Charles Berberian’s Jukebox And Leonard Cohen’s Boots
This morning, I was struck by the above illustration (from Charles Berberian’s latest book, Jukebox) featuring the author discussing Leonard Cohen’s vintage boots with the Canadian singer-songwriter, exclaiming “Wow! The cowboy boots! What class !”1
That was when my itchy trigger finger started smacking the mouse button – and. not so incidentally, the point at which I lost control of this post.
Dominique Issermann’s Leonard Cohen On The Bench Photo
The first association was to Dominique Issermann’s 1984 photo of Leonard Cohen smoking on a park bench, a shot that has been recycled into posters, post cards, and at least one book cover (the Leonard Cohen Collection songbook published in 2001), and which now serves as the basis for Berberian’s sketch. Click on image to enlarge.
A Closer Look At Leonard Cohen’s Boots
Then there are those boots, shown below in an enlarged section of the Issermann photo.
Charles Berberian and I aren’t the only ones taken by the boots.
Music Director Roscoe Beck remembers that at his first meeting with Leonard Cohen in 1979, Cohen “was wearing his customary dark grey suit and black cowboy boots.”2
Anjani Thomas also includes the boots in her description of her first meeting with Leonard Cohen, which took place in 1984:
I was waiting to meet him [Leonard Cohen] at the loft [belonging to John Lissauer]. When he walked through the door, I saw that his cowboy boots and everything he wore was black. It was an impressive entrance.3
He’s [Leonard Cohen is] wearing yellow Peter Fonda shades (possibly protection against some of that secret psychic snow), a beautifully pressed safari jacket, fitted black trousers and a pair of handtooled boots so lovely you want to cry with envy. [emphasis mine]
Then there was that certain introduction when one moment Leonard Cohen wasn’t wearing cowboy boots and the next moment he was:
About a thousand years ago I used to live in this hotel in New York City, a very good hotel. In the elevator of that hotel, early in the morning I used to bump into a young woman. After about a week, I gathered my courage and I said to her, “Are you looking for someone?” She said, “Yes,I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson.” I said, “Little Lady, you’re in luck. I’m Kris Kristofferson. “Those were very generous times as you may have read.So she never lead on that she really knew I wasn’t Kris Kristofferson. Maybe I was Kris Kristofferson. I wasn’t wearing cowboy boots until that moment. A couple of years later I was sitting at the bar of this Polynesian restaurant in Miami Beach, some place I hope I never bump into you. They serve drinks in ceramic coconut shells. All up and down the boulevards there are real coconut trees with real coconut shells. There is some arcane meaning in all of that but I couldn’t penetrate it. I was sitting at that bar and this young woman’s presence became very strong and I wrote this song for Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel. [emphasis mine]5
In the 1985 photo below, note the slick boots and remarkably plaid shirt that somehow work as accoutrements to the suit – when worn by Leonard Cohen.6
Nor are all Leonard Cohen’s boots black.
That shot also segues nicely into one example of Cohen’s use of boots in his poetry. This excerpt is from “You need her” published in The Energy of Slaves:
You need her
so you can get
your boots off the bedspread
We who have always ruled the world
don’t like the way you dance
And she said, I for one
am happy with the world
In answer to Mr Berberian’s query as to where Leonard Cohen might have picked up those boots, Marco Adria, writing in Music Of Our Times: Eight Canadian Singer-Songwriters (Lorimer. January 1, 1990), notes that
The shops in the area [near Leonard Cohen's place in Montreal] include boutiques and antique stores. The shoe stores — there must be one on every block — carry beautiful cowboy boots made of finely crafted leather, one of Cohen’s indulgences.
And, in Various Positions (Random House of Canada, 1996), Nadel points out that “One of his [Cohen's] favorite places in Nashville was the Woodbine Army Surplus store.” Among other items Leonard Cohen, then as well known as a poet as he was a singer, purchased for his homestead near Franklin, Tennessee were “a jeep, a carbine, a pair of cowboy boots…”.7
Finally, I offer this screenshot from the documentary, “Leonard Cohen Under Review 1978-2006,” of a needle nosed boot, then worn by Leonard Cohen.
Credit Due Department:
The title, “Quiet And Devastating, Like Leonard Cohen In Cowboy Boots,” is from Noah W. Bailey’s review of Kris Kistofferson’s Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends (Dallas Observer May 19, 2010):
Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-1972 collects 16 tracks–flubs, false starts and all–recorded by Kris Kristofferson at the height of his powers, when he was arguably the finest lyricist working in Nashville. “The Lady’s Not For Sale” and the title track come off quiet and devastating, like Leonard Cohen in cowboy boots, …
The cartoon atop this post was found at My Life As A Jukebox by Marta Caballero (ElCultural.es 09/11/2011).
Thanks to Dominique BOILE for volunteering the French to English translation of the cartoon’s dialogue and the further description of the Leonard Cohen section of the book.
The shot of Mr Cohen on the couch is by Steve Tynan and was was used as illustration in “The Portable Leonard Cohen” by Scott Cohen (Spin, Vol. 1, No. 4: Aug 1985)
The 1998 Oslo photo is credited to Scanpix and was found at the NRK site.
The final photo of the needle nosed boot was first posted at Photo Found Of Leonard Cohen, Singing Cowboy.
- The French to English translation is volunteered by Dominique BOILE. Twelve hours after I published this post, I discovered that Dominique, by virtue of his son’s friendship with the author, has an autographed copy of Jukebox by Charles Berberian. Dominique informs me that Charles devotes six pages of that book to humorous drawings and texts, the title of which is “Les Pieds de Leonard Cohen” (Leonard Cohen’s Feet), to ask the philosophical question, “Qu’est-ce qu’un chanteur comme Leonard Cohen peut bien mettre comme chaussures?” (What can a singer like Leonard Cohen wear for shoes?)
- Roscoe Beck On Leonard Cohen, The World’s Quietest Band, “Jenny Sings Lenny,” & More at Heck Of A Guy. [↩]
- The Anjani Chronicles: Anjani Goes To New York, Meets Leonard Cohen, and Finds Romance – But Not In That Order at Heck Of A Guy [↩]
- Leonard Cohen: Zooey Glass in Europe by Burr Snider was from the book, Leonard Cohen: The Artist & His Critics, edited by Michael Gnarowski (1976) although this article originally appeared in Gypsy I, No. 1. Found at Speaking Cohen. [↩]
- Introduction to “Chelsea Hotel #2 given by Leonard Cohen at June 1, 1988 London Royal Albert Hall concert. From Diamonds In The Lines. [↩]
- Warning: Do not try this at home. Mr Cohen is not only a trained professional – he’s Leonard Cohen. [↩]
- He also bought a Walther PPK, which, I suspect, was then the handgun of choice among your Tennessee transplants who were Canadian singer-songwriters-poets-novelist-soon to be icons. [↩]