New Skin for the Old Ceremony

New Skin for the Old Ceremony
New Skin for the Old Ceremony
Studio album by Leonard Cohen
Released August 1974
Recorded February 1974, Sound Ideas Studio, New York
Genre Folk-rock
Length 37:11
Label Columbia
Producer Leonard Cohen, John Lissauer
Leonard Cohen chronology
Live Songs
New Skin for the Old Ceremony
Death of a Ladies' Man
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau (A-)[2]
Rolling Stone (mixed)[3]

New Skin for the Old Ceremony is Leonard Cohen's fourth studio album. On this album, he begins to evolve away from the rawer sound of his earlier albums, with violas, mandolins, banjos, guitars, percussion and other instruments giving the album a more orchestrated (but nevertheless spare) sound. The album is silver in the UK, but never dented the Billboard Top 200.

A remastered CD was released in 1995 and in 2009 it was included in Hallelujah - The Essential Leonard Cohen Album Collection, an 8-CD box set issued by Sony Music in the Netherlands.



The original cover art for New Skin for the Old Ceremony was an image from the alchemical text Rosarium philosophorum. The two winged and crowned beings in sexual embrace caused his U.S. record label, Columbia Records to print one early edition of the album minus the image substituting instead a photo of Cohen.

The image originally came to public attention in C.G.Jung's essay, The Psychology of The Transference (2nd ed.1966) where it is held by Jung to depict the union of psychic opposites in the consciousness of the enlightened saint. The sexual embrace as a symbol for this condition of psychic unity is also found frequently in Tibetan thangkas (sacred paintings).

Track listing

All songs were written by Leonard Cohen, except "Chelsea Hotel #2" by Cohen and Ron Cornelius.

Side one
  1. "Is This What You Wanted" – 4:13
  2. "Chelsea Hotel #2" – 3:06
  3. "Lover Lover Lover" – 3:19
  4. "Field Commander Cohen" – 3:59
  5. "Why Don't You Try" – 3:50
Side two
  1. "There Is a War" – 2:59
  2. "A Singer Must Die" – 3:17
  3. "I Tried to Leave You" – 2:40
  4. "Who by Fire" – 2:33
  5. "Take This Longing" – 4:06
  6. "Leaving Green Sleeves" – 2:38


"Chelsea Hotel", the precursor to "Chelsea Hotel #2", was only performed live. "Chelsea Hotel #2" refers to a sexual encounter in the Chelsea Hotel, probably New York City's most famous Bohemian hostelry. For some years, when performing this song live, Cohen would tell a story that made it clear that the person he was singing about was Janis Joplin. Cohen would eventually come to regret his choice to make people aware that the song was about Joplin, and the graphic detail in which the song describes their brief relationship. In a 1994 broadcast on the BBC, Cohen said it was "an indiscretion for which I'm very sorry, and if there is some way of apologising to the ghost, I want to apologise now, for having committed that indiscretion." [4]

In concert, a prolonged "I Tried to Leave You" was sometimes used to introduce the band. The 14-minute rendition from the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival even featured extra lines given to the backup singers.

"Who by Fire" explicitly relates to Cohen's Jewish roots, echoing the words of the Unetanneh Tokef prayer and sung as a duet with Janis Ian (also Jewish; her birth name is Janis Eddy Fink).

"Leaving Green Sleeves" is a reworking of the 15th-century folk song "Greensleeves". Cohen retains the chord progression and the words of the first two verses, but changes the melody and takes the latter verses in a different direction than the original. The song, and in turn the album, ends with Cohen violently screaming the chorus as the track fades out.

On December 16, 2010, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles showcased a series of eleven commissioned art videos inspired by songs from New Skin for the Old Ceremony. The project was curated by Lorca Cohen and Darin Klein.[5] The artists participating in the project were Brent Green, Alex da Corte, Wenston Currie, Theo Angell, Christian Holstad, Sylvan and Lily Lanken, "Lucky Dragons," Kelly Sears, Brent Milspaw, Peter Coffin, and Tina Tyrell.[6]


  • Leonard Cohen – guitar, vocals, producer
  • John Lissauer – woodwinds, keyboards, backup vocals, producer, arranger
  • Emily Bindiger – backup vocals
  • Gerald Chamberlain – trombones
  • Erin Dickins – backup vocals
  • Lewis Furey – viola
  • Ralph Gibson – guitar
  • Armen Halburian – percussion
  • Janis Ian – vocals
  • Gail Kantor – backup vocals
  • Jeff Layton – banjo, mandolin, guitar, trumpet
  • Barry Lazarowitz – percussion
  • Roy Markowitz – drums
  • John Miller – bass
  • Don Payne – bass

Songs for Rebecca

Shortly after this album, co-producers Lissauer and Cohen proceeded to work on its follow-up, Songs For Rebecca, which was abandoned after one side was completed. Five songs are known from their live performances during the North American tour of November 1975; they were reworked and recorded few years later – two of them with Phil Spector for Death of a Ladies' Man in 1977, and the other three on Recent Songs in 1979.

Cover versions

"Chelsea Hotel #2" has been performed many times by other musicians. Lloyd Cole covered it on the Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan, and Rufus Wainwright performed the song at the 2006 live tribute, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. Regina Spektor has also covered the song in live performances, as has Lambchop and the song features on their tour only album Rainer on my Parade. Marissa Nadler covered "Chelsea Hotel #2" on her Australian Tour CD and has been known to cover this song in her live performances. It was covered by Brand New sung by band leader Jesse Lacey. Meshell Ndegeocello covered it during a concert in Paris, France, 30 January 2011. It is also referenced in both the title and lyrics of Jeffrey Lewis's song "The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song."

"A Singer Must Die" was covered by the Irish art rock group The Fatima Mansions on I'm Your Fan, by Jennifer Warnes on her 1986 album Famous Blue Raincoat, and by the Art of Time Ensemble with Steven Page on their 2010 album A Singer Must Die.

"Who by Fire" was covered by The House of Love on I'm Your Fan, by industrial band Coil on their 1986 album Horse Rotorvator, and by Buck 65 and Jenn Grant on Buck 65's 2011 album 20 Odd Years.

"Lover Lover Lover" was covered by Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen, scoring him a minor hit in the British charts in 1992.

External links


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