State Library of South Australia

Say a prayer for the cowboy

Date: 28 November 2016

When the death of the Canadian writer and performer Leonard Cohen was announced on 7 November, how many of his admirers would think of the State Library as a repository of his vocal genius? But of course, you never know what you may find in the State Library.

Leonard Cohen in 2008 Image credit Rama used under CC BY SA 2 0 FR and CeCILL licences
Leonard Cohen in 2008. Image credit: Rama; used under CC-BY-SA-2.0.FR and CeCILL licences

Leonard Cohen was interviewed on University Radio 5UV (now Radio Adelaide 101.5 FM) during his 1980 tour of Australia. At the end of the conversation with Nigel Russell he performed a haunting spoken version of 'Ballad of the Absent Mare' which had been released on the album Recent Songs the year before.

Listen to an excerpt of the interview and the first four verses of the performance. Leonard Cohen explains that the ballad is an adaptation of an allegorical Chinese story.

The full 14 minute interview and performance is preserved, at the number OH 188/14, as part of the Radio 5UV Folk Co-operative Collection which was entrusted to the State Library in 1994. 5UV's folk broadcasters had become concerned that the open reel tapes containing their recordings were at risk of being recorded over by other volunteers at the radio station less dedicated to the folk genre. The collection includes live recordings from State Folk Festivals and folk venues around Adelaide in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the performers were local and interstate artists, but a few like-minded visitors like Leonard Cohen are also captured.

In 1999 the State Library selected another 800 hours of recordings from Radio 5UV's archives; all considered to be of lasting research value and all held on fragile, obsolete recording media including open reel, mini-disc and DAT (digital audio tape). This material ranges from regular programing such as 5UV's 'Adelaide Festival Forum' to inaugural and valedictory lectures by University of Adelaide academics.  

Story by Beth M Robertson, Manager, Preservation

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