Thursday 20th November
I first heard the first record when Carol and I were living with three crazy Canadian guys in Stockwell. It was party night every night and about one in the morning they would put on Leonard. I was losing Carol as she flirted with the Canadians and as I sat there listening over and over to Leonard I fell deeply in love with the album and two years later having lost Carol and gained my son I finally bought myself a copy. I know every word by heart, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, The Master Song, Sisters of Mercy and all. This first album of Leonard’s had about fifteen years of his best poems set to music and is an absolute classic. He followed it with “Songs from a room” – still very good but slightly lightweight. His third record “Songs of Love and Hate” is much better, an almost vicious album, showing a harder edge to this poet. It has two of his very best songs on it “Joan of Arc” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” – (and one of his best lines – ‘the skylight is like skin for a drum I’ll never mend’) a record I never tire of; an album for grown-ups.
A fairly bland Live album followed with a couple of new unrecorded songs then another change of direction with “New Skin For The Old Ceremony”. This was a return to more lyrical love songs and I am never really sure about this album; when I am listening to it I love it, but later I try to recall any songs and only “Chelsea Hotel” and “Who by Fire” stand out. Leonard was branching out though, still relying on gently picked guitar and his strong deep voice and of course the wonderful words, but adding a touch of violin and cello and woodwind here and there and a softening of the backing female vocals, more sultry and sexy. Maybe he was beginning to believe his own myths of the legendary lover.
Then came his one moment of madness; he agreed for Phil Spector to produce his next record “Death of a Ladies Man”. Well, there are various versions embellished by the passing of time, of guns being held to Leonard’s head while he sang and of stolen tapes and bullets on the studio floor. Who knows – but it still a wonderful record, raucous and overblown but actually I quite love it, even if Leonard rarely sings any of those songs these days and disowns it in interviews. That was in 1977, then we heard nothing for two years. Was Leonard sleeping, had he stopped writing, had the muse deserted him? Oh no, he was just taking a breather before his next period….