Note: Originally posted May 13, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox
Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.
– Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)
Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Cohencentric feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at The Original Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.
Hank Williams & Leonard Cohen In The Same Neighborhood
I suspect that most viewers drawn to read a post titled “Your Cheatin’ Heart” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox already know of Cohen’s respect for Hank Williams, that song’s author and Cohen’s cohabitant in “The Tower Of Song.”
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song
– From “Tower Of Song” by Leonard Cohen
The problem is that the Cohencentric’s Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox feature is song-specific by nature. That Cohen has repeatedly spoken positively of Hank Williams is all well and good, but for the purposes of this post, it would have been far more helpful had Cohen commented, for example, “If I had a jukebox, it would certainly have ‘Jambalaya’ on it” or “I just heard ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,’ and I dig it the most.”
Happily, Cohen has indicated, albeit indirectly, his admiration for the Hank Williams masterpiece, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” In the following excerpt from A Teacher of the Heart: Leonard Cohen Shares the Wealth, Leonard Cohen begins by explaining an apparent incongruity noted by the interviewer, Pat McGuire, about in his (Cohen’s) evaluation of his own poetry, segues into the contrasting prose-writing habits of Thomas Wolfe (throwing in Wolfe’s word per night rate and his use of kitchen appliances for a writing desk) and Flaubert, and neatly concludes with his longing to be as speedy a song writer as Hank Williams.1
[Pat McGuire] Let Us Compare Mythologies is being reissued. How do you feel about your first book of poetry?
[Leonard Cohen] It’s been downhill ever since. There are some really good poems in that little book.
[Pat McGuire] But you’ve said, “Last thought, best thought.” Is that a contradiction?
[Leonard Cohen] Well, those poems were not “First thought, best thought.” Even at that stage of the game. I was just in a different school. Thomas Wolfe used to write 30,000 words a night. He was a very tall man; he’d work on top of the refrigerator. And then there’s Flaubert, who writes the first thing over and over again in Madame Bovary until he gets the tone right. I don’t see any of these things as virtues, I just see it as the expression of one’s nature. If I could do it that way, I’d rather be with Thomas Wolfe. Take Hank Williams. He wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in 20 minutes as a test. The publisher didn’t think he could do it, and they locked him in a room and he came back and gave them “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” I’d like to do that. [emphasis mine]2
While not made explicit, Cohen’s appreciation of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is, I contend, made clear from the tone, syntax, and content.
Note: I can’t find documentation that “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was written in 20 minutes as a test. According to Wikipedia, it was “Hey Good Lookin'” that Hank wrote in 20 minutes. Another site, The Life And Times Of Hank Williams, offers this anecdote:
One famous rumor: ”Fred Rose” not quite believing that Hank had written the material that was presented before him, sent him off to the side with a story line to write a song to and giving him 30 minutes in which to do so…Hank emerged 20 minutes later with ”Mansion on the Hill”… which of course became a huge hit for him..
And there are numerous references to Hank Williams declaring “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing.”
Hank Williams -Your Cheatin’ Heart
Credit Due Department: By Hank_Williams_publicity.jpg: MGM Recordsderivative work: GDuwenTell me! [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- In a parallel, better known anecdote, Cohen ruefully compares his years of effort on “Hallelujah” to Bob Dylan’s claim that he wrote a song Cohen admired in a few minutes. That story is a matter for another post. [↩]
- A Teacher of the Heart: Leonard Cohen Shares the Wealth by Pat McGuire. Filter Magazine. June 26, 2007 [↩]