Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Leonard Cohen's Absolutely Inane Interview About Phil Spector: First Major Interview After They Recorded Together & No Gun Incident!

Leonard Cohen Obscured...
A Haunting by Spector

by Stephen Holden

Wearing a brown leather bomber's jacket, flannel shirt and dungarees, Leonard Cohen is the most crumpled-looking person at the party Warner Bros. Records is throwing for him in an apartment on New York's Upper West Side. Cohen has flown from Montreal to New York for a day of interviews to promote Death of a Ladies' Man, his first album of new songs in three years and the product of a yearlong collaboration with legendary rock producer Phil Spector.

The forty-three-year-old French Canadian, who has written two novels and eight books of poetry and recorded seven albums,exhibits the wary politeness of an important political prisonerrecently repatriated and thrust into the spotlight. He looks very tired and ill at ease shambling among the press. But the instant Cohen speaks, his eyes begin to glint rakishly and his diction echoes the courtly cadences of his songs. He concedes that the album is deeply flawedSpector's "wall of sound" dwarfs, even obscures some of his best lyrics, he says. But he is surprisingly objective about the failure and eager to discuss what he calls "a collaboration of an Olympian and crippled nature."

"I was living in Los Angeles at the time," Cohen says. "Our mutual lawyer brought me over to Phil's house one evening, and it was tedious. I asked to be let out of his house--he locks the door from the inside once you come in--and he didn't want to let me go. So to salvage the evening, I said, 'Rather than watch you shout at your servants, let's do something more interesting.' And so we sat down at the piano and started writing songs. Otherwise, I would have insisted on leaving. It really was too dreary inside that dark, cold house in Hollywood. The Medici pose with guns and bodyguards isn't rock & roll glamor; it's kid's stuff."

Cohen and Spector wrote fifteen songs in three weeks, with Spector setting Cohen's lyrics to music. Cohen remembers the actual collaboration as "refreashing" and "fun." The trouble began when it came time to record. Cohen found himself relegated to the role of sideman. Inscrutable and dictatorial in the studio, Spector often confiscated the musicians' charts after hours of preparation. The title song was recorded in one take at 2:30 in the morning, when Cohen and the musicians were close to exhaustion. During the sessions, Spector was inaccessible, Cohen says. He took the tapes home every night under armed guard. He chose the tracks for the final mix without consulting anyone and then mixed the album at a secret location.

"When I heard the final mix, I thought he had taken the guts out of the record, and I sent him a telegram to that effect," Cohen recalls. "I asked him to go back in the studio. I could have delayed its release. But I couldn't have forced Phil back in the studio, and it might have taken another year. I view it now as an experiment that failed. But even within the failure there are moments. I think the album has real energizing capacities."

Despite the inappropriate juxtaposition of Sector's singsong tunes with Cohen's searching lyricism and the burial of Cohen's voice beneath lugubrious arrangements, the album is fascinating and quite powerful when played at high volume. Death of a Ladies' Manalso boasts some of Cohen's strongest lyrics, which cluster around the theme of contemporary sexual combat.

"The album's about the death of a ladies' man. You just can't hold that point of view anymore," Cohen muses. "Phil saw it immediately. Anybody over thirty, I imagine, who's had a couple of marriages and a couple of children, as Phil has had, would see that it's authentic. I don't know what it could possibly mean to a twenty-year-old."

"As for the passing of the old order," Cohen continues, "I'm completely ready to let it go, and yet I vow to uphold it. Personally, I can hardly get my mind off the creases in their skirts. Or the devastating wall of steel I perceive in a woman's conversation. I don't know. I wish they would hurry up and take over. Let them have it. I surrender."

Still, the father of two children by an eight-year, common-law marriage takes a mystical view of coupling and parenthood.

"We are very large beings wheeling through existence, who aren't even shaped the way we appear," Cohen says. "You catch the lint of another's being on your wheel. And she does the same, and you get tangled up inextricably. The tangle is like a cocoon, out of which another being emerges. My feeling is that until you have children, until you really get stuck, it's like dating for the junior prom. I believe that in a certain way, having children is the only activity that connects you to mankind and makes a serious assault on the ego."

Cohen's writing may not make an equally serious assault on his ego, but it does take its toll:

"It's the constant feeling: can I scrape together another song, can I stitch together another paragraph of this book that's been going on for years? It's mostly scraping the barrel, scratching through the bark to get a little honey. And when there's no way out--justthrough--that has to become your material."

"We're living in a butcher shop," Cohen continues. "The fact that we die is the only comfort in the whole thing. The anxiety comes from some kind of acute illusion of busyness. There are so many things to do that you're not doing, so many thoughts to think that you're not thinking, so many women to make love with that you're not loving."

Does Cohen feel much anxiety about the album that might have been? Was Phil Spector a butcher?

"I don't feel emotional about it anymore," Cohen says. "I think that in the final moment, Phil couldn't resist annihilating me. I don't think he can tolerate any other shadows in his darkness."

"I say these things not to hurt him. Incidentally, beyond all this, I liked him. Just man to man he's delightful, and with children he's very kind. But I would also like him to pick up ROLLING STONE one day and see that he was urged to reconsider his approach to recording by a man who knows him well and who has suffered because of his failure to allow things to breathe."

Rolling Stone, January 26, 1978