Tag Archives: Taste Of LC

Leonard Cohen & His Gong – Questions Answered

Leonard Cohen preparing for 2008 Tour

Getting Back To The Cat In The Hat

Just over a year ago, 1 the above photo2  appeared in the Leonard Cohen Is The Cat In The Hat, prompting certain questions:

This shot of Leonard Cohen rehearsing for his upcoming World Tour in his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes3 is intriguing and even a tad mysterious.

How, for example, does he look so good in that hat? Why does he look like an illustration for the dictionary definition of “dapper” wearing a double breasted jacket while 97% of the men that don them (including Dave Letterman, who wears one almost every night on his show) resemble nothing else as much as a corpse being fitted for a shroud? Why is he fingering a keyboard when he typically plays a guitar, if he plays any instrument, in his concerts? Why does he have only one hand on the keyboard? Is the one hand in the pocket stance essential as a component of the not quite insouciant slouch?

And what the heck is with that gong in the background?

Now, those queries can be answered.

The Fedora And Spiffy Attire

Long before “iconic” became the adjective of choice for Leonard Cohen,4  “dapper” was a reliable fallback for those writing about him. Being well dressed has long been his default mode.5

Nonetheless, the natty look produces, as is often noted in concert reviews, an  atypical stage presence for a card-carrying member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and enhances in Cohen’s dignified stage persona.

Even more striking is the effect created when Cohen’s fashion is reflected in the dress of his onstage companions. I’ve previously noted that I am especially taken by Russell Baillie’s description of Cohen’s band and back-up singers in Review: Leonard Cohen at Vector Arena:6

Somehow, Cohen’s ensemble, a sort of gypsy-soul rock-noir cabaret outfit dressed, as was their fedora-ed double-breasted leader like particularly stylish members of the French Resistance, were able to shrink the vastness of the venue down to the intimate scale of the music.

I was, in fact, inspired to put together a  montage of  Leonard Cohen’s musicians that can be viewed at  Leonard Cohen’s Gypsy-Soul Rock-Noir Cabaret.

While certainly not a recent addition to the Cohen closet, the consistently worn fedora has become a handy and emblematic  prop for Cohen …


… and a symbol that, in the minds of fans,  is far more readily associated with the Leonard Cohen: World Tour 2008-2009 than is the official insignia.  Of course, that problem could be fixed …


The Keyboard

Similarly, the keyboard itself is nothing new, having first appeared on Planet Cohen during his work on “Hallelujah.”7  As producer John Lissauer explains,

He had just ­discovered the Casio keyboard. Somebody had given it to him as a toy, but he found it so easy to write to.8

And, as seen in this screenshot from a 1988 performance of “Tower of Song,” Cohen was playing with his toy in public over a decade ago.


Never before, however, has he used the keyboard so explicitly as a prop for jokes.

The Tower Of Song Patter

Tower Of Song has repeatedly been one of the best received songs during the Tour and appears to be the one, judging from his facial expressions and his animation, that Leonard Cohen most enjoys performing. Because it is crammed with humorous moments and because it often follows directly after Leonard Cohen’s introductory comments to the crowd (which I wanted to capture), I have been unable to find a single video that captures all the important aspects of the presentation. The first Tower Of Song video (Geneva) starts just before the talk about the keyboard begins. For the purposes of this demonstration, you can stop the video once he begins singing, which is the point at which the next video begins.

1. Leonard Cohen – Now, I don’t want you to get alarmed, I’m going to start up this machine … . Lead-in To Tower Of Song (Geneva. October 27, 2008)

An Aside:

As a wannabe raconteur, I tend to recycle well-received anecdotes and figures of speech, sometimes adapting or embellishing them and sometimes reproducing the unaltered original version.9 While I’ve previously pointed out, as have others, that Leonard Cohen has closely followed the same script in concerts throughout this Tour, his reutilization of what we Ozark hillbillies call “good ‘uns” is hardly limited to intratour patter.

The most quoted line from Cohen’s monologue, for example, may well be “When I was last here in [name of city or theater], I was 60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.” Before the Tour began, Cohen, in discussing Philip Glass, who had presented his interpretation of Cohen’s music, remarked, “It’s his 70th birthday, and he’s just a kid with a crazy dream.”10

In this instance, a substantially longer interlude separates the current joke and its antecedent.  The bit,  used before the start of the Tower Of Song in most of the World Tour concerts,  that begins “Now, I don’t want you to get alarmed, I’m going to start up this machine … ” echoes, to my ears at least, the mock warning issued by Cohen about his instrumentation in his next number during a session recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1968.

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2. Leonard Cohen – Continuation of Tower Of Song Monologue (Sofiero Sweden, July 3, 2008)

Cohen’s first words (competing with the applause) are “No hands.” Also lost in the crowd’s response to his keyboard solo at 1:30-2:00 is his acknowledgment “You’re very kind.”11

Bang The Gong Slowly


Q: And what the heck is with that gong in the background?

A: Watch and learn.

Leonard Cohen  – The Gypsy’s Wife (Oakland, 2009)

The Off-Keyboard Hand Placement

Why does he have only one hand on the keyboard? Is the one hand in the pocket stance essential as a component of the not quite insouciant slouch?

As explained earlier in this post, the one hand on the keyboard technique is part of the shtick.

But the reason Cohen’s other hand is stowed in his pocket is another matter. After considering (1) the primary motivation for this tour (his fiscal catastrophe caused by the misconduct of his previous business manager)  and (2) the timing of the photo (taken just before the tour began, i.e., before any revenues have been realized although expenses have begun to come due), I am convinced, although I lack documentary evidence, that Leonard Cohen had his hand in his pocket to assure that his last $18.64 didn’t somehow disappear the way his $5 million did.

Why am I so certain? Because, Baby I’ve been there before.

  1. 27 April 2008 []
  2. As listed in the original post, the photo is by Lorca Cohen and is used by permission of Leonard Cohen via Ed Sanders. []
  3. Or would these be Leonard Cohen’s “Sabbath-go-to-meeting Clothes?” Or his “Sabbath-go-to-synagogue Clothes?” Such are the perils of the culturally sensitive blogger. []
  4. See The Talented And Iconic Leonard Cohen – Sony/ATV Music Publishing CEO Makes It Official []
  5. Dressing well is not a casual matter for Cohen, whose father owned a clothing store in Montreal. When delivering his elegiac homage to Irving Layton, a poet he admired and a close friend, Cohen observed, “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever.” While this statement praises Layton’s gift as being disproportionately more important than Cohen’s own, it also establishes that Cohen believed it worthwhile to instruct his old colleague in the sartorial mysteries, which, given photographic evidence of Layton’s cavalier approach to selecting clothing ensembles and the repeated occurrence of words such as  irascible, irreverent, Rabelaisian, and demanding in reports of his temperament, was likely to have been no small task. []
  6. Review: Leonard Cohen at Vector Arena By Russell Baillie. New Zealand Herald. Jan 23, 2009 []
  7. Greatest Songs Ever: “Hallelujah” by David Peisner. Blender. December 9, 2008 []
  8. Ibid []
  9. I’ve found, in fact, that the degree of merriment apparent on the faces of individuals who hear, in public, my hilarious story about Uncle Foster for the 14th time to be a useful litmus test for identifying especially good friends and outrageously wonderful women. []
  10. See Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass, And The Iceberg, quotingJust Two Old Guys With ‘a Crazy Dream,’ Ben Kaplan, CanWest News Service, June 1, 2007 []
  11. Also of interest: doff of hat at “hair has turned gray,” audience singing along and wildly applauding “I was born like this, I had no choice/ I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” (starts about 2:10), Cohen points to head in concert with the line, “You see, I hear these funny voices” (about 3:27). []

Photo Found Of Leonard Cohen, Singing Cowboy


Leonard Cohen - Dallas 2009

Leonard Cohen’s Crazy Dream – The New Gene Autry?

Michelle Wolverton, an especially trustworthy, absolutely loyal, always helpful, wise beyond her years, incredibly good looking, and virtuous-enough-without-getting-ridiculous-about-it Heck Of A Guy reader, has discovered a photo – taken by Anne M Bray – of Leonard Cohen wearing cowboy headgear during an encore at his Dallas concert, an event first reported by Brian, AKA ProfNowlin1 and confirmed by Stu McAfee.2

Families and friends of Brian and Stu may now cease concerns that these two Cohen fans are victims of a folie à deux.

And, it turns out, the artist’s sketch on the wanted poster wasn’t far off.


In addition, I offer this screenshot from the documentary, “Leonard Cohen Under Review 1978-2006,” of different cowboy apparel, a needle nosed boot, then worn by Leonard Cohen.


Finally, as the closing number of this post, we have the first verse of – what else – “Cowboy Hat In Dallas” by Charlie Daniels (who toured Europe with Leonard Cohen in the late 1960s):

Well there ain’t no grapes in California, and there ain’t no spuds in Idaho
Ain’t no snow in Minnesota, they don’t get hot in El Paso
And there ain’t no baked beans up in Boston, and no river in St. Lou
Ain’t no grizzlies in Alaska and the Astrodome is blue
And there ain’t a cowboy hat in Dallas if I ain’t in love with you

  1. See OK, Make That Leonard Cohen, His Famous Blue Raincoat, And His Cowboy Hat In Dallas []
  2. See No Leonard Cohen Cowboy Hat Trick Yet []

Leonard Cohen Was Smokin’

Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette1

Sally Hunter writes, in response to the preceding post, Leonard Cohen & X-Files Cigarette-Smoking Man – Lookalikes Or More?, to point out that Leonard Cohen was not absolutely brand loyal when it came to cigarettes:

More about smoking than you ever wanted to know….seriously

Marly lights and Mr. Cohen sparked a vague memory of a picture of Mr. Cohen with a pack of “Vantage” cigarettes lying on the table before him.  I found the picture and have  attached it…  I think they are American Vantage (I’m an ex-smoker)…Cigarettes come in hard packs (boxes) in Canada and soft packs (paper) in the US…looks like a soft pack to me.  Marlboros have not been available in Canada, unless you were buying them from the Black Market, for as long as I can remember.  Something about Surgeon General’s warning or a weird packaging thing.


  1. This is a Heck Of A Guy Confessional post. For the description and background of this format, see Meet The Confessionals. []

Leonard Cohen – From Marlboro Man To Anti-smoking Troubadour

Who Knew?
Apparently, Everybody Knows

When the universe (or statistically inevitable coincidence) presents one with a cosmic joke, however hackneyed, obvious, or egregiously jejune, it seems only prudent to pause, listen attentively, and chortle with sufficient enthusiasm to deflect accusations of a merely polite response but stopping short of the over the top exuberance that smacks of insincerity in acknowledgment of the universe’s graciousness in sharing that nugget of jocularity.

So, get ready to yuck it up.

Everybody Knows, a Leonard Cohen song1 delivered in his famously deep, raspy voice, the final result, according to Cohen himself, of “about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes,” has been chosen as the music for a major anti-smoking ad.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales (NSW) residents tuning in to Sunday’s Beijing Olympics broadcast …

will be confronted with a new graphic anti-tobacco advertisement during the Beijing Olympics coverage on Sunday night to drive home a message “everybody knows” but some still ignore. The $1 million campaign is a montage of past Quit campaigns, set to the Leonard Cohen song, Everybody Knows.

The casting is also notable because Leonard Cohen’s music is rarely used in commercials or public service announcements. I do not have access to an exhaustive list, but I would be surprised if, in Cohen’s 40 year career, the number of different ads using his work goes into double figures.2

About That Anti-smoking Campaign

As this excerpt from the same article indicates, the NSW anti-smoking campaign is not one of those wishy-washy, emphasize the sunny side of life sort of programs. Nope, it’s more along the lines of, say, Scared Straight, it’s more big stick than carrot, it’s less about Santa bringing gifts for good little boys and girls than about the boogyman whisking away naughty children to obliquely defined but unmistakably horrid torments.

NSW Assistant Health Minister (Cancer) Verity Firth said it was a deliberate choice to air the ad during the Olympics. “We know that TV viewership goes up 40 per cent during the Olympic period. … Ms Firth is confident the ad will have a strong impact on audiences. “It’s very, very powerful, I think it’s the build-up of all those different images … that song is just so haunting that I think it will get an emotional response.” “It is a hard-hitting TV commercial, we make no apologies about that because we also know that graphic television advertising really does work the best,” … NSW’s smoking rate had dropped from 24 per cent to 18 per cent in the past decade.

An example of this style can be seen in the video below, which is produced by the same Australian Quit Program that will sponsor the stop-smoking ad broadcast tonight. It is by no means the most aggressive anti-smoking ad in this series (it is more somber than shocking, at least comparatively), but it may not be how more sensitive viewers want to start their Sunday.

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your (Marlboro) Man

Congruently, Leonard Cohen’s smoking was more than an incidental phenomenon. Consider these excerpts from interviews and articles.

In 1973, Alastair Pirrie described in Cohen Regrets3 Cohen’s behavior,

During my last conversation with him, Cohen had changed. He smoked my cigarettes almost continuously and appeared much more withdrawn, answering questions vaguely and lapsing into silences much more frequently.

Similarly, in I never discuss my mistresses or my tailors, Nick Paton Walsh describes Cohen’s behavior during the 2001 interview in relation to his stay at a Zen monastery.

He has another sip of coffee, lights another Marlboro Light, and wriggles his toes inside his pair of comfortable brown slippers. Despite the gruelling years, Cohen is immensely relaxed, a light grin stretching across his tanned face. His arms are thin, his frame fragile, but he radiates Californian healthiness, like no 67-year-old should. He seems content, both with his new record, Ten New Songs, and – judging by the slippers and the silk tie clipped delicately behind his tailored pinstripe suit – his daily luxuries. What attraction could such a sparse lifestyle have to a man who accompanies most new sentences with a freshly lit cigarette?

A July 20, 2008 Sunday Times Profile, describes the tobacco enhanced voice:

Discarding his mantles of “poet laureate of pessimism” and “godfather of gloom”, Cohen wore a fedora and grey suit as he ran nimbly on to the stage to rekindle fervour for the love songs of his youth and the witty, sardonic style of later years. His rasping voice, honed by Marlboro cigarettes, and his evident delight in his adoring audience reinforced a recent triumph at the Glastonbury festival.

The Leonard Cohen No-Step Stop Smoking Program

Cigarettes, once an obligatory accoutrement for Cohen, have apparently been vanquished. In a June 12, 2008 interview, Cohen discusses his drinking and smoking patterns on earlier tours and how he stopped smoking:

Q: You’ve been working in a room for years; now you’re on a stage. What are the pros and cons?

A: This way, without drinking and smoking, it’s a very, very different situation. Anyone who’s been a heavy drinker and heavy smoker and has the good future to survive that and give it up knows what a very different kind of daily existence one has. I was smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. And I was drinking heavily on these tours.

Q: How did you stop drinking? Did you go into a program?

A: I lost my taste for it. Just like cigarettes. I lost my taste.

“I lost my taste for it.” Dramatic, eh?4

Losing his taste for excessive alcohol and tobacco does not, however, appear to have turned Leonard Cohen into an evangelist for the eradication of these societal demons. The following is an excerpt from “The Cigarette Issue” in The Book of Longing, published in 2006:

But what is exactly the same
is the promise, the beauty
and the salvation
of cigarettes
the little Parthenon
of an unopened pack of cigarettes
and Mumbai, like the Athens
of forty years ago
is a city to smoke in

And from the same volume of poetry comes the poem, “What Did It:”

An acquaintance told me
that the great sage
Nisargadatta Maharaj
Once offered him a cigarette,
“Thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke.”
“Don’t smoke?” said the master,
“What’s life for?”

Dance Me Go The End Of This Post

And In Conclusion

Depending on ones perspective on hermeneutics, the life, characteristics, and vision of the artist who has created a work may or may not have significance. Most of us, I suspect, operate as semi-deconstructionalists, albeit out of convenience more than conviction, so the implications of the music for a vehemently anti-smoking ad being provided by an artist known for his smoking through most of his career are trivial, a how-about-that sort of item.

Of course, if this anti-smoking gig is successful, it would open the door for other reverse-field jobs in advertising – I’m thinking

Leonard Cohen:  spokesman for the wedding industry

  1. Authorship of Everybody Knows, first released in 1988 on Cohen’s I’m Your Man album, is co-credited to Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson []
  2. At the moment, I recall the recent Old Navy ad featuring Blue Alert and a British Heart Foundation ad using Waiting For The Miracle in the 1990s. I have read about Suzanne being used to sell bikes somewhere in Europe. I am less sure but think I have also, read about a Cohen song being used to peddle shoes and a cover being used in supermarket ads in England or Europe. In any case, a Leonard Cohen song in a broadcast ad is an unusual event. []
  3. New Musical Express, March 10, 1973 []
  4. OK, “Waiting For The Miracle – Leonard Cohen’s Battle With The Demons Of Alcohol and Tobacco” isn’t likely to become a best-selling inspirational autobiography – or a Lifetime movie of the week – or a quickie on E!, but based on my experiences working with those trying to stop drinking or smoking, I believe the seldom articulated addiction treatment methodology of “lose your taste for it” would prove attractive to many clients. Leonard, how does the “Cohen Clinic Program To Stop Smoking – Eventually” sound? Have your people call my people. I smell franchise opportunity. []

Leonard Cohen Live On Fedoras, Lawyers, Anjani, Dylan, Antidepressants, Drinking Professionally, Smoking Heavily, The Zen of Cognac, and The Difficulty of Singing Suzanne

Leonard Cohen Interview June 4, 2008

Yesterday, Brian Johnson posted the full transcript and partial video of his backstage interview with Leonard Cohen that took place June 4, 2008 at Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario.1

I’ve pasted a couple of excerpts below to give the flavor of the piece:

Q: After 14 years off the road, what brought you back?

A: Well, one of the things was that pesky little financial situation, which totally wiped me out. So I’m very grateful that I had a way to make a living, because that was indicated in very powerful terms. It wasn’t the prime motivator. Thanks to the help of Robert Kory, who is unique among lawyers in that he deferred his fees until the situation was resolved, which is not just unusual but unheard of, I would say, for a lawyer in Los Angeles. So he was able to somehow right the shipwreck. As it turned out, I could have gotten by. But all the time, even when I was in the monastery at Mt. Baldy, there were times when I would ask myself, “Are you really never going to get up on a stage again?” It was always unresolved. It would arise. Not daily, not even monthly. But from time to time, I’d see my guitar. I was still writing songs. But the idea of performing was starting to recede further and further back. One of the reasons was that I was so wiped out physically by the end of my last tour because I was drinking heavily. I was drinking about three bottles of wine by the end of the tour.

Q: Three bottles a day?

A: Before every concert. I only drank professionally, I never drank after the concert. I would never drink after intermission. It was a long tour. It must have been 60 to 70 concerts.

Q: Why did you need to drink?

A: I was very nervous. And I liked drinking. And I found this wine, it was Château Latour. Now very expensive. It was even expensive then. It’s curious with wine. The wine experts talk about the flavour and the bouquet and whether it has legs and the tannins and the fruit and the symphonies of tastes. But nobody talks about the high. Bordeaux is a wine that vintners have worked on for about 1,000 years. Each wine has a very specific high, which is never mentioned. Château Latour, I don’t know how I stumbled on it, but it went with the music, and it went with the concert. I tried to drink it after the tour was over, and I could hardly get a glass down. It had no resonance whatsoever. It needed the adrenaline of the concert and the music and the atmosphere, the kind of desperate atmosphere of touring—desperate because I was drinking so much! I had a good time with it for a while, but it did wreck my health, and I put on about 25 pounds.


Q: What’s your relationship status these days?

A: With Anjani?

Q: Yes.

A: It’s a good relationship. I’ve known her for a long, long time. She’s just finished six songs of her own for a new album. She went to a little cabin in Wyoming for the last month and has written this album. So I’m very anxious to hear it.

The full transcript can be found at Cohen wore earplugs to a Dylan show?

Leonard Cohen Macleans Magazine Interview June 4, 2008

Credit Due Department: The graphic is composed of still shots from the interview’s video

  1. Update: Until 24 Feb 2009, this was the only live interview with Leonard Cohen done during the World Tour. A few days after the Beacon Theater Concert in New York, Cohen granted an interview to the New York Times. Information about and links to that interview can be found at The Leonard Cohen New York Times Interview []

Leonard Cohen Is The Cat In The Hat

Leonard Cohen preparing for 2008 Tour

I’m Your (Sharp-dressed) Man

They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

– From Sharp-dressed Man by ZZ Top

This shot of Leonard Cohen rehearsing for his upcoming World Tour in his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes1 is intriguing and even a tad mysterious.

How, for example, does he look so good in that hat? Why does he look like an illustration for the dictionary definition of “dapper” wearing a double breasted jacket while 97% of the men that don them (including Dave Letterman, who wears one almost every night on his show) resemble nothing else as much as a corpse being fitted for a shroud? Why is he fingering a keyboard when he typically plays a guitar, if he plays any instrument, in his concerts? Why does he have only one hand on the keyboard? Is the one hand in the pocket stance essential as a component of the not quite insouciant slouch?

And what the heck is with that gong in the background?

Update: All is revealed – or at least these questions are answered at Leonard Cohen & His Gong – Questions Answered


Credit Due Department: Photo by Lorca Cohen. Used by permission of Leonard Cohen via Ed Sanders. Thanks to Dick Straub for alerting me to the photo, which originally appeared on LeonardCohenFiles.com and LeonardCohenForum.com

  1. Or would these be Leonard Cohen’s “Sabbath-go-to-meeting Clothes?” Or his “Sabbath-go-to-synagogue Clothes?” Such are the perils of the culturally sensitive blogger. []