Note: for best results, listen to the above song while you read this.
As we prepared for this April's “Leonard Cohen Week,” which commences this evening at the Nokia Theater, continues there tomorrow night, and concludes with next Friday's twilight performance at Coachella, one of Leonard Cohen's most notorious and fascinating albums, Death of a Ladies' Man, has been on 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/
murder defendant convicted murderer Phil Spector. The push/pull between the two strongheaded 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 re: the death of Lana Clarkson. Song 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. In fact, had the producer 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 revealed itself that maybe this Cohen guy was on to something, like maybe he had some sort of premonition of Phil Spector's travails. Herewith, lyrical tidbits that, compiled below, are somewhat revealing. If it's true, as William Burroughs submitted, that “if you cut into the present, the future leaks out,” then Leonard Cohen's lyrics on Death of a Ladies' Man can be seen as an impressive bit of fortune telling.
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 one. Spector meets Clarkson at the 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?”
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.”
They arrive at Spector's Alhambra mansion. They get to know each other. He, a producer past his creative prime; she, an actress who had to work 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”
Spector, a legendary lady's man, and strong with manly desire, admires the blond 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”
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
Serve time? What are you talking about serving 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
Where are you now my fingerprints?
Someone 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.