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Phil Spector’s Deadly Ways: Does Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies' Man Foresee Lana Clarkson’s Murder?

As we prepared for this month’s “Leonard Cohen Week,” which concludes with Friday’s twilight performance at Coachella, one of Cohen’s most notorious and fascinating albums, Death of a Ladies’ Man, got stuck in our mind.

Much has been written about Cohen and his classic songs over the years, but little of it has been dedicated to the stormy and failed 1977 collaboration the singer, songwriter and poet had with producer/murderer Phil Spector. The push/pull between the two strong-headed auteurs has become the stuff of Hollywood legend. Cohen and Spector’s method of teamwork reportedly involved an armed and volatile Spector locking lyricist Cohen out of the studio while the producer crafted the music.

The result, Death of a Ladies’ Man, is a wonderfully uneven eight-song album, which, in hindsight, could be seen as a portent of Spector’s woes. Titles include: “True Love Leaves No Traces,” “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On” and “Fingerprints,” all key themes in the Spector murder trial. Had he paid closer attention to Cohen’s refrain for “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On,” Spector may have avoided a whole heap of trouble. Sings Cohen (with Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg on backing vocals): “Don’t go home with your hard-on/It will only drive you insane/You can’t shake it (or break it) with your Motown/You can’t melt it down in the rain.”

The more we dug, the more evidence surfaced that maybe this Cohen guy was on to something, like he had some sort of premonition. Herewith, lyrical tidbits that, compiled below, are somewhat revealing.

 

Track listing, Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man:

1. “True Love Leaves No Traces” (4:26)

2. “Iodine” (5:03)

3. “Paper Thin Hotel” (5:42)

4. “Memories” (5:59)

5. “I Left a Woman Waiting” (3:28)

6. “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On” (5:36)

7. “Fingerprints” (2:58)

8. “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (9:19)

 

Item 1. Spector meets Clarkson at House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she is a waitress:

I walked up to the tallest and the blondest girl

I said, Look, you don’t know me now but very soon you will

So won’t you let me see

I said won’t you let me see

I said won’t you let me see

your naked body?

—from “Memories”

 

He invites her over to his place after she gets off work. She agrees:

She took his much-admired oriental frame of mind

and the heart-of-darkness alibi his money hides behind

She took his blonde madonna and his monastery wine —

“This mental space is occupied and everything is mine.”

—from “Memories”

 

Item 2. They arrive at Spector’s Alhambra mansion. They get to know each other. He, a producer past his prime; she, an actress who had to work at House of Blues to pay the rent:

She said, I see your eyes are dead

What happened to you, lover?

What happened to you, my lover?

What happened to you, lover?

What happened to you?

And since she spoke the truth to me

I tried to answer truthfully

Whatever happened to my eyes

happened to your beauty

—from “I Left a Woman Waiting”

 

Item 3. Spector, a legendary ladies’ man, and strong with manly desire, admires the blonde Clarkson. She, however, is not so sure. This is understandably frustrating to the producer:

Ah but don’t go home with your hard-on

It will only drive you insane

You can’t shake it (or break it) with your Motown

You can’t melt it down in the rain

—from “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On”

 

Item 4. Enter a gun. Who knows how it got there? An alleged struggle:

Your beauty on my bruise like iodine

I asked you if a man could be forgiven

And though I failed at love, was this a crime?

You said, Don’t worry, don’t worry, darling

You said, Don’t worry, don’t you worry, darling

There are many ways a man can serve his time

—from “Iodine”

 

Item 5. Serve time? What are you talking about, serve time? A gunshot. Who pulled the trigger? Where is the evidence? Why aren’t Spector’s prints on the gun?

I called my fingerprints all night

But they don’t seem to care

The last time that I saw them

they were leafing through your hair

Fingerprints, fingerprints

Where are you now my fingerprints?

—from “Fingerprints”

 

Item 6. Call an ambulance! There’s been an incident at the Spector mansion! Too late. It’s over.

And many nights endure

without a moon or star

So we will endure

when one is gone and far

—from “True Love Leaves No Traces”

 

True love may not leave traces, but sometimes history does.


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