The Unofficial Alt.Music.Leonard-Cohen FAQ

maintained by Carter Page

When is Leonard Cohen next touring?

According to Stranger Music, Mr. Cohen is in retreat and he plans to remain secluded until mid-1995. As a result, there are no planned concerts until at least that time.

What about L.C. songbooks?

             Songs of Leonard Cohen

             Published by; AMSCO Music Publishing Co./New York
                           Music Sales Limited/London

             Distributed by: Collier, NY; Collier-MacMillan, London

             ISBN: 0.8256.2654.4
It contains many pictures, a biography, and most of his earlier songs, but unfortunately not Who by Fire.

New tribute album?

N. Jaworski (
I don't know if a full tracklisting has already appeared on this board, but here's a column from last weeks Melody Maker anyway...

BONO is among the guests on a Leonard Cohen tribute album,"Tower of Song", released by A&M next month.

Bono covers Cohen's "Hallelujah" recently renovated to devastating effect by Jeff Buckley.

Other artists include: Tori Amos, who covers "Famous Blue Raincoat", Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, who does "Coming Back To You" and Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Suzanne Vega, Billy Joel and Sting and the Chieftans. Elton John contributes a cover of "I'm Your Man", proving that while he might have a bad hair piece, he still has a great sense of humour! The album features liner notes by novelist Tom Robbins.

What happened to Nancy?

Dean Engelhardt ( transcribed Cohen's introduction from Frankfurt72:
This is a song for a girl named Nancy who was a real girl -- who went into the bathroom of her father's house, took her brother's shotgun and blew her head off. Age of 21. Maybe this is an arrogant thing to say, but maybe she did it because there weren't enough people saying what I've been saying.

In the song book for the Songs of Love and Hate album, there is a description of a LC concert. LC is about to start singing "It seems so long ago, Nancy", but he decides to talk about her first, to get in the mood. He says that she was not adjusted to life in this world. She had a baby and they took it away from her, and she shot herself.

What are LC's religious beliefs?

Marty Grossman (
Leonard had a brief, long ago, flirtation with Scientology. He now davens and sits. He re-embraced his Judaism a dozen or years ago and belongs to an L.A. synagogue. He also mediaites at a local Zen Center. He sees no contradicition because the type of Buddhism he is involved with requires no worship of a diety. He jokingly refers to the center as "shul" and his Zen teacher of many years as "Rabbi."

Also, check out the Jewish Book News Interview for a lot of interesting insights from the Man himself.

Which of LC's songs appeared in Natural Born Killers?

Three of LC's songs appeared in NBK. All of them were from his 1992 album, The Future: "Waiting for the Miracle" (played at the very beginning of the movie), "Anthem" (played at the end of prison riot scene), and the title track (closing credits). Only Waiting for the Miracle and The Future appear on the soundtrack.

What is the inspiration for Take this Waltz?

Federico Garcia Lorca's "Pequeño Vals Vienes" ("Little Viennese Waltz")

What's the story behind the song Suzanne?
According to a Radio 4 documentary on Leonard Cohen in London last night [Saturday, November 26, 1994] Suzanne was written in Montreal about Suzanne (not sure of last name) who was the wife of a high-society friend. She was apparently a beautiful woman who he was very taken with. She and her husband made an invincible couple and he was limited to touching her body in his fantasy.The harbor is the water front of Montreal and the "lady of the harbour" is a statue on that waterfront. "Tea and oranges that come all the way from China" refers to the Constant Comment tea (small pieces of orange peel mixed into the tea) that she gave him at her place overlooking the harbour.

Who is J. Paul Getty?

Andrew Norman (
John Paul Getty was an oil millionaire and famous cheapskate (wasn't he the one who installed a payphone in his mansion so that his guests wouldn't cost him too much?), and JPG II is his son, who now lives in England and gives a large amount of money to charitable causes. Rumour has it that they didn't get along very well, though JPG II nearly pulled out of buying a statue for a museum recently when the director suggested that this was the case. The statue in question was Canova's "the Three Graces", which the JPG museum in California was attempting to buy - JPG II was contributing to a fund to keep it in Britain.

On what album did First We Take Manhattan debut?

Not on I'm Your Man. Check Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat.

Whom was Chelsea Hotel #2 written about?

Both Thom ( and Dean ( transcribed Cohen's introduction to "Chelsea Hotel #2". It can be found on both Diamonds in the Mine Field and Montreaux85:
A long time ago, I met a beautiful young woman in an elevator in New York City. I used to bump into her at about three in the morning, every night.

After a while I gathered up my courage and I said to her "Are you looking for something?" And she said "Yes, I'm looking for something."

I knew by the tone of her voice that she wasn't trying to realise some unfulfilled potential of her inner nature but she was actually looking for something.

I said, "Who or what are you looking for?" She said "Kris Kristofferson."

I said ``I am Kris Kristofferson.'' And I deceived her for many nights.

And a long time after that I found myself at a bar in a Polynesian restaurant in Miami Beach, leaning over a napkin and one of those drinks that they serve in a porcelain coconut shell. I was writing a song for this very lady. I was the very image of myself -- 40 years old, thin, neglected, with a great song on my mind. It took me a while to finish it.

It's for Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel.

Erick Howenstine (
On one bootleg (Songs of a Serious Old Man) he rambled on wonderfully about keeping fish in the bathtub, fish that thought they deserved the ocean and so on.... Anyone else hear this?

I read recently that Cohen regrets attaching Joplin's name to the song so directly because the graphic sex in the first verse.

I've been asked why this section is included in the faq, since Cohen regrets having exposed Janis Joplin in the first place. My answer is, I keep the story here for the same reason I think he still tells it in the concert halls. Enough people know the tale by now, that it would do no good to hide it; more importantly, though, the dear beauty of the story begs that it be shared with everyone.

Why did LC start singing?

Kyle Wilson (
He says on the "Bird on a wire" videotape that he got into singing because he was broke and thought it would be a way to make some quick cash.

James Blackburn (

Actually, there are several versions of the story of how he went from noted poet to "folk"singer. Most involve his recognition that poets are doomed to starve in garrets whereas people who record record albums...well, just look at that Kris Kristofferson ;)

My favourite part of the story, as he told it once, was that he told his woman of the time (Marianne) his decision to start singing and that her reaction was "Please don't"!

Did LC ever try acting?

He once played a bit part as an Interpol agent on Miami Vice.

I'm a new fan. Which album should I get first?

Most fans -- on the newsgroups, anyways -- recommend his earlier albums: Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate, and The Best of Leonard Cohen. His most recent albums, I'm Your Man and The Future are also good bets.

Avoid Death of a Ladies Man and Various Positions for your first purchase. I think they're fantastic albums, but for many, they take a little getting used to.

Who are the Rosicrucians?

Vin Locke (
In the `50s and `60s (and maybe still?) the Rosicrucians used to advertise in the back pages of magazines -- fill in the coupon for more information (which arrives in a plain brown envelope). I always took the reference to them in this song to suggest a state of depression so severe that one would consider mail-order religion.
Joshua E Randall (
Well, I found some information on them in, of all places, an annotated version of Hegel's _Philosophy of Right_. Here it is:
The image of the rose in the cross was apparently suggested to Hegel by the name (and the visual emblem) of the 'Rosicrucians', the secret religious society, apparently begun in the seventeenth century . . . . The name 'Rosicrucian' was based on that of the (alleged) founder of the society, Christian Rosencreutz (four- teenth century). But the name itself also has doctrinal signif- icance for Rosicrucians, associate with their proverb "No cross, no crown": i.e., one reaches the 'rose' (the divine), only through the 'cross' (earthly suffering).
[Philosophy of Right, ed. by Allen W. Wood, Cambridge, p. 391]
Mark Keneipp (
Rosicrucianism has been around, on and off, for basically thousands of years. Bacon, Pythagoras, etc. were well-known Rosicrucians. It sort of drops out of existence for a couple hundred years or so and is then resurrected by someone going over old material and who has the will to bring it back. It is around in full force right with the American Headquarters very prominently placed in San Jose, CA near The Alameda on Naglee.

Who is that beautiful woman on the back cover of Songs from a Room?

According to Erick Howenstine (, she is none other than Marianne, Cohen's longtime Norwegian partner on the island of Hydra in Greece.

Why do so many people dislike Death of a Ladies' Man?

A.J. Norman: (
I think there are a few reasons. One is that LC himself doesn't like it -- but he has a rather odd view of his back catalogue (the superb Recent Songs has almost been written out of the official story -- he tends to imply that the album after DOALM was Various Positions). One is that it contains a couple of what by LC's standards are real stinkers -- "Don't Go Home..." and "Fingerprints". It doesn't sound much like any of his other work -- that's the reason a lot of people dislike "The Future", as well. I think the production is muddy, LC's singing is not very good, and the fact that he was suffering from deep depression when he recorded it is all too clear from the lacklustre performances. On the other hand, there are some of his best songs there ("Paper Thin Hotel", "Memories"), and the title track is great -- I don't think it's too long at all, and the world-weary style is suited to that particular song. It's one I listen to quite often when I'm walking to work in the mornings, but hardly ever when I'm in a reflective mood in the evening.

Who are the Jazz Police?

Tim O'Connor (
Back when I'm Your Fan came out, I read an LC quote somewhere -- possibly the tour program book, which I've misplaced -- in which he said it was a reference to how his band would try to slip in jazzy snatches when they rehearsed, and that he, being more a musical purist than they, would scold them for it and suggest (humorously) that fines would be levied against any musician who improvised a jazz riff. So LC came to be known (again, good-humoredly) as the Jazz Police during the recording of the album.

As usual, the quote was ultra-wry and endearing....

How come there is no Chelsea Hotel #1?

There is. You just won't find it on recorded on his studio releases.

According to Adi Heindl (, he sang it on his 1975/1976 tour.

What was the song played in Pump up the Volume?

The song was "Everybody Knows" off the I'm Your Man album. Michel Bourassa (
...and Pump up the Volume was a nice little movie made by another Canadian Allan Moyle (director) who lived in Montreal as LC grew onto the scene ..(70s) No doubt knew him.

Why do Nick Cave and his band sound drunk in their recording of Tower of Song?

Because they were.

Vin Locke (

I remember reading a piece of an interview with Cave a few months after "I'm Your Fan" came out. He said (re IYF) that "these tribute" albums are always horrible, so they didn't take it seriously. So, the guys went to the pub across the street, got drunk, then went back into the studio and did their treatment of Tower of Song in one take.

Which songs never made it to the studio?

Check out Other songs performed/written by Cohen but not recorded by him from the Leonard Cohen discography.

Erick Howenstine (

For rare Cohen fans:
1974 Cohen's Live Songs (Columbia)
"Minute Prologue" and "Passing Thru" as well as the unforgettable "Please Don't Pass Me By."
Live At Montreux
At the Beeb
"There's No Reason Why You Should Remember Me"
Other LC songs that never made it on tape, to my knowledge, are "I'll Mind You Coughing, Baby," "I Don't Know Why I'm Scared Tonight," "I Passed the High Buildings," "I'm Trying to Break Free Myself," "The Broken Lip," "I Always Sing Alone," "Take the Girls Down," "If There's Anything That Doesn't Please You Tonight," "There's a Forest Of Microphones," "I Always Wanted To Sing For Naked People," "I Just Can't Go On," "Just in Case You Should Have To Break Down," "Come On Speaker, Speak To Me," "I Don't Care Any More," "What Goes On Beyond The Song," "I'm Just Your Mirror Now," and I'm Glad It's You Out There."
Ron Mura (
Most of these are improvisations, which Cohen used to do fairly frequently in concert. In fact, there was one 1972 concert in which he did 6 or 7.

Cohen didn't write actually "Passing Thru." I can't remember who it was. I believe the songwriter credit was omitted from _Live Songs_.

What was Cohen's first band?

The Buckskin Boys

Robert J. Currie (

I believe they performed while he was going to university in Montreal, and did all kinds of stuff, including skiffle, old blues and Hank Williams songs.
Tiyen Miller (
There's a band photo in the 1969 songbook entitled Songs of Leonard Cohen_ that I got out of the library a few months ago. I don't know anything about the band other than it appeared to consist of a very young Leonard Cohen on guitar with a couple of other guys all kitted out in cowboy-esque leather riding gear....

What's the story behind Sisters of Mercy?

DC McGlothlen (
Allow me to quote LC (and I don't pretend that he speaks here to what the song means -- only where it came from... which is instructive):

From SongTalk, Vol. 3, Issue 2:

"That's the only song I wrote in one sitting. The melody I had worked on for some time. I didn't really know what the song was. I remember that my mother had liked it. Then I was in Edmonton, which is one of our largest northern cities, and there was a snowstorm and I found myself in a vestibule with two young hitch-hiking women who didn't have a place to stay. I invited them back to my little hotel room and there was a big double bed and they went to sleep in it immediately. They were exhausted by the storm and the cold. And I sat in this stuffed chair inside the window beside the Saskatchewan River. And while they were sleeping I wrote the lyrics. And that never happened to me before. And I think it must be wonderful to be that kind of writer. It must be _wonderful_. Because I just wrote the lines with a few revisions and when they awakened I sang it to them. And it has never happened to me like that before. Or since."

Who is Marianne?

Per B. Lilje (
According to what I've heard Marianne Jensen was the wife of Norwegian novelist Axel Jensen who wrote a number of excellent novels in the late 50s and early 60s ("Line", "Epp", "Icarus"). They stayed for a while in Greek islands and met Cohen there. After a while Marianne dropped Axel Jensen and lived with Cohen for some years, on Hydra, in Canada and for a winter in Oslo (according to what LC said at a concert here in Oslo). I think they split in the mid or late sixties. According to the songbook "Songs of LC", LC and Marianne got a son called Axel(!) around 1958/1959. I have no idea what happened to Axel Cohen and Marianne later, and where they live. In some interviews LC mentions his two children from a later marriage, his son is called Adam, but I see no references to Axel.

After writing several, in Norway famous, novels in the period 1956-1965, Axel Jensen was very quiet for many years, mostly living in India and in a boat in Stockholm harbour. He returned to Norway a few years ago with his Indian wife and published one or two novels. He is now suffering from ALS (also called Lou Gerig's disease, the same disease Stephen Hawking suffers from), bound to a weelchair and quickly getting wworse. Still he is very active in Norwegian cultural debate, especially on the topic of Salman Rushdie (a strong supporter) and last year on Norwegian membership in the European Union (also a strong supporter).

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