The “It Just Feels” Story Thus Far
Two weeks ago, Heck Of A Guy published It Just Feels – Yet Another Leonard Cohen Song You (Probably) Haven’t Heard, a post which offered the basics about “It Just Feels,” written by Leonard Cohen (one of those few songs song written but never performed by Cohen) and David A Stewart and recorded by Sylvie Maréchal in 1992.1
In addition to providing a streaming rendition of the song and such fundamental data as its history, lyrics, and the album in which it appeared, that earlier post noted that this
… lesser known Leonard Cohen composition offers not only an opportunity for most fans to hear an unfamiliar Leonard Cohen song, echoes of which resonate in another song Cohen debuted in 2009, but also provides a minor mystery for those fans to ponder:
Why did Leonard Cohen write one song and one song only
(“It Just Feels”) that is co-credited to David Stewart, best
known, albeit unfairly, as the half of The Eurythmics
not named Annie Lennox, for an attractive, then up
and coming French vocalist, Sylvie Maréchal, who has since
denounced the album(s) on which the song appeared?
The first step in resolving this issue is acquiring a more complete picture of Dave Stewart.
Annie Lennox was lead singer and Dave Stewart the “music half” of the Eurythmics, an incredibly popular pop-rock group that achieved worldwide renown for their hit singles and albums, including chart toppers such as Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).
During the same time Stewart was recording and touring with the Eurythmics, he was also working with other musicians. In 1985, Stewart co-produced the album Southern Accents for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as co-writing several songs for the album. That same year, he also produced the debut solo album by Feargal Sharkey. In 1986, he collaborated with Bob Geldof on tracks for his debut solo album Deep in the Heart of Nowhere. In 1987, Stewart co-wrote and co-produced several tracks for Mick Jagger’s album Primitive Cool.
Stewart and Lennox disbanded the Eurythmics in 1990.2
Dave Stewart then moved to France where he soon released two albums, both of which went gold in France, with his new band The Spiritual Cowboys. In 1990, his instrumental with saxophonist Candy Dulfer, “Lily Was Here,” did well on the charts in Britain and Europe. He also began writing film soundtracks and collaborated extensively with other musicians, including singer Terry Hall of The Specials.3
One of the singers Stewart4 produced was Sylvie Maréchal.
Dave Stewart produced and wrote songs for Maréchal’s second album, Faith Healing (1992) and the French version of Faith Healing, Voie Lactée, which was released in 1993.
“It Just Feels,” the second track on both Faith Healing and Voie Lactée. Officially, it is credited to “Leonard Cohen – Adaptation: David A. Stewart / Johnny Turnbull.”5
Which brings us to …
The Dave Stewart – Leonard Cohen Connection
The song has always been some kind of a mystery for me, too. I remember that I got some secondhand information about it in mid-90′s. The story was that Dave and Leonard met at a party, discussed their work and somehow got an idea to write a song together. I cannot confirm wheather it is true or not.
We know for sure HOW they did it – they sent drafts back and forth by telefax. This was again confirmed by Dominiqe Boile who found a newspaper clipping from his archive.
At some point there was a rumor that L was singing in the background in one of the songs on Dave’s own solo album. I asked Leonard about it some ten years ago or so and he said it is not true.
Unfortunately that’s all I know!! Attached is Dominique’s clipping!
Note that this clipping does not refer directly to Faith Healing (1992) or Voie Lactée (1993), the albums which included “It Just Feels,” but instead pertains to Greetings From The Gutter, a 1994 album Stewart released to little commercial success. I asked Jarkko to address this point. His comments follows:
Indeed this clipping refers to the “Greetings from the Gutter” album.
However, I heard the telefax story already before this album was made,
so probably L and D produced songs more than once!
At this point, I had contacted a dozen or so renowned Cohenologists. Of this group, only Jarkko and Patrice Clos, webmaster of the French Leonard Cohen Site, were able to provide concrete information about the issues at hand.6 Messages sent to Sylvie Maréchal and Dave Stewart went unheeded.
What’s a blogger to do?
Well, said blogger could, theoretically, ask Leonard Cohen – heck, why wouldn’t he take time from recording a new album, playing with the grandchildren, etc to answer a question or two about an obscure song he co-wrote for someone else almost 20 years ago?
More to the point, said blogger, while not the perpetually hopeful, optimistic sort, did want to eventually publish a post about this song and felt obliged to first make a good faith attempt to obtain the needed information from at least the obvious possible sources, not the least obvious of which would be the songwriter himself. (Besides, a no-reply from the songwriter would fit nicely with the no-replies from the performer and the album producer to make a complete set.)
So, I sent this message to Leonard Cohen:
I’m writing in hopes you would be willing to answer a couple of questions about “It Just Feels,” the song for which you and Dave Stewart share credit and which Sylvie Maréchal performed.
1. How did the mechanics of the collaboration work? I’ve been told you collaborated with Dave Stewart on this song by exchanging faxes – and that you also worked with him on other songs via faxes as well. Are either or both of those points accurate?
2. How did you come to write a song with Dave Stewart for Sylvie Maréchal? In an interview, Sylvie Maréchal seems to imply you wrote the song specifically for her, but, as above, I’m told you collaborated with Dave Stewart on other songs so it’s possible he was the primary mover in the process. Or both could be true. Or neither. Or … . Anyway, if you could help me understand why you decided to write this song with Dave Stewart and for Sylvie Maréchal, I’d be grateful.
Shortly, I received the response:
It’s a bit of a blur, but somehow Dave Stewart and I were in touch -not sure if we actually met – and I got a bunch of lyrics to him, I guess it was by fax.
These were lyrics that I couldn’t seem to invite into a tune myself. I very much admired Dave Stewart’s work, and I thought he might be able to do something with them.
I believe he was the primary mover in the enterprise. I don’t recall being in touch with Sylvie Maréchal.
I don’t remember how it all turned out. Memory very shaky here.
I think I had the general feeling that it wasn’t his best work, or mine.
So, in this game of Pop Music Clue, we now know it was Leonard Cohen in the music room with a fax machine, 7 motivated by his admiration for Dave Stewart’s tunes.
And we know Leonard Cohen thinks
I had the general feeling that it wasn’t his best work, or mine.
Well, it’s not as cool as, say, Leonard confessing that the song somehow resulted from a hitherto secret romantic tryst or, for that matter, as Leonard using this opportunity to finally accept my long-standing, ongoing open invitation for an interview with me,8 but I suppose bloggers can’t be choosers.
Update: Other Heck Of A Guy Posts About “It Just Feels”
- Why Singer Sylvie Maréchal Denounced The Album In Which “It Just Feels” By Leonard Cohen Appears
- It Just Feels – Yet Another Leonard Cohen Song You (Probably) Haven’t Heard
- A precipitant of this discussion was Arlene Dick’s serendipitous meeting with Dave Stewart, an account of which can be found on Arlene’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook at Dave Stewart is a “Big Fan of Leonard Cohen.” [↩]
- The Eurythmics reunited in 1999 for the album Peace and another world tour and in 2005 to record two new tracks for the greatest hits package Ultimate Collection. [↩]
- Mac enthusiasts may recall that in 1993, Stewart also appeared in an for the Power Macintosh in which he riffed on the word “power.” [↩]
- While our interest in Stewart centers on the early 1990s when “It Just Feels” was written and recorded , it would be remiss not to note that he has become increasingly recognized not only as an especially talented musician and producer (Stewart won a Grammy as a producer and was named “Best Producer” at the 1986 BRIT Awards in London) but also as an entrepreneur, recently winning a ranking as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company Magazine. In 2002, Stewart developed a campaign turning former South African president Nelson Mandela’s prison number into a telephone number for donating to the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa; he then wrote and recorded songs with Paul McCartney, Bono Edge, and others that could be heard only through that number. He also co-produced the album Destination Anywhere for Jon Bon Jovi, as well as co-writing several tracks (1997), collaborated with Bryan Ferry on his 2002 album Frantic, co-writing several tracks and co-producing one of them, co-produced Ringo Starr’s 2008 album Liverpool 8, collaborated with Mick Jagger to record songs for the Alfie soundtrack (2004), co-created the comic books Walk-In (2006) and Zombie Broadway (2008), both published by Virgin Comics, … – there’s more but you get the idea. [↩]
- Sylvie Maréchal: Discography [↩]
- The material obtained from Patrice Clos will be included in a later post on singer Sylvie Maréchal. [↩]
- This is not, of course, the first Leonard Cohen story in which a fax machine has played a role.
The best known example is described in Why Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ endures by Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune, April 30, 2009):
John Cale once asked Cohen for the lyrics to the song because he wanted to perform it, and was stunned when Cohen faxed over 15 verses, only a few of which the songwriter used in his original version. [emphasis mine]
Jarkko himself was the recipient of faxed goodies from Leonard Cohen. As Jarkko tells it in Thus Spoke Jarkko – The Jarkko Arjatsalo Q&A:
Some of Leonard’s lines from our first contacts are still located in The Files: “I want to send, among other things, the first manuscript scratchings for Suzanne and other early songs. I’d like to make the process clear, or at least throw some light on the mysterious activity of writing.”
The next day, Leonard’s manager sent me a super long telefax (the machines of that time still used rolls) with drawings and early manuscripts of poems and song lyrics. A few days later, color copies of the same items materialized in Finland by courier. I started uploading those tidbits to the “Blackening Pages” section of The Files, one by one. Many of these drawings and poems were later published in Leonard’s “Book Of Longing.” [emphasis mine]
And from Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head? by Tim de Lisle (The Guardian, 17 September 2004):
In 1995 Cohen’s manager, Kelley Lynch, put together Tower of Song, a set of his compositions sung by bigger stars including Sting and Bono. She asked Phil Collins, who turned her down. Cohen himself sent Collins a fax, saying: “Would Beethoven refuse the invitation of Mozart?” Collins faxed back: “No, unless Beethoven was on a world tour at the time.” Cohen understood: “It’s kind of a pain in the ass, to think about somebody else’s dismal songs when you’re not even in the studio.” [emphasis mine] [↩]
- For the record – If Leonard finds it more comfortable, I would agree, as an alternative, to be interviewed by him. [↩]