Leonard Cohen’s First Performance Of Choices By George Jones
Leonard Cohen’s April 26, 2013 Winnipeg show featured his rendition of Choices, a tribute to country music legend George Jones, who died the same day.
Video: Leonard Cohen Performs Choices
Leonard Cohen – Choices
Mannheim: June 29, 2013
Video by Sweetmelody2011
Leonard Cohen – Choices From The Can’t Forget Album
Taped at the 2013 Christchurch soundcheck
Leonard Cohen On George Jones: “I love to hear an old guy laying out his situation”
Long before the 2013 Winnipeg concert, however, Leonard Cohen had repeatedly praised George Jones. In 2001, for example, he told interviewer Mark Binelli,1
I listened to country as a kid. I could get WWVA from West Virginia, late at night. Have you heard George Jones’ last record, Cold Hard Truth? I love to hear an old guy laying out his situation.2 He has the best voice in America.
On another occasion, Cohen was asked “What music would you have played at your funeral?” His reply follows:
The Grand Tour by George Jones. He’s showing somebody round this empty house and he’s saying here’s the nursery, she left me without mercy.3
In his February 24, 2009 New York Times article, On the Road, For Reasons Practical and Spiritual, Larry Rohter, describes Leonard Cohen’s response to an interviewer’s inquiry into the music in his laptop’s iTunes:
He [Leonard Cohen] played a klezmer-style Hebrew hymn, then followed it by singing along with one of George Jones’s weepy country morality tales.
“I’ve had choices since the day that I was born,/There were voices that told me right from wrong,” Mr. Cohen crooned in his stern baritone. “If I had listened, no, I wouldn’t be here today,/Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.”
That song identified as “one of George Jones’s weepy country morality tales” was, of course, Choices.
Choices By George Jones
Choices was written by Mike Curtis, Billy Yates, and Rob Lyons and was first recorded by Yates on his 1997 self-titled album. George Jones covered Choices in 1999, releasing it that year on his Cold Hard Truth album. Jones won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for the song.
The personal background of the song is elaborated in this excerpt from the CMT George Jones biography:
Famed for excessive drinking throughout most of his career, Jones set something of a record in 1979 when he missed more than 50 concerts and picked up the nickname “No Show Jones.” He battled his addiction with varying degrees of success throughout the 1980s and appeared to have conquered his drinking problem in the 1990s. Then, in 1999, he was seriously injured when he wrecked his car near his Nashville-area home. Police called to the scene found a partly empty bottle of vodka in the car. He was convicted of impaired driving, fined and sentenced to undergo treatment. There have been no such incidents since. In the wake of that final car crash, Jones released a powerful ballad called “Choices” …
Video: George Jones Performs Choices
At the beginning of this video, Jones says “We’re gonna do this one all the way through.” This is a reference to the refusal of the CMA to allow Jones to sing the entire song, which received a CMA nomination for single of the year, on the broadcast of the awards show, citing time constraints. Rather than comply, Jones boycotted the event. During that show, Alan Jackson cut his performance of his own song short and broke into a full version of “Choices,” earning a standing ovation from the audience and gratitude from Jones.4
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 25, 2015.
- Q&A: The New Leonard Cohen – by Mark Binelli. Rolling Stone. Posted Oct 19, 2001. [↩]
- I also love to hear an old guy laying out his situation. Incidentally, George Jones was born September 12, 1931, making him only 3 years older than Leonard Cohen, who was born September 21, 1934. It was because Jones began his professional career at 16 and was singing on Texas stations in the 1940s that his songs could possibly have been available on radio while Cohen was still an adolescent. I haven’t been able to track down when Jones began singing at WWVA, but, according to allmusic, the first George Jones recording (a single called “No Money in This Deal”) was released in early 1954, just after Jones returned from a stint in the Marines, on a local Texas label where it received no attention. At that time, Leonard Cohen would have been 19 years old [↩]
- “Q Questionnaire – Leonard Cohen.” Q Magazine, September 1994. [↩]
- CMT George Jones biography [↩]