Later with Jools Hollan 1993

Leonard Cohen

Later with Jools Hollan BBC, 12 May 1993

The Future, Interview (w/ Julie Felix show 1967 Hey, That's no Way To Say Goodbye) , Democracy. Incomplete

12:23; TV broadcast; DVD6; (partial: Democracy - 7:00 MPG 76M)

Jools Holland: We're very fortunate enough to have Leonard Cohen with us. You've just played two nights at the Albert Hall?

Leonard Cohen: That's right.

JH: Was that good?

LC: Oh, very very, ah... yeah, it was good.

JH: Your unusual thing in music in that you are a genuine poet, and a songwriter. What was the first thing that influenced you? Was it literature, or was it music?

LC: Country music. I used to listen to this radio station, Wheeling, West Virginia. You know, under the covers when your parents couldn't hear you, you could get those stations late at night, those country stations.

JH: What sort of artists would you listen to?

LC: Oh, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, all the old country stars.

JH: And then what got you into poetry?

LC: Well, I don't know. I thought that was the way to kind of win women's hearts.

JH: Did it work?

LC: Yes it did.

(pause; single male laugh from audience)

JH: Ah. I must try that.

LC: You must, yes.

JH: You've written many, you've written two very successful novels and I think eight volumes of poetry.

LC: Something like that, yeah.

JH: But you haven't written any books for a long time.

LC: Well I just have a book coming out called Stranger Music which is an anthology of a whole lotta stuff, you know, going from the age of fifteen to fifty-eight, a kind of compilation.

JH: Do you veer into the Roy Acuff and Hank Snow and those people?

LC: Well, I strive to achieve their simplicity and sincerity of thought.

JH: Is that ­ what is the job of a poet? Is that what it is?

LC: Ah, search me.

JH: Okay. Good to know. (pause, low chuckles in audience) Now I think we've got a clip of you in 1967, neither of us have seen it yet, with Julie Felix, in 1967.

LC: (impressed) No kidding!

(Runs clip of the TV show featuring Cohen, wearing a grey jacket and a white roll-neck jumper, with Julie Felix, who wears a very short blue dress, playing the last verse of "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye". Cohen is looking down as he plays and Felix is looking at his face as if trying to meet his eyes. Her voice almost drowns his out, although his Spanish guitar is louder than her steel-stringed instrument. It's a beautiful version. The camera cuts back to Cohen in the studio watching the clip obviously with some affection and pleasure, almost imperceptibly mouthing the words to the song. The clip over, the audience applauds.)

JH: That was a fantastic song. Have you seen that recently?

LC: I haven't ­ I never saw it, you know. I remember the evening, it was the first television show that I ever did in England, and one of the first I ever did anywhere. And Julie Felix invited me over to do it. So I have never seen that clip.

JH: Interesting. You were saying your "chops"? What did you mean? (JH evidently referring to something LC said to him while the clip was running)

LC: I have like one or two things I can ­ you know there's an expression of "chops", which musicians have to designate their excellence, their skill, and you say, like, "a musician has great chops". Well, I have one "chop". So you know, er, I'm demonstrating my "chop" there.

JH: (looking again at image of LC and Felix on video monitor) Beautifully demonstrated there, beautifully demonstrated.

LC: That's the only one I got.

JH: (trying to start another question) Now, you've lived... (Audience's mirthful response to LC's comment forces JH to readdress the "chops" issue) But you only need one beautiful chop surely, and then lots of poetry.

LC: Yeah, that's it. It's served me well.

JH: Now you've lived all over the world as well, I believe. You even lived in London, I think at the Albert Hall you were talking about when you lived in London.

LC: Well, I lived in London, and my delightful landlady was at the concert last night, her name is Stella Pullman, and she gave me a couch in her sitting room when I first got to London in '59, and she said, you know, "What are you supposed to be here for?" I said "A writer." She said, "If you write your three pages a day you can stay." So she supervised, tyrannically, the production of those three pages, and er... (smiling to himself but going quiet) It's not very interesting but...

JH: Well it is to me! Was it good what you wrote, were you pleased with what you wrote?

LC: Well, er uh ah, it's not what I wrote, it was that Stella Pullman had this wonderful and nourishing influence and trained me to be a disciplined worker.

JH: Why, what did she do?

LC: She...she said she was going to throw me out on the street if I didn't do those three pages every day!

JH: Oh that's good, there you are you see. What sort of places did you like living in most of all? You lived in Greece as well, I believe.

LC: I lived in Greece for many years, and Montreal. I love Montreal, and I love, er, Los Angeles.

JH: Is America a good place for poets?

LC: Los Angeles is a terrific place to live, you know. Because uh, well it's, it's right on the edge of destruction, you know. The ground itself is trembling, you know. The landscape is about to blow apart, you know. The social fabric is about to tear, and er, many novelists have documented the fragmentation of the psyche. So it's a place right at the edge of things where everything is about to fall apart, and it's a very nourishing place for that reason.

JH: But now, most of us...if you were an estate agent and you said those things, they'd think, now, that's not such a good place to live. But you like that about a place?

LC: I like that about that place, yeah.

JH: Are you an optimistic person do you think?

LC: (sighs) Well, you know, I think those descriptions are kind of obsolete these days you know...er, everybody's kind of hanging onto their broken orange crate in the flood, and when you pass someone else, you know ­ to declare yourself an optimist or a pessimist, or pro-abortion or against abortion, or a conservative or a liberal, you know... these descriptions are obsolete in the face of the catastrophe that everybody's really dealing with.

JH: I think all we can say is - you're going to do I think sixty shows now or something.

LC: That's right, yeah.

JH: Enormous world tour, we just all wish you much luck on your world tour, and we hope that Los Angeles stays safe for you for your return.

LC: Thank you so much.

(Audience applauds)

Holland mentions that Cohen will be performing again later, and after a few more (excellent) numbers from the other artists, Holland reintroduces Cohen and the band: "So now with the title song from his latest album, The Future, please welcome Leonard Cohen." Cohen begins the song by saying unaccompanied, "I've seen the future, brother; it is murder." It's a very understated, cool and funky version. In the song he replaces the line "Give me crack and anal sex" with "Give me crack and careless sex", presumably at the behest of the BBC. When he sings the line "Love's the only engine of survival", Perla Batalla gives him a very slinky look. 

When the song's finished Holland reappears to say "Great poet, songwriter Leonard Cohen", and closes the show by thanking all the artists one by one, during audience applause for whom Cohen can be heard to add gravelly cheers, especially for Aztec Camera, and "Ian", Jools Holland's piano. Holland says goodnight and pays tribute to "the very brave" Roddy Frame for his recent stint supporting Bob Dylan "with only an acoustic guitar", ruminating unwisely on the possibility that Dylan may appear on next week's show, and ultimately forced to backtrack: "No, no, he won't."

Finally Holland introduces Cohen once more for the show's closing song, "Dance Me to the End of Love", which Cohen opens with a sombre keyboard motif. For the second verse Cohen duets with Julie Christensen, and with Perla Batalla for the third. JC and LC look into each other's eyes for their duet, but LC and PB both close their eyes for theirs. As they sing the middle and final choruses of the song, Batalla and Cohen look out into the studio with wide, warm smiles.

TV programme © BBC Television 1993
Song quotes © Leonard Cohen/Stranger Music
All other text © Richard Cooper 2000

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