the joke without exhaustive explanations. Cohen himself provides a fitting close to this post in this final excerpt:

He [Leonard Cohen] isn’t the type who feels songs should spill out in one inspirational rush, and is always ready to delete an idea if it doesn’t seem to work. “I’m tempted to remove everything,” he said. “At any time I’ve got a kind of alcoholic courage. Most people are reluctant to remove things. My sin is on the other side. I’m ready to discard the whole song at any time and start over.”10

The Inevitable Disclaimer

A consideration of the reasons Leonard Cohen chose the original, now abandoned lyrics of final verse of A Singer Must Die  and, especially, the means by which Leonard Cohen weaves this musical tapestry is beyond the decidedly non-universal scope of this post.11

Jugurtha Harchaoui has pointed out, for example, that “the singer (or flute player, or poet, or cantor) that must be eliminated because he is seen as subversive is a very old theme in literature.”12 An exploration of this idea alone would would have engorged an already lengthy post to Brobdingnagian proportions. And as for factoring in the single report that Leonard Cohen wrote A Singer Must Die “at least partially in response to his having learned that he was on President Nixon’s ‘Enemies List,’”13 well, I have a blog to write.

  1. How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John Mckenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988 []
  2. There have actually been many versions of the final verse performed in concert, most varying by only a few words. The Sligo performance, the video of which is embedded in this post, is representative. The French LeonardCohenSite offers over a dozen differing versions of the last verse from various post-1974 concerts. []
  3. Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz, a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. Transcript found at Speaking Cohen. []
  4. Leonard Cohen by Paul Zollo. Boulevard Magazine []
  5. Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas Album: New Gems From An Old Master By Bernadette McNulty. The Telegraph: Jan 19, 2012 []
  6. See Chelsea Hotel #1 By Leonard Cohen []
  7. Compare lyrics of studio version as released on Various Positions album with those released on the Cohen Live album []
  8. All quotes are from Diamonds In The Lines []
  9. How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns, an interview with Leonard Cohen presented by John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Transcribed by Martin Godwyn. Found at LeonardCohenFiles []
  10. Leonard Cohen by Paul Zollo. Boulevard Magazine []
  11. I’m quite taken with this “beyond the scope of this piece” thing.  For an essayist, it’s like a Get Out Of Jail Free card. []
  12. Personal communication []
  13. It Seems So Long Ago: Random Memories & Vignettes of Leonard In Person by David Whiteis. Retrieved 04 February 2014 from Speaking Cohen []