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Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen meets Uncut

Hallelujah! Leonard Cohen meets Uncut

The current issue of Uncut (November 2012, Take 186) features a review of Leonard Cohen at London’s Wembley Arena – in this archive feature from December 2008 (Take 139) we get the inside story from Cohen’s bandmates on their extraordinary year with the singer-songwriter that even Bob Dylan calls “a real poet”. And in a rare interview, we find Cohen himself in convivial mood – 74, “un-depressed”, and coming to terms with life on the road without wine and cigarettes. “I thought it would be now or never,” he says. “I don’t think I’m going to tour when I’m 80, and it was hard for me to say never…”

Interview: Brian D Johnson | Photograph: Lorca Cohen

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June 3, 2008. Leonard Cohen is backstage at the Hamilton Place Theatre, Ontario. The show is over, but he’s still wearing his hat, and with the double-breasted suit that threatens to engulf his slight frame, the rakish fedora lends him the air of a gangster from a lost age. Or William Burroughs.

He tucks into a buffet of bread and cheese, urging food on me with his usual compulsive hospitality, then presses the band’s “sommelier”, his long-time guitarist Bob Metzger, to pour me a glass of wine. For himself – a can of root beer. Leonard Cohen may be the poet laureate of wine, women and song. But at 73, touring for the first time in 14 years, he now seems stoically devoted to song. He leads me back to his dressing room. The cinder-block walls are adorned with offerings from fans: a long-stemmed rose, a spray of bamboo. Love notes. A tea light burns on a small table draped with a velour cloth. Leonard keeps his hat on.

UNCUT: Tell me about the hat.
COHEN: I’ve been wearing a fedora for a long, long time. This particular hat is from a little hat store just opposite my daughter’s antique store in LA [Boo Radley’s on Melrose Avenue]. They have a very good hat store there.

You never used to perform with a hat.
I’ve never performed with a hat. But I always wore a hat. I started wearing the hat more and more, independent of these preparations. I stopped wearing a fedora after 9/11. I didn’t think it was appropriate, and I switched to a cap. It seemed to be too dressed up for a situation that was closest to mourning than any other situation.

It’s useful onstage. It allows you to pay homage. Doffing it to the audience and the band.
I started wearing it a lot around the house. I don’t go out much. But I usually get dressed every day.

Now you’re going out a lot, to say the least.
Now I’m being sent like a postcard from place to place. It’s really wonderful [laughs].

After 14 years off the road, what brought you back?
One of the things was that pesky little financial situation, which totally wiped me out [in October, 2005 Cohen alleged that his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch, had misappropriated over $5 million from Cohen’s retirement fund]. So I’m very grateful that I had a way to make a living. It wasn’t the prime motivator. Thanks to the help of Robert Kory, who is unique among lawyers in that he deferred his fees until the situation was resolved, which is not just unusual but unheard of, I would say, for a lawyer in LA. So he was able to somehow right the shipwreck. As it turned out, I could have gotten by.

But all the time, even when I was in the monastery at Mount Baldy [from 1994 to 1999, Cohen was in retreat at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, a training facility for students of Japanese Rinzai Zen, near LA], there were times when I would ask myself, “Are you really never going to get up on a stage again?” It was always unresolved. It would arise from time to time, I’d see my guitar. I was still writing songs. But the idea of performing was starting to recede further and further back. One of the reasons was that I was so wiped out physically by the end of my last tour [in 1994, to support The Future album] because I was drinking heavily. I was drinking about three bottles of wine by the end of the tour.

Three bottles a day?
Before every concert. I only drank professionally, I never drank after the concert. I would never drink after intermission. It was a long tour. It must have been 60 to 70 concerts.

Why did you need to drink?
I was very nervous. And I liked drinking. And I found this wine, it was Château Latour. Now very expensive. It was even expensive then. It’s curious with wine. The experts talk about the flavour and bouquet and whether it has legs and the tannins and the fruit and the symphonies of tastes. But nobody talks about the high. Bordeaux is a wine that vintners have worked on for 1,000 years. Each wine has a specific high, which is never mentioned.

Château Latour, I don’t know how I stumbled on it, but it went with the music, and it went with the concert. I tried to drink it after the tour was over, and I could hardly get a glass down. It had no resonance whatsoever. It needed the adrenaline of the concert and the music and the atmosphere, the kind of desperate atmosphere of touring – desperate because I was drinking so much! I had a good time with it for a while, but it did wreck my health, and I put on about 25 pounds.

So now what do you do with the anxiety that you were quelling with drinking before? Were you anxious coming into this tour?
I was anxious. But I never really believed that it’s entirely in one’s hands anyway. I do trust in whatever those components are that buoy you up for the occasion. I am anxious. I don’t mean to suggest I’m not at all anxious. But the anxiety is not devastating, as it was before.

How did you prepare for this tour?
I hadn’t really picked up a guitar in any serious way for many, many years. I had to restring all my guitars. And then I got my chop back. I only have one chop. Which Roscoe Beck [bass player and musical director] has now been able to duplicate. He’s worked on it for many years.

He copped your chop?
He copped my chop… So I started practising guitar. My only regret is that I have a lot of new songs, but I didn’t get a chance to rehearse them with this band. I’ve written most of a new album. I’ve recorded three tracks. But this band is so good, I’ll probably re-record the tracks that I did. It’s such a privilege to play with these guys.

You’ve been working in a room for years; now you’re on a stage. What are the pros and cons?
This way, without drinking and smoking, it’s a very, very different situation. Anyone who’s been a heavy drinker and heavy smoker and has the good fortune to survive that and give it up knows what a very different kind of daily existence one has. I was smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. And I was drinking heavily on these tours.

The smoke has added character to your voice.
I lost a note or two in the bass register when I gave up smoking. But I’ve found some higher registers. I can’t go as low, but I can go higher. I’ve never thought of myself as a singer… I’ve been free from those considerations because so many people over the years told me I don’t have a voice. I kind of bought that. I never thought that much about it to begin with. I knew I didn’t have one of the great voices. As my Damon Runyonesque lawyer used to say, “None of you guys can sing. If I want to hear singing, I’ll go to the Metropolitan Opera.”

What’s the song that presents the toughest challenge?
The tough one for me is “Suzanne”. My chop has not come back completely. I’m playing an acoustic electric guitar. It’s pitched right for my voice. People have asked me what’s it like to sing “Suzanne”. It’s hard to sing it. It’s hard to enter it. Because it’s a serious song. I’m alone singing it. And it brought me… in my own curious magical universe it is a kind of doorway. So I have to be careful with it. I can’t speak too much about it as I can’t put my finger on the reason, except to say it is a doorway, and I have to open it carefully. Otherwise, what’s beyond is not accessible to me.

It’s not special because it’s about one particular woman?
It was never about a particular woman. For me it was more about the beginning of a different life for me. My life in Montreal, and my life wandering alone in those parts of Montreal that are now very beautifully done up and in those days, it was the waterfront. I used to wander around down there and I used to go to that church a lot.

So it’s holy ground?
It’s holy ground. You don’t want to linger on those matters because they have a significance that could be spoiled by explication.

Going back on tour after 14 years – what made you do it, aside from financial considerations?
I thought it would be now or never. If I didn’t do this year, I don’t think I’m going to do when I’m 75, or 77, or 80. It was hard for me to say never. It was like, “Wait a second, this is what you’ve spent your whole life doing. And what you’re trained to do.” I’m at that age where “never” had a really strong resonance.

You started this tour in smaller centres in eastern Canada. Was it a warm-up leg?
There’s no such thing when you’re appearing in front of an audience. It would be insulting. Our band was warmed up. We had three months of rehearsal. Neil Larsen [keyboards] said most bands rehearse for a couple of weeks, and then it usually takes 10 or 20 concerts for the band to gel. We gelled in the rehearsal hall. God forbid that I would walk out onto a stage and think that this is a warm-up. So, from the first concert which was in Fredericton, maybe the show’s tightened, and the rhythm of the show has been more accurately defined, but it was no warm-up.

You and Bob Dylan were in St John’s, Newfoundland, at the same time…
I went to his concert. It was terrific. I’ve been to many Dylan concerts. This one, there was a walkway from the hotel to the auditorium, so you could enter into this private area. I’ve never been in a private box in an auditorium. That was fun. And a lot of members of the band came. But it was very loud. Fortunately, Raphael [Gaynor], our drummer, had earplugs, and he distributed them. Because our music is quite soft and that’s what we’ve been listening to for three or four months.

As [collaborator and backing singer] Sharon Robinson said, Bob Dylan has a secret code with his audience. If someone came from the moon and watched it they might wonder what was going on. In this particular case he had his back to one half of the audience and was playing the organ, beautifully I might say, and just running through the songs. Some were hard to recognise. But nobody cared. That’s not what they were there for and not what I was there for. Something else was going on, which was a celebration of some kind of genius that’s so apparent and has touched people so deeply that all they need is some kind of symbolic unfolding of the event. It doesn’t have to be the songs. All it has to be is: remember that song and what it did to you.

Back in the ’60s, there was talk of you being a Canadian Bob Dylan. Didn’t you make that analogy yourself at the time?
No. That got into the press. I’d never say that any more than I’d say I want to be the next Yeats. You know how that arose? There was a party at Frank Scott’s house [Canadian poet whose “A Villanelle For Our Time” was put to music by Cohen on 2004’s Dear Heather album]. I had a record of Bob Dylan, and I brought it to this party. There were all these poets, Layton, Dudek and maybe Phyllis Webb. It was probably Bringing It All Back Home. It was one of his early records. I said, fellas, listen to this. This guy’s a real poet. I put the record on, and it was greeted with yawns. They said, ‘That’s not a poet.’ I said, ‘No, I insist, let me play it again.’ They said, ‘Do you want to be that?’ That’s how it arose. But it’s not my syntax. Anyway, they didn’t like it. But I put it on a few more times, and by the end of evening they were dancing.

You said an audience brings a lot to someone like Bob Dylan. They bring a lot to you as well.
They do. This is every musician’s dream, to stand in front of an audience and not have to prove your credentials, to come into that warmth. Of course, it creates other anxieties, as you want to deliver. There’s a lot to live up to. But it is quite a rare thing.

Are you still un-depressed?
Yes, it’s held.

Do you need anti-depressants?
No. I find I can’t even drink a glass of wine. It interferes with my mood. On Friday night I’ll have a glass of wine with my family when we celebrate the Sabbath. A sip or two. Occasionally I’ll take hard liquor. I can take a whiskey or a vodka. But I can’t drink wine the way I used to. I regret it in some ways. Bob Metzger and I used to drink a lot together on tour. I don’t know why that is. It just doesn’t go down well any more.

How did you stop drinking? Did you go into a programme?
I lost my taste for it. Just like cigarettes.

Did you do anything physically to prepare for this tour?
I have a half-assed routine I try to go to. I miss it every other day. But I try to keep in shape.

What’s your daily ritual on the road?
The thing I’m most worried about is losing my voice. So I tend not to talk between concerts. I never did like going out much. I love that moment when I close the hotel room door.

So it’s not the old sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle, with young girls throwing themselves at you?
But there are lovely communications… what you see behind you [notes and flowers from fans]. Many gifts come. It’s very touching.

It’s an ascetic life?
Yes, it is.

No temptations?
The Devil laughs if you say there’s no temptations. I do cherish those moments when I can just relax in the hotel room. Because there are a lot of details that have to be taken care of aside from getting up onstage. You’re dealing with a number of human beings whose well-being and safety you’re concerned about. There are people I like to meet and talk to in the crew and the band.

You’re moving a lot more onstage.
One of the surprises was getting to know these songs again. I hadn’t really looked at them for a long, long time. The songs are good. They hold up and you can get into them. I’ve never really thought of touring as a musical event. It was life on the road. Temptation. It was drinking, camaraderie, it was the feeling of being in a motorcycle gang. There was that aspect to it which simply doesn’t figure now. The music became really important on this tour. I was able to see that these songs really do move, and you can enter them, and there is a place to live in them, to move in them. And with musicians like I have, and the kind of rhythm section I have, it invites you to move. There is one dancer in our group, Sharon Robinson. She used to dance for Ann-Margret.

You once told me you’ve got to beat the band back. That seems no longer the case.
I was drunk a lot of the time. The thing I was worried about was the drum and the bass would turn up. It was very hard to keep the band quiet. Occasionally like racehorses on the homeward track, I never used to blame them, but it was the nature of the beast that the guys want to open up. And because I hadn’t rehearsed with this kind of precision and for this duration, I was always worried about them overtaking me. Also it’s a different atmosphere. The precision is cherished by these musicians. No-one is galloping.

What’s your relationship status these days?
With Anjani [Thomas; American jazz singer-songwriter who toured with Cohen in 1985 and subsequently became his romantic partner]? It’s a good relationship. I’ve known her for a long, long time. She’s just finished six songs of her own for a new album. She went to a little cabin in Wyoming for the last month and has written this album. So I’m very anxious to hear it.

How did your art exhibit do [Drawn To Words opened on June 3, 2007 at the Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester]?
It did very well. And continues to do well. It was one reason I didn’t have to go on tour. I was able to pay a lot of lawyers. Not Robert Kory [whose fees are deferred]. I had detectives, forensic accountants, tax specialists.

If all of that hadn’t happened… would you be doing this?
Probably not.

It put a fire in your belly?
Yes. It got me out into the world. I was retreating. It wasn’t a retreat from creative activity. It was a retreat from public life.

Was that a good thing?
Sure. We’re not running the show. I don’t recommend losing everything as a spiritual discipline. But if it happens to you there are some features that are quite surprising and quite nourishing.

Do you still see Roshi? [his Zen teacher from Mount Baldy]
I celebrated his birthday, his 101st birthday, April 1. He gave me some advice years ago which I didn’t heed. I believe it was the ’79 tour. He was in the dressing room with me drinking cognac – he taught me to drink cognac. But I was drinking a tumbler of cognac like it was water. He hit my thigh very hard and said, “Body important.”

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“COME ON, FRIENDS, LET’S GO...”
The quest for perfection – and a Filet-O-Fish: a year on the road with Leonard Cohen

THE REHEARSALS: STUDIO INSTRUMENT RENTALS, LOS ANGELES, FEBRUARY/MARCH, 2008

Roscoe Beck [played on Cohen’s Recent Songs album in 1979; producer of Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album; bassist and musical director on the current tour]: Leonard called me at Thanksgiving and I flew out to LA and met with him. We started auditions for the band in January, and rehearsals in February. There were a lot of chord charts left over from the ’88/’93 touring band. Once the band was in place, Leonard would give guidance to the musicians, but he kinda sat back and said, “Let’s see what they come up with.”

We scheduled a lot of rehearsal time. Leonard cares about his music and he cares about the audience that’s going to hear it. When we were hiring, his only instructions to me were: “Rossie, I only want the best band on the road this year.” No pressure, then.

Sharon Robinson [back-up singer since 1979; co-writer on the 10 New Songs and Dear Heather albums]: I came in a month into the process, in March. Leonard was definitely adjusting to another mode of living. He’s somewhat of a perfectionist. That part of him takes over.

Roscoe Beck: Was Leonard rusty? No, I don’t think so. He’s a very modest man, and he claims that rehearsals were mostly for him. But I don’t buy that at all. He’d been practising guitar in advance of this and boning up on his own material. He was in good shape, musically as well as physically. He quit smoking five years ago, and mentally he was ready for this tour.

Anne Militello [lighting designer]: He was so involved in every aspect of the look – the drapes, the wardrobe of the band and even the clothing of the crew. They all had fedoras!

Bruce Rodgers [set designer]: I wanted the feel of the set to be like him, subtle and silvery grey and translucent, mysterious and full of light at times, dark and moody at others. As far as the design and layout he was very involved, the master planner of the placement of all his band members. He wanted his musicians as close and intimate as possible.

Roscoe Beck: When we ran over the list of songs we just found that there was so much we couldn’t leave out. People told him concerts don’t run that long. His own children said, “Dad, concerts are like 90 minutes and then they’re gone!”

THE FIRST SHOW: FREDERICTON PLAYHOUSE, CANADA, MAY 11, 2008

Wilfred Langmaid [reporter, Fredericton Daily Gleaner]: He arrived on Wednesday or Thursday, and the show was on the Sunday. It was the poorest-kept secret in the city. Maybe it was the nature of Fredericton, but he was walking around, down the path by the river, and no-one accosted him. The Playhouse is tiny, in the 700-people range. Leonard was obviously nervous. We were in the fourth row, and could see him pacing back and forth backstage. He came on to a two-minute standing ovation. He looked out with that nervous, shy smile, and kept bowing and nodding his head; a sheepish grin, but loving every moment of it.

Charley Webb [singer]: Leonard seemed really excited. For the first couple of gigs, there was a sense of anticipation, and nerves. Leonard does talk of his nerves that he’s had over the years. He occasionally has now what he calls his “nip” – his whiskey and soda.

Hattie Webb [singer]: One night I quite fancied a whiskey and soda in the interval, and he was pouring me one out as well [as his]. It looked a strange colour, and then we realised that he was pouring Guinness instead of soda. We both cracked up, and then he started afresh.

Sharon Robinson: He was nervous. More so than our performance, he was not sure how the audience was going to receive the whole idea. He takes all of his work very seriously. In that respect, he was a little worried before he went on.

Charley Webb: Hattie and I weren’t plugged into what to expect. We’d never seen Leonard live. It took a while to harden to being affected by grown men and women sobbing and screaming directly in front of you. But Leonard was warmed by that. It’s almost like he could part the Red Sea. He lifts up his microphone and everything settles.

Hattie Webb: It was a very smart way of Leonard to start the tour. Instead of being in an enormous arena with less personal connection, you could see the faces of the first 20 rows. Leonard immediately connected with people, and his own nerves dissipated within a couple of songs.

Leif Bodnarchuk [guitar technician]: I’ve never seen such a genuinely enthusiastic reception. I’ve see kids go wild, but this older audience was incredible. We were stunned!

Wilfred Langmaid: By the fourth song, “Bird On The Wire”, the nervousness was gone. He was gracious, he was thinking on his feet. At the start of set two, when he was getting the keyboard programmed for “Tower Of Song”, he pressed a wrong button, and laughed and had to put his glasses on. He was literally feeling his way.

MILE ONE CENTRE, ST JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA, MAY 23, 2008

Roscoe Beck: Bob Dylan was playing the venue right next door to the hotel. It was a large venue, 16,000 seats, and the sound system was a little loud for us, and we were all trying to protect our ears, so we had to wear earplugs. They’ve known each other for a long time, and I know there’s a lot of respect for each other. Jennifer Warnes told me a story once that there was a dinner once, they were honouring Bob Dylan. And Leonard was there and Jennifer was there. And at one point, Bob Dylan took Elizabeth Taylor by the hand and said, “Come, let me introduce you to a real poet...”

THE FIRST EUROPEAN DATE: IMMA, ROYAL HOSPITAL, KILMAINHAM, DUBLIN, JUNE 13, 2008

Graham Boothby [fan]: I’ve been a fan of Cohen for 35 years. I never, ever dreamed I would see him live. I saw him in Dublin at 8am, walking down the street. I thought: ‘He’s mine when he plays tonight.’ So I let him be. It was the first night of the European tour. He had to get it right, and there wasn’t much interaction with the audience. He came onstage quietly, and the place erupted. “Hallelujah” was the highlight. I was just in tears. There was absolute silence. 10,000 people. After the second encore, people rushed down to the stage and sang along. It was overwhelming. Of course, all the buzz was that he had to tour because his manager had run off with his money. Well, thank you madam, I’m glad you did.

Charley Webb: We tried to say to him that if he put a baseball cap on, and a sweater and an old pair of jeans, he wouldn’t be recognised. But he’s always got his fedora on, and his long mac over the top of his suit. There wasn’t even a glimmer of thought that he might consider wearing anything else.

Sharon Robinson: He’s a devoted workhorse. He works harder than any of the rest of us, and has reserves of energy that no-one can quite tell where they come from. He’s quite a bit happier than when I knew him 30 years ago. We often talk about how hard the work is, being on tour. I asked Leonard once: “But aren’t you enjoying it?” And he did admit that he was enjoying the audience’s involvement in the music, that there was something very special going on.

Hattie Webb: We socialise and have a meal together before the gigs, at the venue. Leonard always has his nutritious smoothie.

Charley Webb: While he eats a very healthy diet, like a Zen Buddhist would, every now and again we discover he’s slipped out the back door and gone to McDonald’s to buy a Filet-O-Fish!

Roscoe Beck: After dinner we’ll be getting dressed. Then we meet in the Green Room about 15 minutes before we go onstage, just hang out and talk as friends before we hit the stage. That’s the way it goes, every time. There are nights out. But a night out with Leonard is not going to be a night at the disco. It’s a long dinner somewhere, coffee afterwards. Good conversation. He’s very open to those he knows.

Javier Mas [guitar; musical director for Spanish Cohen tribute concerts in 2006 and 2007]: He’s like a big brother. We’re together from 10 in the morning till 1 at night. We’ve become very good friends. The only difference between him and us is the age. He’s 74, he has a different day-time schedule, when he rests more than us. And we play concerts for three hours, sometimes more. He needs a lot of rest to make it good, and remember all the lyrics.

Charley Webb: Leonard doesn’t often go out after the show. We often don’t finish ’til 12.30 at night, and that also means there are people who’ve been to the concert around the hotel, seeing if they can see Leonard. It can be very intrusive for him. So often we don’t see him till the next day.

Roscoe Beck: The one concession he’s making for himself is that there’s no meet-and-greet on this tour. There have been quite a few celebrities who’ve come to the shows – and of course everyone wants to meet Leonard. He decided before the tour that meet-and-greets just take too much out of him. He gives everything he’s got into the show. When the show is over, he’s ready to go back to the hotel room.

GLASTONBURY, PILTON, ENGLAND, JUNE 29, 2008

Charley Webb: We stood there all together, and he peeked round the curtain, and said: “There’s a few people here tonight, friends...” And there were 100,000 people in front of us. I think he’s often a little nervous. Every time we walk on, he says: “Come on, friends, let’s go!” I think he feels an obligation to all of us. So he doesn’t like to show his nerves too much.

Mark Radcliffe [BBC presenter]: He was the only person at Glastonbury who refused to be televised. The excuse he gave was that the cameras interfere with his connection with the audience. Some people were thinking that was a little precious. But having seen that connection, you couldn’t argue.

Roscoe Beck: Someone called us “the world’s quietest band”, and it is the quietest band I’ve ever played in. He was concerned about whether it would work in front of 100,000 people. He’s a very humble man. It makes him want to give even more. He just wants to make sure everyone leaves with something they’ll never forget.

Charley Webb: Leonard will always choose the smallest or least comfortable seat in the room or on the plane, and he’ll always leave the nicest ones to other people. He insists on that, and if you try to change it he goes: “No, please, after you...” Total graciousness and gentlemanliness, all the time. But then surprising openness, with very amusing stories. He doesn’t make any apologies for the way he feels, and he’s not nervous to say what he thinks.

Hattie Webb: One time we were on the plane and it was incredibly bumpy, and all the people around me were very frightened. I was gripping hold of my drink and seeing my life flashing before my eyes, and I looked over at Leonard. He was completely and utterly calm, and said: “Don’t worry, darling, nothing can happen to you – it’s just the way it is.” That’s what we take from Leonard. He worries about the small things and deals with those. And with the big things, he lets nature take its course.

THE LAST SHOW OF THE SUMMER TOUR: THE BIG CHILL FESTIVAL, LEDBURY, ENGLAND, AUGUST 3, 2008

Hattie Webb: Charley and I went into the festival a little early, and I walked backstage in a hippy festival dress, and Leonard said to me: “You’d better cover up your knees, darlin’, because there are old men in here!”

Charley Webb: I think everybody was quite happy to play that festival, but also happy that it was the last of the leg. We had been out for what seemed to be too long. Too long, certainly, for Leonard. When he was onstage you’d never have known, because he’s so professional. But offstage, he and all of us were weary.

Sharon Robinson: We were somewhat anxious to get back to our lives, and families and take care of things. It was time to go home. And so we went our separate ways. And reconvened at rehearsal.

THE FIRST SHOW OF THE AUTUMN TOUR: ARCUL DE TRIUMF, BUCHAREST, ROMANIA, SEPTEMBER 21, 2008

Roscoe Beck: We took three or four weeks off, then we reconvened in Los Angeles again at the SIR studio for two weeks, just to brush up.

Charley Webb: The first show back was his 74th birthday. It was a good birthday. We talked the day before, as a band: “What shall we do on Leonard’s birthday?” And we agreed “nothing” was the right response. But people in Bucharest were charming and the show was punctuated with “Happy Birthday to you,” over and over. And then some people came up onstage with some enormous cakes that were heavier than Leonard, which he held for a few minutes, ’til we rescued him. He always tastes, but he never really indulges in an enormous portion.

Sharon Robinson: The set has changed a little on this leg. Leonard has added “The Partisan” to the show, and “Famous Blue Raincoat” is coming back in. There are no new songs, not yet.

Roscoe Beck: Well, he’s already got some things written. He’s played me two new songs. And there are more. I saw him writing on the plane yesterday, in his notebooks. And he’s talked to me about wanting to do a new record. But it will probably be when the touring’s done. We’ll break for Christmas, then I think we’re going to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and the Far East. After that will be the US and Western Canada. So there’s at least that much touring before we can start on a record. That will take us to at least October 2009 before we can even think about recording.

Interviews by Michael Bonner, Nick Hasted and John Lewis


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