Watch rare footage of Leonard Cohen philosophising on his tour bus 1979
There a few clips of the mercurial poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen than this vintage three-minute clip from the singer’s Smokey Life tour. It sees Cohen sitting in his tour bus while being interviewed and offering up his commitment to “dissolving things”.
The clip not only shows Cohen at his erudite and befuddlingly brilliant best, but also offers up a snapshot of a bohemian tour that encapsulated Cohen as a performer and would see the star make his way around Europe delivering his messages.
Leonard Cohen took to the road in 1979 on The Smokey Life Tour intending on debuting some of the new material from his then-latest record, Recent Songs. The singer would travel across Europe, a cultural space which had welcomed his idiosyncratic writing with open arms and through Australia before returning to Europe once more.
The singer had struggled to gain much traction in his adopted home of the United States but had gathered a strong mass of fans in Europe. It often meant that Cohen was answering questions from the far reaches of the globe. In the clip below he’s being interviewed for a documentary on the singer made by Harry Rasky, The Song of Leonard Cohen.
The interviewer is naturally clued up on Cohen’s ability to grab one’s mind and wander with it like a child does a teddy bear, offers the singer a chance to let his mind run. While we aren’t entrusted with what sparked the conversation, but Leonard Cohen begins the clip by reflecting on his role as the singer: “When you consider, the fact of our little journey, on the crest of this star and the number of bridges, barriers, fences and differentiations, diversions that we’ve managed to construct for ourselves.
“To have an opportunity to dissolve them is a really great opportunity because that moment is precisely there to dissolve the distinctions.”
He continues: “If you don’t have the moments where the distinctions are dissolved then you become a very narrow, prejudice, dogmatic kind of individual. Like I am most of the time. But sometimes I am permitted to dissolve these things.”
The interviewer asks whether being up on stage is when Cohen feels most complete: “It’s where I am most ‘no one’. Anybody can be mostly no one,” he replies. “It’s in those moments where we’re no one that we understand what the real fellowship is.” The singer is keen to make the distinction between what he does and what a politician or a religious teacher may do.
“To me, an artist does not have a black mark, does not have a message, does not have a party.” Cohen again reflects on his role within the grander scheme of life: “The only message, his only party is; the dissolution of differences. We have to leave it to these other kinds of experts to get us all inflamed about one particular view or another. But in the moment of the song or a poem, or an embrace between a man or a woman, or a handshake between two people. At that moment, things are dissolved.”
Sit back and enjoy three minutes of not only some sound spiritual guidance for those artists out there but also a snapshot of the bohemian life we all sometimes wish we could lead.
Watch Leonard Cohen on his Smokey Life Tour from back in 1979 and live vicariously through this image.