Whither Thou Goest – It’s Lovely, It’s Funny, It’s Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen Sings Sweetly And Cracks Wise In 1993

This post features Leonard Cohen performing one of the loveliest songs in his repertoire and perhaps his funniest shtick ever, in the process presaging by fifteen years the closing number Leonard employs in his current World Tour – all presented in 3 minutes, 22 seconds of video.

Not too shabby, eh?

Leonard Cohen And Whither Thou Goest

Although “Whither Thou Goest,” written by Guy Singer in 1954, was not issued on a Leonard Cohen album until recordings of the July 17, 2008 London concert, including “Whither Thou Goest,” were pressed into and issued as the “Live in London” album, it was often sung a capella by Leonard Cohen and his ensemble as a concluding benediction to many of the concerts of his 1988 and 1993 tours.

“Whither Thou Goest” was also performed as a duet by Cohen and Anjani in her 2007 promotions of the Blue Alert Album.

Leonard Cohen & Anjani – Whither Thou Goest
Joe’s Pub, NYC: April 24, 2007


Since then, this canticle, its intonations a particularly good fit with Cohen’s voice and phrasings, has been the final song of many Leonard Cohen World Tour concerts.

The lyrics of Whither Thou Goest are derived from Ruth 1:16-17, which comprises the brave and loving vow Ruth, a widow, makes to follow Naomi, who had been her mother-in-law, even though that meant leaving her own country and family.1 The archaic, elegant words and cadences of the King James Version of the scripture flawlessly convey the strength, sacrifice, and beauty of Ruth’s pledge without lapsing into false sentimentality:

16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

Whither Thou Goest – 1993 and 2009 Versions

I had never seen a performance of “Whither Thou Goest” from the 1988 or 1993 tours until I stumbled across a video from a 1993 concert.

I realized only a day or two ago that I had not posted this stellar performance since the World Tour began. This hiatus before the penultimate leg of the World Tour commences seemed an especially apt time to spotlight this grand specimen of Leonard Cohen saying goodnight to his friends.

For comparison, a video of the 2008 Helskinki performance of “Whither Thou Goest” followed by Cohen’s thank-yous and blessings is embedded below.

Leonard Cohen – Whither Thou Goest (Helsinki – Oct 10, 2008)

Video from albertnoonan


Leonard Cohen Offers Blessings, Warns Of Summer Cold 15 Years Before World Tour

For our feature attraction, Heck Of A Guy presents “Whither Thou Goest,” performed as the concluding number of a 1993 Leonard Cohen concert in Toronto.2

The backup singers for this tour were Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen. Then, as now, other members of the troupe joined in the singing of “Whither Thou Goest,” but the fuzziness of the Toronto video combined with the fuzziness of my vision precludes my recognition of the other folks seen in the video.

Viewers are urged to take special note of the morphing of Leonard Cohen, he of the distinguished Jewish heritage and Zen Buddhist monkhood, into Reverend Leo, the TV evangelist – “Put your hand on the screen … .”

Leonard Cohen – Whither Thou Goest (Toronto 1993)

Video from musicloveraustria2


And God bless you. Goodnight


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 Oct 26, 2010.

  1. Finally, my Old Testament Survey course I took at Oklahoma Christian College almost 40 years ago is starting to pay off []
  2. Leonard Cohen gave six concerts in Toronto in 1993. There is no information identifying which performance this video shows. []

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