Leonard Cohen’s Lost Album – Songs For Rebecca: Who’s Rebecca?

Songs For Rebecca

Songs For Rebecca, a Leonard Cohen-John Lissauer collaborative project in the mid-1970s, was abruptly abandoned after at least five songs were recorded for it. This is the first of three posts about what is called the Lost Leonard Cohen Album (more about who lost it later) because (1) it’s intrinsically interesting and (2) there is a significant amount of confusion and misinformation about Songs For Rebecca. Consider this entry a teaser for the main event to follow.

Origin Of The Title “Songs For Rebecca”

An example of the above-referenced misinformation online is this excerpt from the Leonard Cohen biography at Canadian Bands:

Columbia released THE BEST OF LEONARD COHEN in 1975, and eager to get to work on his next album, tentatively titled SONGS FOR REBECCA (for his friend, actress Rebecca De Mornay), Cohen and Lessauer [sic] had actually completed half a record, and several had been performed live.

Well, for one thing, it’s John “Lissauer” rather than “Lessauer,” but typos aren’t our concern here. The notion that Songs For Rebecca was named for Rebecca De Mornay is not only an egregious (and surprisingly prevalent) error but one that even cursory fact-checking exposes as inaccurate. Songs For Rebecca, you see, was a project that began in 1974 and ended in 1976. It wasn’t until at least ten years later that Leonard and Rebecca became an item.

Leonard Cohen & Rebecca De Mornay – A Summary: For five years or so (accounts, as they tend to do, vary) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Leonard Cohen and Rebecca De Mornay were in a relationship that progressed through a phase “a press officer call[ed] ‘an exclusive dating situation'”1 and into an engagement that was eventually broken off because, according to Cohen, “finally she saw I was a guy who just couldn’t come across. … In the sense of being a husband and having more children and the rest.”2

So, Who Is The Rebecca Of Songs For Rebecca?

None of the reliable accounts I’ve found of the project identify the titular Rebecca. The most likely suspect, I submit, is the Rebecca whose story is recorded in Genesis. We know Leonard Cohen was familiar with this Rebecca because not only was he was well grounded in the Bible, especially the Old Testament but, more specifically, the dedication he chose for his 1992 album, The Future, comprises the two verses of Genesis 24:45-46 (KJV), neatly conflating the biblical Rebecca with Rebecca De Mornay, who is also co-credited as a producer of the album:

And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water; and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.

And who is the narrator, the “I” in “And before I had done speaking in mine heart…?” Well, that would be the servant Abraham sent to find a wife for his son, Isaac. It was that servant who devised the test to find the right woman to be Isaac’s spouse. Standing by the well in Abraham’s birthplace with his men and camels, he prayed to God:

And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master. — Genesis 24:14

And, according to Jewish tradition, that servant of Abraham who found Rebecca, who did marry Isaac, was Eliezer (meaning “God is my help”) – which is also Leonard Cohen’s Hebrew name.

Heavy, eh?

The Songs For Rebecca Series

1. Leonard Cohen’s Lost Album – Songs For Rebecca: Who’s Rebecca?

2. Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album: Collaborator John Lissauer On The Project, How It Began, & How It Ended

3. Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album: The Songs (Examines and provides live performances of the tracks recorded for this project)

Credit Due Department: Rebecca De Mornay (1993), Photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s Leonard Cohen book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1). The painting is Rebecca and Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Note: I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Mar 16, 2018.
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  1. The Joking Troubadour of Gloom by Tim Rostron. The Daily Telegraph, April 26, 1993 []
  2. Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already by Pico Iyer. Shambhala Sun. Sept 1998 []

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