album design icon squares

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Nov 10, 2002 7:12 am

album design icon squares

Postby Mitch-4 » Sun Nov 10, 2002 8:16 am

I've become curious about these symbols, which the designers have been using to stand for other albums (or tours), ever since (I think) Cohen Live. My questions have been about how planned or evolving this has been, why it sometimes seems to be in use and sometimes not, and now additionally what some of them mean.

As far as I can tell, it started with Cohen Live, where the CD materials used two symbols to stand for two tours represented in the tracks. The Hummimgbird+Heart+Handcuffs, resembling the cover of The Future, stood for the 1993 tour; and in subsequent uses came to stand for The Future album, apart from the tour. An elegant couple doing ballroom dancing stood for the 1988 tour, and subsequently came to stand for I'm Your Man, the recording associated with that tour -- even though the dancers might more particularly be associated with the song "Dance Me to the End of Love", which came from Various Positions. The symbols appeared as just decorative elements on the front of the CD booklet; in large form as identifiers for the tour credits on the back cover of the booklet; and within the booklet in miniature to identify the source for each song.

More Best Ofelaborated on this and made it explicit. Six icons appear on the front cover, now become line-drawings and enclosed in squares. They are repeated on the back and identified there. We have the woman in flames (not necessarily Jeanne!) standing for Songs Of (and derived from the album back cover). Then, standing for Various Positions, two interlocking cardioids (one inverted) which together resemble a Star of David. Then as before the two used in Cohen Live, namely the Ballroom Dancers for I'm Your Man and Hummingbird-Heart-Handcuffs for The Future. There is now a symbol representing Cohen Live itself -- this is recognizable part of the cover design from that, showing what I guess are some archway elements of a building -- the original said the cover was derived from a painting, so perhaps these arches were from the painting -- I could certainly use some clarification on this. The last symbol appearing on More Best Of was a guitar, standing for "New Work". Besides appearing on the front and back covers of the booklet, these six symbols appeared by the songs individually in the interior. The two songs where the Cohen Live version was used show a pair of symbols each, one for that live album and one for the original appearance.

Field Commander Cohen doesn't make use of these symbols at all. Except that a General's star appears in the design in a couple places, at least once enclosed in a square, seemingly suggesting "A five-point star will be the symbol for this release, in later references". But those haven't happened, and I was probably just leading myself astray. It does not try to key the original appearance albums of the songs.

Ten New Songs doesn't seem to participate in this business at all, not even to the extent of including a symbol which would later be a good icon for this release. As a release of fully new material, of course this one had far less reason to be part of that cross-reference system than the three mentioned above.

And now I've gotten The Essential. As a collection of previously-released material you would think it might be ripe as a place to use that cross-reference icon "system", but it is not actually employed that way. however, the symbols are not entirely gone. They appear as design elements in the inside back cover of the CD booklet, and (in negative graphics) in the back liner of the CD case.

The symbols are the Two-Hearts-as-six-Pointed-Star, which at least used to stand for Various positions; the Hummingbird-Heart-Handcuffs, for The Future; the Guitar; the Ballroom Dancers, for I'm Your Man; the Moorish Archways, for Cohen Live; the Woman in Flames, for Songs Of; a Hummingbird by itself; and one I can't see clearly but might be a woman (or mermaid?!) reclining nude on rocks in the sea.

Trying to pair these up with the albums of origin for the songs, we have left over Songs From a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, and Recent Songs. That's four albums, and either two or three unused icons (the Mermaid, the Hummingbird Alone, and maybe the Guitar). This apparently won't work out, and I seem to be imposing a system beyond what's justified.

Any comments, or help on this vague mismatch of a system? I suppose, to articulate some definite questions, I'm looking for:
    • Who has been setting this up, and why?
      • Why has it not been followed-through in some cases?
        • What actually is that one I called the Mermaid?
          • Does it work out for The Essential any better than I came up with?

User avatar
Posts: 307
Joined: Thu Aug 15, 2002 9:49 pm
Location: Burslem


Postby Sue » Mon Nov 11, 2002 1:26 am

Thanks for this post Mitch, it's interesting what you've been trying to do. I can't help with any of your questions but I think your arguments have already cleared a few things up. It doesn't look like the icons are always and everywhere being used to stand for specific albums, there seems to be too much inconsistency. And, for example, the Star of David entwined hearts appear on a recent artwork you can see on this site (the "Burning Bush") where it's not likely they stand for Various Positions (though you never know!). It's always seemed to me that, though they do get used to identify albums, they refer more generally to themes that are repeated throughout LC's work.

One thing struck me too - is the "mermaid" (or woman reclining on rocks) the same image, I wonder, as the woman reclining on a sphinx that you can see in one of the pictures Jarkko recently reported was being auctioned in Poland? (in the News section of this message board) Another version of that picture used to be on this site but it seems to have gone.
Seems it was on an alternative cover that Leonard designed for the 10 New Songs album, but in the end wasn't used.

What do you do for a living by the way? (just curious)

User avatar
Posts: 307
Joined: Thu Aug 15, 2002 9:49 pm
Location: Burslem

Postby Sue » Mon Nov 11, 2002 1:32 am

No, it hasn't gone - it's here:

Return to “Leonard Cohen's music”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests