Tag Archives: Nico

How Leonard Cohen Helped Nico Get Her Song

Nico accompanying herself

Leonard Cohen’s Recommendation To Nico

While there is no public proclamation by Nico analogous to Leonard Cohen’s Prince of Asturias Awards Speech, in which he tells the “story of how I got my song,” expressing his gratitude to his guitar teacher for playing a key role n that process, that acknowledges Cohen’s contribution to Nico’s music, the Canadian singer-songwriter did make a specific recommendation that significantly influenced the sound of the Andy Warhol superstar once known as Christa Päffgen.

That suggestion is described in this excerpt from an album review of Nico – Frozen Borderline 1968-1970 by Andy Gill (Uncut, publication date not given):

Part of the inspiration for the album [The Marble Index] came from another ex-lover, Leonard Cohen, who encouraged Nico to take up the harmonium, the pedal-powered keyboard instrument whose wheezing drones would subsequently underpin all her future work, and which furnished a suitably haunting, miasmic base for her own compositions.

Brian Dillon, writing in Nico (Frieze,Issue 107, May 2007), elaborates:

The genius of these albums [The Marble Index (1968) and Desertshore (1970)] consists in Nico’s having found a sonic palette that very nearly replicates the voice, an instrumental mirror for her stentorian vowels and long, lifeless sibilants. On the advice of Leonard Cohen (who knew a thing or two about playing to one’s weaknesses), Nico had taken up the harmonium: it wheezes and yawns in perfect consort with her desiccated vocals. It’s that sound, allied with a certain limited array of lyrical tropes, that has given The Marble Index, in particular, a reputation as one of the bleakest records ever made.

Nico And Her Harmonium

Wikipedia provides a helpful summary and photos of the instrument:

A harmonium is a free-standing keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ. Sound is produced by air being blown through sets of free reeds, resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion. The air is usually supplied by bellows operated by the foot, hand, or knees.

Western Harmonium

In North America, the most common pedal-pumped free-reed keyboard instrument is known as the “American reed organ”, (or “parlor organ”, “pump organ”, “cabinet organ”, “cottage organ”, etc.) and along with the earlier melodeon, is operated by a suction bellows where air is sucked through the reeds to produce the sound. A reed organ with a pressure bellows that pushes the air through the reeds is referred to as a “harmonium”. In much of Europe, the term harmonium is used to describe all pedal-pumped keyboard free-reed instruments, making no distinction whether it has a pressure or suction bellows. In India, the term generally refers to a hand-pumped instrument.

Indian Harmonium

Nico played a portable, hand-operated Indian version.

Nico’s harmonium was fittingly customized; note the bottle at the foot of the instrument in the photo on the right.

Leonard Cohen Protects Nico From Injury

Regardless of ones valuation of the impact of the harmonium on Nico’s musical oeuvre, Leonard Cohen did at least prevent possible harm to her. In Nico’s show at the Free University in Berlin, she made the mistake of singing Deutschland über Alles, causing a riot. Fortunately, her harmonium shielded her against the hailstorm of beer bottles.1 If Cohen had instead recommended she play, for example, a piccolo, musical history might have been forever altered.

Video: Nico On Harmonium Live 1987

Other Posts Featuring Nico

Leonard Cohen recounts a long list of unrequited efforts to court Nico; the concluding lines of two of the stories he tells about attempting to woo her are telling:

Nico hauled off and hit me so hard it lifted me clean off the bed.2

Nico eventually told me, “Look, I like young boys. You’re just too old for me.”3

More about their connection can be found at

Credit Due Department: Photo atop post found at Graham-Russell Blog. Photo featuring bottle-equipped harmonium by Serge Dumonteil. Found at StevieDixon.com. The photo to the left of the Serge Dumonteil photo is from Wikipedia.

  1. Nico: The End by James Young (Overlook, 1st edition September 1, 1993) []
  2. See That Leonard Cohen Article With His Romanian Girlfriend Michelle In The Opening Photo []
  3. See Ambushed In New York, Leonard Cohen Meets Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, & Aryan Ice Queen Nico []

Ambushed In New York, Leonard Cohen Meets Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, & Aryan Ice Queen Nico

Lou Reed, Nico, Jackson Browne

Leonard Cohen – Lost In New York

Leonard Cohen provides, in his own words, an  entertaining synopsis of  his time in New York during the 1960s, including the kind words Lou Reed had for him and the less kind words of dismissal he received from Nico:1

In 1966 I borrowed some money from a friend in Montreal and came down to the great empire, America, to try to make my way. I had written a few books and I couldn’t make a living. I played in a country band and I loved country music and I had a few songs I thought were country songs and I was on my way ultimately to Nashville but I got ambushed in New York by the folk renaissance — and got my first public appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In New York I found this huge explosion of things and I was interested in this enlightened community being promoted in the east side of New York and I would go down there but I couldn’t locate it.

I walked into a club called the Dome and I saw someone singing there who looked like she inhabited a Nazi poster; it was Nico, the perfect Aryan ice queen.

And there was a very handsome young man playing for her; he turned out to be Jackson Browne.

I just stood there and said forget the new society, this is the woman I’ve been looking for. I followed her all around New York.

She led me to Max’s Kansas City. I met Lou Reed there and he said something very kind to me which made me feel at home. I had no particular clout in that scene. I was just a guy who was a little older than the other guys, just sniffing around like everybody else. I was very lonely and mostly interested in finding a girl. Lou came over and introduced himself and said, “I love your book.” I never knew anybody knew my books because they only sold a few thousand copies in America. We were sitting at a table and some guy was bugging me, in a polite sort of way, and I was responding in a polite sort of way, and Lou Reed said to me, “Hey, man, you don’t have to be nice to this guy. You don’t have to be nice to anybody. You’re the man who wrote ‘Beautiful Losers.’”

Nico eventually told me, “Look, I like young boys. You’re just too old for me.”

  1. From Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen 1994 []

Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga’s Poem, And The Andy Warhol Scene

10 Poems For 10 Poets by Gerard Malanga

From 10 Poems For 10 Poets. Photo by Bob Cato

Guy Minnebach On Gerard Malanga’s Poem To Leonard Cohen

Guy Minnebach

I recently received an intriguing email from Guy Minnebach, an Antwerp newspaper editor currently on sabbatical who has followed  Leonard Cohen’s career since the mid-1970s and who retains a vivid memory of  Cohen crooning “Iodine” in a 1979 concert.

In his email, Guy wrote

In an old magazine I recently found this poem by Gerard Malanga addressed to & about Leonard Cohen. The magazine is an underground magazine called ‘New York Scenes’, issue from September 1969.

As you probably know, Malanga was one of the most important figures in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. It is also known that Cohen while in New York in the 60s frequented the café /concert hall Max’s Kansas City, where  the Warhol crowd also hung out…

It’s a long poem and rather funny, in which Malanga contemplates his poetic writing skills and love life, and wonders (or doubts) if Leonard’s way of doing things is the right one…

Guy went on to ask if I might be interested in the poem.

As it turns out, I’m very interested.

Leonard Cohen’s Oft Mentioned, Rarely Explained Association with Andy Warhol et al

You see, I repeatedly come across references to Leonard Cohen’s connections with Andy Warhol and Warhol’s crowd.   The problem is that these references are typically anecdotes or fragments of anecdotes that exist in isolation and are presented as little more than asides.  Consequently, characterizing Leonard Cohen’s interactions with the Andy Warhol gang is difficult.

Most references, like these examples, serve primarily as filler for biographical summaries and simply allude to an ambiguous association:

In the mid 1960’s he [Leonard Cohen] left for New York and met the renowned artist Andy Warhol.1

Cohen became a cult figure during the 1960s, and was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd.2

Others imply a more significant connection:

Drawling crooner Leonard Cohen is a renaissance man in every sense. Ladies’ man, poet, monk, bankrupt, bohemian consort to Andy Warhol and drunken troubadour to a generation of angst-ridden teenagers, … .3

After falling in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” crowd, Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, failed to make a huge impact.4

So, according to these accounts, Andy and Leonard only met or Leonard Cohen was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd or Cohen was a bohemian consort (whatever that is) to Warhol or Leonard Cohen not only fell in with Andy Warhol and the “Factory” but said falling in apparently had something to do with the the Songs Of Leonard Cohen album failing to make an impact.

Got that?

Andy Warhol

Further, most detailed reports that are available focus on Cohen’s personal connections to Lou Reed and Nico.  Now, it is true that Lou Reed, along with John Cale, was the major force behind the Velvet Underground and that  Andy Warhol, who became the manager of the band in 1965, pushed the group to collaborate with Nico so Reed and Nico were in Warhol’s cast of characters when Cohen met them.5

Extrapolating, however,  from Cohen’s infatuation with Nico and the mutual admiration he shared with Lou Reed a  meaningful association between Cohen and Warhol’s world seems a precarious exercise.

On the other hand, much of what went on between Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol’s Superstars, musicians, Factory functionaries, artists, and hangers-on is fascinating – and perhaps even significant. Likewise, the few tidbits available about Cohen’s participation in projects associated with Warhol or those working with him are interesting – and, I think, sometimes telling.

All this is to explain why I’m excited about Heck Of A Guy being able to offer Gerard Malanga’s poem and the attendant essay by Guy Minnebach, both of which offer insights into a poorly understood aspect of  Cohen’s career when he was making the transition from poet-novelist to singer.6

Update October 18, 2010: Those intrigued with (or bemused by) connections between Leonard Cohen and the Andy Warhol scene may be interested in a subsequently published post: Leonard Cohen And The Andy Warhol Scene – Brigid Berlin’s Cock Book

For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (New York Scenes)

For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal from New York Scenes (Sept. 1969)

Leonard Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Warhol, Nico, Lou Reed, …
By Guy Minnebach

During his life and career, Leonard Cohen has passionately loved a woman or two, that we all know. Sometimes this love was answered, sometimes it was not. And luckily for us, Cohen wrote about it all in beautiful poetry and songs.

Nico and Gerard Malanga in Warhol's 'Chelsea Girls'

In 1968 Gerard Malanga wrote a long poem on this subject, a sort of letter even: ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’. This poem, in which Malanga reflects on the connection between his private life and his writings (or the lack of necessity of it) , was first published in the magazine ‘New York Scenes’ (Sept. 1969) and later on in a slightly revised version in Malanga’s poetry book ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ (Black Sparrow Press, Los Angeles, 1970).

Gerard Malanga is a New York based poet and photographer. He has published about twenty poetry books, and was editor or coeditor of numerous poetry and art magazines. During the Sixties he was Andy Warhol’s most important associate in The Factory: he helped in creating the silk screens, was a prominent figure in Warhol’s films and co-founder of ‘Inter/View’, which was a movie magazine at first. Malanga is also famous for his whip dance during the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of multimedia shows with live music by the rock band The Velvet Underground and Nico.

Malanga knew Cohen’s poetry long before the latter moved from the Greek Island Hydra to New York in the Mid Sixties. As Andy Warhol recalls in his 1980 book ‘POPism, The Warhol ‘60’s’, when he and Malanga went to the opening of a Warhol exhibition in Toronto in 1964:

The day of the opening we loitered around the gallery, but nobody showed up – nobody. Gerard went out to browse around and came back with some poetry books that you could only get in Canada (there was one by a poet called Leonard Cohen who nobody in the States had heard of yet), so he was thrilled.

In his foreword to ’10 Poems for 10 Poets’ Malanga writes:

These poems (…) are an outgrowth of an aesthetic obsession with the theme of the aura of the poet, framing the inspiration received from the subject matter in such a way as to identify with and pay homage to each poet whose own life and work have made an impression on my own.

A remarkable line in ‘For the Poet Leonard Cohen of Montreal’ is this one:

Is it a virtue to display ones weakness for torturing dresses

It refers directly to a verse from the song ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’:

and then I confess
that I tortured the dress
that you wore for the world to see through”

As most Cohenites know, this song is about the above mentioned German chanteuse Nico, of Warhol and Velvet Underground fame. Cohen’s unrequited infatuation for Nico during his stay in New York is well documented in Chapter 7 – Black Photograph of Ira B. Nadel’s biography ‘Various Positions’, which bluntly summarizes Nico’s response to Cohen’s overtures:

Nico made it clear that nothing would happen between her and Cohen; She preferred younger men.

Cohen’s own description of Nico in his introduction to ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ at his legendary 1970 Isle Of Wight Concert, is striking:

I was coming off amphetamines and pursuing a blonde lady that I met in a Nazi poster.

(More about Nico below.)

Leonard Cohen Is One Of The Boys (Of New York)

Do you think you have seen all the films in which Leonard Cohen played a role?

Try this one. In 1967 Cohen appeared in a virtually unknown experimental movie called B.O.N.Y. (Boys Of New York) by Gregg Barrios.

Even the extraordinarily thorough UK-based website http://www.diamondsinthemine.co.uk/ did not list this film until alerted to its presence as a result of research for this post.

The flick also features … Gerard Malanga.

B.V. Olguín in ‘San Antonio Current’ (10/8/2008) concisely provides the facts relevant to the film, Warhol, Malanga, and Leonard Cohen:

Like most film buffs of the era, Barrios eventually made a pilgrimage to Andy Warhol’s notorious Manhattan Factory. Under Warhol’s tutelage, in 1967 Barrios made his own experimental film, titled BONY (Boys of New York). Shot in both black-and-white and color with a 16-millimeter Roloflex Camera, Barrios’s film captures a day in the life of the Warhol “superstars” — the poet Gerard Malanga and Rene Ricard (the poet and art critic who “discovered” Jean Michel Basquiat) — during which they meet Leonard Cohen and Vogue model Ivy Nicholson. BONY is archived at UCLA and is included on Chon Noriega’s list of 100 Best Chicano Films.

Leonard Cohen And The Andy Warhol Factory Folks

Leonard Cohen arrived in New York in the Fall of 1966. He stayed in a few small hotels at first, but the bohemian life style of the Chelsea Hotel soon got his attention. He enjoyed the folk scene and met Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan among others. His manager at the time, Mary Martin, introduced him to Columbia’s John Hammond, who signed Cohen to his first record deal.

Next, however, Cohen was to be impressed by quite another New York scene setting the tone at the time – Warhol’s entourage from The Factory.

Cohen’s best known encounters with Warhol’s associates involved Nico, Edie and Lou Reed.

Nico (née Christa Paffgen)

Cohen had a huge crush on Nico, “the tallest and the blondest girl”, as he described her in “Memories,” whom he saw perform in Warhol’s silvero foil-lined club, The Dom, in the East Village. As Leonard Cohen told Nadel in ‘Various Positions’, Nico wasa

The perfect Aryan ice queen, I suppose the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen up to that moment. I just walked up and stood in front of her until people pushed me aside.

He adored her singing and her beauty and fell deeply in love. But they would never become more than friends.

According to some, Nico also influenced Cohen’s songwriting:

All during March, Nico was still down at the Dom singing away with Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, Tim Hardin (…). Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet, was there quite a few nights in the audience down at the bar, just staring at her. Later on, when he cut a record album, I read a review that said his singing was like he was “dragging one note over the entire chromatic scale”, and I couldn’t help thinking of all those hours he’d spent listening to Nico”7

For his part, Cohen wrote at least three songs about Nico, ‘One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong’ (from Songs of Leonard Cohen), ‘Memories’ (from Death Of A Ladies Man), and ‘Take This Longing’ (from New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

In an introduction to ‘Take This Longing’ song during a 1979-concert in Hannover, Germany Cohen told the audience,

I gave her [Nico] that song. She sang it to me a couple times but never recorded it. Nico was very strange. I tried to talk to her and she always replied very mysteriously. It was only after many weeks, after being perplexed by her conversation and paralyzed by her beauty that she told me she was deaf.

Nico and Gerard Malanga

Edie Sedgwick

Edie Sedgwick

Edie Sedgwick was another of Warhol’s so called Superstars who was also an inhabitant of the Chelsea Hotel. one who died tragically at a very young age due to drug overdose.

She was the subject of the 2006 movie ‘Factory Girl’, starring Sienna Miller.

The story of Cohen’s introduction to Edie is reported by Danny Fields in ‘EDIE – An American Biograhy’ by Jean Stein (1982):

Leonard Cohen, the poet, was living down the hall. I thought it would be nice if he met Edie. He was into incense and candles, and he did a lot of reading which he got from the magic witchcraft place on Twenty-third Street on how candles should be arranged – the whole Buddhist mystical concept. He burned a lot of incense. The Chelsea didn’t like it much; they were always trying to throw him out. He used this smoky kind of stuff which floated down to the lobby, and they were always calling the fire engines.

I took him down the hall to meet Edie. (…) What was interesting to him was this line-up of candles Edie had on the mantelpiece. He was troubled when he looked at them. He said to me, “I don’t know if you should tell her this, or if I should, but those candles are arranged in such a way so they’re casting a bad spell. Fire and destruction. She shouldn’t fool around with these things, because they’re meaningful” (…) But when Leonard told Edie, she said she didn’t want to hear about such things, that was silly, they were just candles. That was ironic, wasn’t it? I mean, her life was full of warnings, probably.

It was very soon after that the apartment caught fire.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed and Nico

Nico introduced Leonard Cohen to Lou Reed, who was then front man for The Velvet Underground and who was best known for writing controversial songs such as Waiting For the Man or Heroin, about drugs, transsexuality and the rough life in the city.

Reed surprised him with his knowledge of his work. He had a copy of Flowers For Hitler, which he asked Cohen to sign, and was a early reader of Beautiful Losers. Cohen confided: ‘In those days I guess he (Reed) wasn’t getting many compliments for his work and I certainly wasn’t. So we told each other how good we were.’ (Nadel, Various Positions)

In 2008, of course, Lou Reed would introduce Leonard Cohen at his induction at the Rock and Roll hall of Fame.8

For The Poet Leonard Cohen Of Montreal
By Gerard Malanga (10 Poems For 10 Poets)

Click on image to enlarge. The poem is printed  on four pages ordered from left to right.

  1. Leonard Cohen in Belgrade by N. Dzodan. Blic Online, 5/5/2009. []
  2. Leonard Cohen Portland Tickets []
  3. Profile: Leonard Cohen, The Scotsman, 21 December 2008 []
  4. Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen by Christopher Glotfelty, Eat Drink Sleep Music, 09/21/2009 []
  5. For the record, Bob Dylan introduced Nico to Warhol, who introduced her to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Leonard Cohen saw Nico when he visited Warhol’s New York club, La Dom.  Nico then introduced Leonard Cohen to Lou Reed. []
  6. In addition, Guy Minnebach’s discovery of Malanga’s poem has led me  to consider initiating an effort to collect, collate, and organize material about this part of Cohen’s life.  But that’s a project to be discussed at another time. []
  7. Andy Warhol, POPism []
  8. See Lou Reed And Leonard Cohen Back In New York []

That Leonard Cohen Article With His Romanian Girlfriend Michelle In The Opening Photo

lc-gf

Click on image to enlarge

MOJO, September 1994: “Leonard Cohen” By John Walsh

Today’s Heck Of A Guy entry is a buffed-up version of the two year old post showcasing John Walsh’s excellent article on Leonard Cohen published in the September 1994 edition of MOJO. After reworking the material, the scanned text is significantly easier to read and and the photos are a bit sharper.

If you have any interest in Leonard Cohen and you haven’t read it, you will be entertained by it and perhaps even impressed. If you have read it, it’s probably worth a repeat visit because of the amount of material, some significant and some trivial it offers about Cohen.

mojocoverxxx500

MOJO Sept 1994 (yellow brackets around L Cohen article)

John Walsh Calls Leonard Cohen “A Benign Old Sweetie”

John Walsh, former literary editor of the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times and editor of the Independent magazine, published novelist, and currently a contributor of columns and essays, once began a column about Carrie Fisher with

I’ve interviewed some extraordinary people in my time (can I name-drop Leonard Cohen, with whom I once trashed a minibar; Joseph Heller, who wept when I asked him about his mum; and Dame Ninette de Valois, who told me to sit on my hands to stop myself from waving them about?).1

Since the publication of that Carrie Fisher column in 2004, legions of readers have, no doubt, spent sleepless nights pondering the circumstances that would result in the talented icon, Leonard Cohen, and a skilled and respected journalist like John Walsh “[trashing] a minibar” in tandem.

The mind reels.

Internet searches have not revealed the historical facts of the referenced rifling of that repository of $6 bottles of water and $18 sacks of almonds; it appears, in fact, that this information is not to be found online.2

Well, that was true until Heck Of A Guy made this gem available. Now, viewers can know the solace that comes from reading about the Walsh-Cohen minibar raid from the primary source – the article, cleverly named “Leonard Cohen,” by John Walsh from the September 1994 issue of Mojo, the one with that cover photo of a disgruntled, scruffy, uncomfortable looking Neil Young.

And there is so much more.

Treats From Leonard Cohen MOJO Article By John Walsh

Read about

  • Leonard Cohen’s admission that he played barn dance music
  • His denial that he wore gingham skirts
  • His recommendation for universal conscription
  • The Cohen C.V.: Office Worker, Elevator Operator, Short Story Writer
  • Leonard Cohen’s confession that he taunted Phil Spector’s bodyguard: You’re a motherfucking pussycat. You don’t even known how to use that [gun]3
  • His report of an encounter with Nico: Nico hauled off and hit me so hard it lifted me clean off the bed

Oh, and there is that photo of Leonard Cohen “celebrat[ing],”  according to the legend on the photo, “his 45th birthday with traditional flair [“traditional flair” apparently not pictured] and his Romanian girlfriend Michelle at his house on the Greek island of Hydra September 22, 1979: ‘I don’t like the kiss-and-tell as a form.'”

The Article

Note: This article has been scanned and remains a group of images rather than text, at least for now. All pages with text have been split so that each two-column page is viewed as two 1-column pages. Each of those columns has been enlarged for easier reading. To avoid confusion, I have also separated all non-textual components from textual material on these pages. The blackened areas are locations with images removed.

Clicking on any pages of text will enlarge them further.

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  1. I consider myself an accomplished practitioner of the parenthetical throwaway line, but I have never had the literary audacity to boldly commit, in broad daylight, a parenthetical rhetorical question, such as the specimen Mr. Walsh brazenly displays in his lede. This, I choose to believe, goes far toward explaining why Mr. Walsh writes about Leonard Cohen for prestigious periodicals while I am (appropriately) doomed to write, in my humble blog, about John Walsh writing about Leonard Cohen. (Might I suggest, however, that a self-referential parenthetical rhetorical question within a footnote to the lede effectively raises the ante? It’s to you, Mr. Walsh) []
  2. The internet is a big place with all manner of secluded spots that are lacunae on the maps of Google and the other search engines. I can only vouch that I could not find this article online. []
  3. This incident, of course, lends credence to my own (fake) account of the encounter between Cohen and Spector in Item #10 of 10 Unbelievable Secrets About Leonard Cohen []

Leonard Cohen Has Gone Bananas

cohen-banana2500

Leonard Cohen seems to have had an atypically high number (perhaps even a bunch) of banana connections, and where else, if not Heck Of A Guy, are you likely to find them gathered in one place?

leonard-banana

The Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man Cover Has A Peel

And there is a story behind that cover art. In Various Positions, his biography of Cohen, Ira Nadel describes the scene:

At a Los Angles warehouse to watch the filming of the [Jennifer] Warnes’ video, “First We Take Manhattan,” Cohen was photographed by publicist Sharon Weisz in his dark glasses, charcoal gray pin-striped suit, and white T-shirt, eating a banana. For him, the image was precise and revealing:

Sharon showed it to me later and it seemed to sum up perfectly. “Here’s this guy looking cool,” I thought, “in shades and nice suit. He seems to have a grip on things, an idea of himself.

The only thing wrong, of course, is that he was caught holding a half eaten banana.

And it suddenly occurred to me that’s everyone’s dilemma: At the times we think we’re coolest, what everyone else sees is a guy with his mouth full of banana…”

He admired the photo so much that it became the signature image for his 1988 hit album I’m Your Man, and the poster image of his 1988 world tour.1

The Other Banana Album

Surprisingly, no one seems to have connected the Cohen “I’m Your Man” banana cover with the other famous album featuring that fruit in the art:  the 1967 debut record by The Velvet Underground And Nico – The “Andy Warhol” album.

velvetbanana-1967

It doesn’t require a hot-shot shrink to hypothesize that Cohen, whose attempts to win over Nico were, by his own testimony, unsuccessful, was finally able to capture her symbolically by transposing the banana on the “Andy Warhol” cover into his own hand on the “I’m Your Man” (a wish-fulfillment recreated as an album title).

On the other hand, one supposes,  sometimes a banana is just a banana.  … and, occasionally, maybe a cigar.

Leonard Cohen Sings Banana Song And Yes, We Have No Bananas – Irving Layton Plays Second Banana

According to  I’m Your Live Man: Leonard Cohen Concerts & Live Recordings Catalogue, the content for the October 25, 1991 episode of  Much Music TV (Much Music TV Studio, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ), in which Cohen and Irving Layton were interviewed, included

1. Recitation of “If You Could See What’s Coming Next” *
2. Impromptu “banana song” at the sight of I’m Your Man cassette cover, and then Irving Layton & Leonard’s duet “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (!?) [emphasis mine]

+ Interview   * early lyrics of “The Future”

Comments: Much Music TV interview by Denise Donlon, with Cohen and Irving Layton. (1 day after Layton’s award at the “International Festival Of Authors” in Toronto; few days before Leonard’s Investiture Ceremony for Order of Canada, October 30).

While I have been unable to find a video of two of Canada’s premier poets singing “Yes, We Have No Bananas,”2 Heck Of A Guy, in association with YouTube, is pleased to offer Leonard Cohen singing “The Banana Song” to Irving Layton and the TV audience. (The final seconds of this video, with Cohen dressed in monk’s garb, were obviously tacked on to the broadcast footage in the tragically mistaken notion that this would make Leonard Cohen singing “The Banana Song” funnier.)

Cohen Subverts Banana Song Intent

As far as I can determine, this Heck Of A Guy post is the first critique of Cohen’s performance to point out that he has altered the original lyrics.

An informal transcription of Cohen’s version of “The Banana Song” follows:

I´m a Chiquita-banana and I’ve come to say
that bananas must be eaten in a certain way.
You can put them in a salad – you can bake them in a pie,
any way you are to eat them
it´s impossible to beat them,
but bananas like the climate of the very very tropical equator
so you must never put bananas in the refrigerator
oh no no no…

chiquita_hatNow, check out the official Chiquita Banana Song lyrics, according to TV Acres Advertising Mascots – People – Chiquita Banana:

I’m Chiquita Banana, and I’ve come to say
Bananas have to ripen in a certain way.
And when they are flecked with brown
and have a golden hue,
Bananas taste the best, and are the best for you.
You can put them in a salad. You can put
them in a pie – aye.
Anyway you want to eat them it’s
impossible to beat them.
But bananas like the climate of the very,
very tropical equator.
So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator.

Yes, that’s right. Leonard Cohen deleted the “ripening” lines, stripping the the instructional content from the song and thus subverting its didactic purpose.

The pure and complete original is featured in this 1940s commercial played in theaters.

Chiquita Banana Commercial (1940s)

Ongoing readers know that the Heck Of A Guy crack operatives have uncovered a number of otherwise unreported Leonard Cohen phenomenon, such as the “Everybody Licks” predecessor to today’s “Everybody Knows” lyrics, the mystery of Cohen’s stamina at age 74, and the strange parallels between Leonard Cohen and the X-Files Cigarette-Smoking Man.

To solve the case of the sabotaged “Banana Song” lyrics, however, required only a review of the Heck Of A Guy “Do I Have To Dance All Night” Archive, which turned up  art for a Latin flavored version of “Do I Have To Dance All Night,” pulled by Cohen’s record company before the 7″ single was pressed.

dancevbanana

Drafts of liner notes indicate that a romance between Cohen and Chiquita Banana began during his trip to Cuba but ended badly, apparently because Ms Banana’s highest  priority was developing her career as an advertising mascot rather than forming a relationship and because, as the title suggests, she was devoted to dance, even if that meant deferring sex.

While initially bitter (apparently, the earliest working title of the song was “Do I Have To Dance All Night, Bitch”), Cohen was later able to overcome his anger and recompose the tune for use in his European concert tours. Nonetheless, even now, 50 years after  his loss of his top banana, Cohen’s profound sadness over this unrequited love has resulted in his refusal to release the  song for sale on this side of the world.

Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen

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The final offering of this banana extracted post is the book, Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen by Roger Green. Because I find it difficult to describe, I  am turning that task over to the good folks at Publishers Weekly, who write

A British poet turns 53, moves to a Greek island, becomes obsessed with the island’s most famous ex-resident-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen-and writes a book about it all. It’s an eclectic mixture of memoir, diary, scrapbook and philosophical ramblings. Green, the poet, finds himself living next door to a garden full of banana trees owned by 1970s pop star Cohen (referred to only by the initial “L.”). Inexplicably, Green becomes powerfully attracted to the bananas and their absent owner. He begins to see bananas everywhere: in the Old Testament (did Adam and Eve clothe themselves in banana leaves?), in Robbe-Grillet poems, on the cover of L.’s album I’m Your Man. He even goes so far as to befriend some of L.’s old acquaintances on the island, including a fellow poet and L.’s former lover, Suzanne, who is, alas, not the Suzanne of the famous L. song. The goal of all this good-natured stalking is unclear, but this isn’t a book of goals, or even conclusions; it’s simply an expression of what is, clearly, an enviable and rewarding existence. Green’s idiosyncrasies occasionally annoy-as when he starts a new paragraph with the sentence, “I think I’ll start a new paragraph”-but just as often he produces little treasures, such as a raunchy 1950s rumba celebrating “Chiquita Banana, down in Martinique,” who “dresses in bananas with the modern technique.”

I will add that, while Amazon lists the volume at $25.15, there are several new books offered by private sellers at Amazon for as low as $0.61. Somewhat more surprising is Amazon’s report that Hydra and the Bananas of Leonard Cohen by Roger Green, Let Us Compare Mythologies by Leonard Cohen,  and Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen are “Frequently Bought Together”  for  a total price of $50.88.

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  1. Nadel, Ira.  Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon; 1st edition (October 8, 1996) 245-6 []
  2. For those readers who have never heard “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and those who simply wish to revel in one more rendition of the classic, I suggest popping over to YouTube to watch the 1903 short subject, Move On, featuring “Yes! We Have No Bananas” performed by the Green Brothers Orchestra, Produced by Michael J. Loughlin for the Thomas A. Edison Music Video Co. []