The imperious Leonard Cohen had been around the block a few times before he was invited on to CBC’s Take 30 programme in 1966 to discuss the “poetic mind” and share a song. But where he was happy to debate poetry and literature until the cows came home there is decidedly more trepidation surrounding his first musical forays on screen.
The footage was shot before the release of his breakthrough album Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1967 and sees Cohen debuting his musical material for TV audiences with a stunning performance of ‘The Stranger Song’.
The track was taken from the aforementioned LP and saw Cohen deliver a poetic performance imbued with the unique frankness of spirit that the poet-singer put into all of his work. But in 1966, Leonard Cohen was far from the noted and much-celebrated singer that his legacy would suggest today. The late singing star was, as most songsmiths in the sixties were, a noted writer before turning his hand to songwriting.
At the time of the recording, he had spent much of the last six years of his life on the Greek island of Hydra, where he had found love and happiness. Still, in need of marketing and promotion, the poet had returned to his native Canada for a special discussion on his poetry a year before his music career would truly begin.
The invitation to Take 30 would focus mainly on his literature and sees the singer tangle with future Governor-General, and former Cohen schoolmate, Adrienne Clarkson over the values of poetry. But soon enough, with a piece to camera, Clarkson introduces Cohen the singer, “Leonard, in fact, wishes not to be a poet but a kind of modern minstrel.
“He’s become very excited by the music of the mid-sixties,” continues Clarkson. “The kind of music that come pouring out over the transistor radios into the ears of young people. recently his joys and sorrows of living have come forth as simple, beautiful, sometimes sad songs. Let’s listen to one.”
With that Leonard Cohen, the future icon of music is debuted to the world, finally, as a singer, performing ‘The Stranger Song’.