Celebrating Leonard Cohen’s First Live Performance Of The Guests In 27 Years – Madrid 2012: A Dossier On The Song

Note: This material was originally posted Oct 7, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric, shortly after Leonard’s Oct 5, 2012 live performance of “The Guests,” his first in 27 years.

“The Guests” On Leonard Cohen Albums

“The Guests” is the first track on the Recent Songs album, published September 1979. This brief excerpt from Thumbing Through Leonard Cohen’s Back Pages by Joel Allegretti (February 17, 2012) efficaciously explicates the significance and evokes the sense of this release:

Recent Songs came between the Phil Spector-produced Death of a Ladies’ Man, reviled in its day and now assessed more politely, and 1984´s Various Positions … After the critical flogging he endured for Death of a Ladies’ Man, Cohen retreated to a familiar sound on the next album. Instead of Spector’s sonic pyrotechnics, the songs on Recent Songs are clothed in acoustic guitar, violin, Jennifer Warnes’ exquisite background vocals and, a new instrument for Cohen, oud.

These are songs from an Athens taverna, an Andalusia café, a broken-down theater on some Paris side street. Cohen’s voice had not yet developed the cellar-deep tone of Isaiah that listeners first heard on I’m Your Man. Here, it still occupies the middle range and murmurs leisurely and stoically through the clouds of saloon smoke.

The lyrics are among Cohen’s most ornate. He employs the tropes and phraseology of English Romantic poetry (The Rose I sickened with a scarlet fever / The Swan I tempted with a sense of shame) and translations of Middle Eastern verse (And here they take their sweet repast / While house and grounds dissolve). (In the sleeve notes, he writes that Attar and Rumi influenced the imagery of several songs; remember, the album came out in 1979, well before Rumi became the New Age flavor of the month.) The writing, consequently, has more overt ties to his previous life as a literary figure. [emphasis mine]

The pertinent portion of the sleeve notes to which Allegretti refers follow:

I owe my thanks … to the late Robert Hershorn, who, many years ago, put into my hands the book of the old Persian poets Attar and Rumi, whose imagery influenced several songs, especially “The Guests” and “The Window.”


In addition, “The Guests” is on the 2001 Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979 album.

“The Guests” also appears on the 2002 compilation album, The Essential Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen Performs “The Guests” – Madrid Oct 5, 2012

Leonard Cohen’s performance of “The Guests” at the Oct 5, 2012 Madrid concert was the first time he had sung that song in concert since the February 2, 1985 Wiesbaden show. Previously, “The Guests” had been a setlist fixture throughout his 1979 and 1980 tours; it was also played at the Jan 31, 1985 Mannheim concert.1
Leonard Cohen – The Guests
Madrid: Oct 5, 2012
Video by


Other Leonard Cohen Concert Performances Of “The Guests”

There are several available recordings of “The Guests” played in concerts, as part of TV appearances, etc. Each of the following offers a special feature (e.g., Cohen’s own comments on his song or especially high fidelity recording).


Comments & Live Performance By Leonard Cohen
From Harry Rasky’s The Song Of Leonard Cohen (1979)

Video by



I think that kind of imagery can be discovered all through the literature. The persian poet Rumi (XIII th century) uses the idea of the guests a lot, the festival,the feast and the guests. It’s almost impossible to talk about that seed moment of when a song begins. It could be the soul comes into world. There is some notion the soul has that there is a feast, that there is a festival, that there is a banquet. It strives to experience the hospitality of the world. It doesn’t achieve it. It feels lonely, this is everybody’s experience. It feels lost. It stumbles around on the outskirts of the party. If the striving is deep enough or if the Grace of the host is turned towards the seeking guest, then suddenly the inner door flies open and he finds himself or the soul finds himself at that banquet table. Although no one knows where the night is going, no one knows why the wine is flowing. No one actually understand the mechanics of this grace except that we experience it from time to time.2


Comments & Live Performance3 By Leonard Cohen
ZDF-TV Studio – München Oct31, 1979
Video by antiheedenrules



This is a new song and I’m very surprised that this song has gained any kind of popularity because it’s a kind of difficult song. I think most of its popularity is due to the fact that Raffi Hakopian plays on it, and John Belezikjan. But…it’s a song about how a new soul comes into the world looking for the feast, feeling completely separated from everything, feeling isolated and in exile, and how the great author of this moral catastrophe, this veil of tears, pulls each of these souls into the Feast and into the banquet. And no one knows where the night is going, no one knows why the wine is flowing and Oh Love I need You I need You I need You….4


The Hotel By Leonard Cohen

“The Guests” is the first song in the soundtrack of I Am A Hotel, a 24 minute video produced in 1983 by Allan Nichols for Blue Memorial Video Ltd (the chairman of the company and one of the owners is Cohen) which won the Golden Rose at an international television festival in Montreux.



The Dec 15, 1979 French TV Broadcast

The 1979-1985 recording of “The Guests” with the most impressive production values, this extraordinarily vivid video (the image atop this post and those displayed here are screen captures from that video) of Cohen singing “The Guests” was originally broadcast on French TV on December 15, 1979.5


Accompanying Cohen on the violin – and evoking smiles of approbation from him – is Armenian Raffi Hakopian.



Lyrics: The Guests6

One by one, the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The open-hearted many
The broken-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going
And no one knows why the wine is flowing
Oh love I need you
I need you
I need you
I need you
Oh . . . I need you now

And those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
And “Welcome, welcome” cries a voice
“Let all my guests come in.”

And no one knows where the night is going …

And all go stumbling through that house
in lonely secrecy
Saying “Do reveal yourself”
or “Why has thou forsaken me?”

And no one knows where the night is going …

All at once the torches flare
The inner door flies open
One by one they enter there
In every style of passion

And no one knows where the night is going …

And here they take their sweet repast
While house and grounds dissolve
And one by one the guests are cast
Beyond the garden wall

And no one knows where the night is going …

Those who dance, begin to dance
Those who weep begin
Those who earnestly are lost
Are lost and lost again

And no one knows where the night is going …

One by one the guests arrive
The guests are coming through
The broken-hearted many
The open-hearted few

And no one knows where the night is going …

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 7, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.


  1. Source: Is This What You Wanted by Jim Devlin []
  2. Source: Diamonds In The Lines []
  3. This performance before a live audience was recorded for later broadcast. []
  4. Source: Diamonds In The Lines []
  5. Date provided by INA.fr archives []
  6. Source: LeonardCohenFiles []

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