Leonard Cohen Converts “The Captain” From A Song To Spoken Word While Crew, Gnomes & Fairies Fix His Guitar – 1985

1985 – Leonard Cohen Converts The Captain From Song To Spoken Word


‘The Captain’ took me several years to write. [Cohen recites the lyric] It is good, spoken like that. I wrote it as a song. I generally start off with a phrase or a line of very simple music. I had many phrases for ‘The Captain.’ I worked on it from many approaches.1


Leonard Cohen


As a result of his unending revisionism, Leonard Cohen has changed his lyrics and arrangements and has transformed poems into songs and, less frequently, songs into spoken word. In this case, however, the metamorphosis of his performance of one of his songs, “The Captain,” was the result of an accident — to his guitar.

Leonard Cohen Recites The Captain At 1985 Philadelphia Show While Gnomes Fix Guitar

“The Captain” was released as a song on the Various Positions album in 1984.



I noticed, however, that “The Captain” was performed as a spoken-word piece at the 1985 Philadelphia concert. It turns out that the Philadelphia concert recitation was, as Leonard recounts in the following recording, the consequence of a “little disaster” with his guitar, which fell on the ground and was being repaired backstage by “gnomes” and “little fairies descended from the North Pole.”

Leonard Cohen – The Captain
Philadelphia: April 30, 1985
Video by ALB123Videos


Fortuitously, I had on hand a bootleg of the Berklee (Boston) concert which took place May 4, 1985, four days after the April 30, 1985 Philadelphia show. Again, “The Captain” was presented as a recitation as it was at the May 5, 1985 Carnegie Hall performance.

Leonard Cohen – The Captain
Carnegie Hall, New York City: May 5, 1985
Video from


Further, according to Jim Devlin’s “Is This What You Wanted,” Leonard Cohen was not known to have played “The Captain” at any other concerts in 1985.2

So, “The Captain” has been performed by Leonard Cohen in a spoken-word version on only four occasions (assuming he played it at the second Philadelphia show as well as the first), all of which took place in 1985 and all of which were, presumably, the consequence of his guitar falling on the floor at that first Philadelphia concert.

Credit Due Department: Photo atop post by Pete Purnell

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 May 26, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.


  1. From Leonard Cohen Work Finds A Place by Mary Campbell. AP – Kentucky New Era: June 29, 1985 []
  2. Caveat: A few 1985 concerts still lack verified set lists. []

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