Skip to content
Hi. My name is Joe Jackson. And as I say in the video that accompanies this blog, ‘I became an interviewer purely to meet my heroes, starting with Leonard Cohen in 1985.’ Let me elaborate. Roughly twenty years earlier, when I was ten years old, I read a book called. The Elvis Presley Story and told my mother, “One day I am going to Memphis. Tennessee, to thank Mr. [Sam] Phillips for discovering my hero – Elvis.” That probably is where it all began. But I didn’t just love Elvis. I loved pop music. So, four years later, even though I was too young to attend The Animals gig in Club Caroline, Glasthule, where I grew up, I sat on a wall outside the venue listening to the show. I almost shouted “Don’t push me” as Eric Burdon sang It’s My Life. But when I heard the opening notes of my favourite Animals 45 House of the Rising Sun, I had to get closer to the music. I wrenched a grill off the venue wall, climbed inside a ducting pipe, and crawled on my belly until, finally, lo and behold, I saw through the slits of a ventilation shaft The Animals, sadly minus Alan Price, sing and play that song. That too probably is where it all began – certainly in terms of my seemingly insatiable need to “get closer to” music. Is it any wonder that in early 1985, when I heard that Leonard Cohen, another of my life-long heroes, was doing a gig in Dublin, I felt I must meet and talk with the man? And so, even though I wasn’t an interviewer, I asked Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press, ‘Ireland’s Rolling Stone,’ as it was called, to commission me to interview with Cohen. He did. That interview took place on March 1st, 1985. And after I left Leonard’s room, in Jury’s Hotel, and headed down a hallway, I realised that I couldn’t feel my feet touch the floor. The drugs we did were that good. I am kidding. The sensation was more so ‘the ground is gone,’ as Cohen says in his song, The Smokey Life. I was floating. I was flying. And then I remembered telling Cohen that in a close-up photo I took at the end of his last Dublin concert, he looked “transfigured, even pushed beyond body boundaries.” I remembered what he said to that.
Cohen: You do tend to change. That refreshment is so intense if you’ve given the whole gift. Sometimes you can’t. You are not in that condition of grace. Jackson: Or the crowd doesn’t give it back? Cohen: Or the crowd doesn’t give it back, yeah. But if it does happen, not only myself but the entire band begins to glow.
That is how I felt. Transcendent. As my girlfriend approached me in the lobby, she said, “You look different. What happened? Did something go wrong?” I said, “Wrong? I never felt so right in my life!” Hours later, I wrote in my diary the following fateful words. ‘Thus, begins my career as an interviewer. I feel that I must search out more of my heroes to talk with.’ An Albert Camus quote I read for the first time in 1972 –  on the sleeve of Scott 4, an LP by another of my heroes, Scott Walker – and had pinned near my writing desk five years later when I began to write a book about my response to Elvis’s death, suddenly seemed more true than ever. Namely, ‘A man’s work is nothing but a slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those one, or two, great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.’ Was I drunk that night, you may ask with some legitimacy? I was. Absolutely. But only on the ‘blaze of light’ in nearly every word, Cohen had spoken during that life-changing interview. I really did take to heart so much of what he said. Let me give you an example. After Leonard asked me to pass on to readers these lines from his song, Night Comes On: ‘Here’s to the few who forgive what you do/And the fewer who don’t even care,’ he said, “I am sure they don’t stand as great poetry, but they do stand as good information.” The latter I took to mean illuminating, spiritually uplifting “information.” So, I decided that this is what I must aspire to pass on to readers of not just my Leonard Cohen interview but all my future interviews. Let me give you another example. At one point, I told Leonard that a music critic had recently suggested that his album, Songs from a Room, was ‘unloved’ when it was first released in 1969 but that it may become more resonant as more people “crack up” during the late 1980s. I asked if Leonard felt that something similar might apply to many of his songs. He said:
Cohen: Well, I’ve never had the notion of disposable song – that it is just tossed off, and it’s going to be a hit or not. Maybe it’s because I was trained as a young writer and a young poet with some very diligent writers in Montreal, where the enterprise was taken very seriously when I was a kid. So, I have never had the notion of disposable art, which had a certain kind of vogue at a time. I always meant my work to last as long as it deserved. I always wrote – There was a side of me, maybe, immodest or trying to be truthful. There is always some line in all my books, saying, ‘You are going to get to this place, and you are going to know I am not lying to you,’ and that has come to pass in a number of places. Jackson: As you say [in the song Hallelujah] on the new album, ‘I didn’t come to fool you’? Cohen: Exactly.
   Hallelujah had hooked me the moment I heard it on Cohen’s latest LP, Various Positions. I already knew its lyrics off by heart. And so, predictably perhaps, what Cohen said in that quote, made me determined as an interviewer to not only tell my own truths but also never to lie to readers or try to fool them. And it made me aim to make my articles last longer than seemed to be the norm in the relatively disposable world of pop journalism, if not, ultimately, make them timeless. Hey, give me a break here! I was drunk, as I said. But if I thought I would be rewarded – to paraphrase Cohen’s song  I Came So Far for Beauty, which had long since inspired me as a would-be poet – by Niall Stokes for what I saw as a great interview, I was wrong. After reading the transcript, he said, “This is just two boring bollixes talking about poetry. 60% can go. You should have asked him more about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” I was gutted. So was the Cohen interview when it appeared in Hot Press. But this wake-up-to-the-world-of-rock-journalism-Joe did not make me surrender. On the contrary, still culling concepts from          Came so Far For Beauty, and defending my right to be a poet, aspirational would-be or otherwise, I secretly went on the attack. I decided, ‘Damn you, Stokes. Now you best step back and watch me fill your bloody magazine with reams of poetry in prose form penned by this boring bollix! And Leonard Cohen and I shall rise again!’ I did. And we did. Has even one of my interviews turned out to be timeless? You decide. But let me explain something about the interviews overall. I didn’t interview only my heroes. Sure, I did travel the world to track down the likes of Sam Phillips -I thanked him for discovering Elvis – Dion, and Dory Previn, and some interviewees became heroes of mine, such as Tori Amos, Tom Murphy, and Mo Mowlam. But they number less than a hundred among the 1,400 celebrities I interviewed. Also, Jerry Lee Lewis, who had been a hero, turned out to be a jerk. There also were those few interviewees who threatened me with legal action – Edge, from U2, a former member of Boyzone, and The Cranberries, in their 2018 incarnation minus Dolores O Riordan. I have never told such stories in public. But now I can. On this website That’s why it contains original typescripts – versions of my interviews available elsewhere, without my permission, too often are gutted versions of my work – and uncensored audio recordings. The archive may end up in the National Library of Ireland, Rock’ n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Victoria and Albert Museum in London or Boston University. Those institutions want to house my archive. But I have yet to decide which ‘house’ would make the best home for my legacy. In the meantime – and how’s this for bringing it all back home? – I used tapes I made with Sam Phillips, and others, such as Bono and Sinead O’ Connor, in my radio documentary, about Elvis, Conversation about the King, which was nominated for an IMRO award in the Best Music Documentary category in 2018. And I am currently involved in negotiations that may lead to my tapes being used in a film about Richard Harris and a film about Shane McGowan. I also used old recordings for my critically acclaimed radio series, The Joe Jackson Tapes Revisited, which included Leonard Cohen. On November 7th, 2016, I sent Cohen an email telling him I was doing the show, asking if that was ok by him, and thanking him for inspiring me to become an interviewer. How could I have known that earlier that day, Leonard had died? Or did he? In late October 2019, as I write these words, not only myself but the entire band of Cohen fans I know, are eagerly awaiting his posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance. All of which adds a deeper layer of truth to his line from Tower of Song, ‘you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone.’ How’s that for transcendence? Why settle for anything less? Joe Jackson, Dublin. April 4th 2020.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This function has been disabled for Joe Jackson.

Scroll To Top