Leonard Cohen had a small meltdown onstage at the end of his 1972 world tour. Facing the audience at Yad Eliahu Sports Palace in Jerusalem, he only managed to sing the first three words of “Bird on a Wire,” falling silent when the crowd began to applaud.
I really, I really enjoy your recognizing the song, but… I’m scared enough as it is up here, and I think something’s wrong every time you begin to applaud. So if you do recognize the song, would you just wave your hand? I would really like to see you all waving your hands if you recognize the song.
I hope you’ll bear with me. These songs are kind of, uh—they become meditations for me, and sometimes, you know, I just don’t get high on it, and I feel that I’m cheating you, so I’ll try it again, okay? And if it doesn’t work, I’ll stop in the middle. There’s no reason why we should mutilate a song just to save face, but here it goes.
But the audience greeted the opening bars of “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” with applause, too, and Cohen got ready to walk.
Now look, if it doesn’t get any better, we’ll just end the concert and I’ll refund your money, because I really feel that we’re cheating you tonight. You know, some nights, one is raised off the ground, and some nights, you just can’t get off the ground. And there’s no point in lying about it. And tonight, we just haven’t been getting off the ground. It says in the Kabbalah… that if you can’t get off the ground, you should stay on the ground. No, it says in the Kabbalah that unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne. And somehow, the male and female part of me refuse to encounter one another tonight, and God does not sit on his throne. And this is a terrible thing to happen in Jerusalem. So listen: we’re going to leave the stage now and try to profoundly meditate in the dressing room to get ourselves back into shape, and if we can manage, we will be back.
Backstage, Cohen told his band and crew that the show was over and he was leaving. As Ira Nadel’s Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen relates, though, all the singer really needed to clear his head was a shave, a cigarette, and a dose:
In Jerusalem, at the Yad Eliahu Sports Palace, there was pandemonium when Cohen stopped mid-performance and left the stage, agitated and in tears, saying that he could not go on and that the money should be refunded to the audience. Drugs and the pressure of performing the final concert of the tour in the holy city of Jerusalem had contributed to his state. In the dressing room, a distraught Cohen rejected the pleas of his musicians and manager to return to the stage. Several Israeli promoters, overhearing the conversation, walked out to the crowd and conveyed the news: Cohen would not be performing and they would receive their money back. The young audience responded by singing the Hebrew song, “Zim Shalom” (“We Bring You Peace”). Backstage, Cohen suddenly decided he needed a shave; rummaging in his guitar case for his razor, he spied an envelope with some acid from years ago. He turned to his band and inquired: “Should we not try some?” “Why not?” they answered. And “like the Eucharist,” Cohen has said, “I ripped open the envelope and handed out small portions to each band member.” A quick shave, a cigarette, and then out to the stage to receive a tumultuous welcome. The LSD took effect as he started to play and he saw the crowd unite into the grand image of “the Ancient of Days” from Daniel’s dream in the Old Testament. This image, “the Ancient of Days” who had witnessed all history, asked him, “Is this All, this performing on the stage?” Deliver or go home was the admonition. At that moment, Cohen had been singing “So Long, Marianne” intensely and a vision of Marianne appeared to him. He began to cry and, to hide his tears, turned to the band—only to discover that they, too, were in tears.
The concert comes at the end of Tony Palmer’s documentary of the 1972 tour, Bird on a Wire. While the full movie (which includes the shave, but not the acid-eating, as far as I can tell) is up on YouTube, German subtitles swim nauseously all over the frame. Instead, here are clips of that evening’s performance of “So Long, Marianne” and the tearful sequel.
“So Long, Marianne”:
After the jump, the end of the Jerusalem show…