a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Jamming Chart

Who By Fire

Music/Lyrics: Leonard Cohen

Vocals: Colonel Bruce Hampton

Original Artist: Leonard Cohen

Original Album: New Skin For the Old Ceremony (1974)

Debut: 1994-04-23

Historian: Ellis Godard

This cover was inspired by a video of Leonard Cohen performing this song with Sonny Rollins on the show Sunday Night hosted by David Sanborn and Jools Holland (and played repeatedly on the spring 1994 tour bus). Who ever would have guessed that Phish (and, fifteen years later, Mike) would cover this bizarre tune by Leonard Cohen? 

Cohen first recorded the tune in 1974 in the style of “Greensleaves” (bouncy and high-pitched, with a harpsichord) but who released a more compelling version on Cohen Live (from Austin City Limits 10/31/88), released the same year the song was performed by Phish. Phish first teased the song during the brave ascent of the vocal jam following “You Enjoy Myself,” and then performed the entire song with Col. Bruce Hampton. Who became (with Merl Saunders in the first set on “High-Heel Sneakers”) part of one of the few (and perhaps only) one-guest-per-set shows. All of whom played together in Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theater, favorite venue of this history’s writer. Who wonders what the hell Leonard is saying in a song which is just a stream of questions with no verbs, except for the refrain “And who shall I say is calling?” And what shall we suppose that means?”

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