PBS’s ‘Blank on Blank’ Uncovers — and Animates — Leonard Cohen Telling the Story of “Sisters of Mercy”


PBS’s “Blank on Blank” series has paid tribute to the late Leonard Cohen by creating one of its signature animations to accompany a “lost” interview from 1974. In the interview, Cohen reads his poem “Two Went to Sleep”, a rather strange and somewhat sinister piece that dates back to the mid-1960s, then relates the story that inspired his song “Sisters of Mercy.” The latter is fascinating and, even as a reasonably well-seasoned Cohen devotee, I’d not heard it before.

It involves our hero being stuck outside in the middle of winter in Edmonton, which is by all accounts very, very cold. Happily, he was invited into a doorway by two local girls to shelter from the cold. It turned out that the two were sisters, and as Cohen relates it, “Some time later, we found ourselves in my little hotel room … and we were going to go to sleep together. Of course I had all kinds of erotic fantasies … [but] it became clear that that wasn’t the purpose of the evening at all.”

Instead, the three spent a chaste evening cuddling platonically on a fold-out sofa, and at one point in the middle of the night, Cohen arose to write “Sisters of Mercy.” IT’s a touching and rather lovely story, and somehow made all the more beautiful by the fact that one of our era’s great Lotharios didn’t end up in the midst of the steamy three-way romp he’d been envisaging.

Anyway, watch the animation and listen to Cohen himself both read the poem and tell the story in his immortal, seductive baritone: