“It was a light, breezy summer day when we landed at the Lod International Airport in Israel…” Ron Cornelius begins, (The Guitar Behind Dylan and Cohen), describing a tour stop with Leonard Cohen in Tel Aviv. Four months on the road had worn on Cohen and The Army. They had no way of knowing the turmoil that awaited.
Leonard Cohen in Tel Aviv 1972
It wasn’t that they were completely naive. The Six Day War was recent history when they arrived, and Israel was still adjusting to its role as a sovereign nation. The country felt electrified, as if every citizen was still on edge and waiting for shots to ring again.
It was into this atmosphere that Leonard Cohen and The Army landed. Though they were used to playing in sold out, grand concert halls such as the Royal Albert Hall and The Vienna Opera House, on April 19, 1972, they were scheduled to play in a gymnasium.
The Sports Hall in Tel Aviv had recently undergone renovations, including new lacquer on the gymnasium floor. As Leonard, Ron, and the other musicians surveyed the venue, it was explained to them in no uncertain terms that there would be no seats on the floor. Instead, attendees would sit along the sides and at the far end of the gym in bleachers.
This highly unusual seating arrangement bothered all of them but they were road weary. Besides, if one person’s foot touched the newly lacquered floor, hell would break loose. They’d just have to deal with the seating arrangements.
The Men in Orange
Peeking out from back stage as the crowds filed in, Cohen and The Army noted many men dressed in orange vests. These men were “security”. It seemed a bit of a heavy hand just to protect that precious floor!
Nervously, they took the stage to perform. Thanks to the power of the internet, we can listen in again to this historic performance.
The concert was not going well. They could barely see the fans, much less interact with them. Instead, they could only see “Men in Orange”.
About 10 minutes into the concert, (and the above recording), Leonard had had enough. He decided to sing directly to the Men in Orange who he began to call The Machine. When that didn’t work, he pushed himself forward with the concert.
Chaos at the Concert
But a musician can only take so much separation, especially musicians who love playing for a live audience that includes people dressed in colors other than orange. So it is that about 36 minutes into the concert that Cohen invited the people to come closer, defying the men in orange. Chaos ensued.
Leonard tried to calm The Men in Orange. “Okay,” Cohen says, “I know you’re just trying to do your job, but you don’t have to do it with your fists!”
He begged them to leave the people alone, but the security forces were relentless. He chose to sing “We Shall Not Be Moved”, but still chaos reigned. Yells and screams fill the tape while Leonard and The Army were left helpless. Security forces attacked, breaking arms and beating bodies.
The recording fades out amidst yells and screams. The concert ended in violence and . Leonard and The Army huddled back stage, grateful to be together and unharmed. It seemed that Israel was not yet ready for peace.
Or maybe they just really loved freshly lacquered floors. Whatever the case, Ron would never forget that concert with Leonard Cohen in Tel Aviv.