“I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with rock” Leonard Cohen On His Relationship To Rock Music

What’s your relationship to rock music?

I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with rock. Personally, I’ve lived that life more than any other, so my friends are in it. I’m probably more of a classical musician, but rock ‘n roll has been my cultural avenue. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Rebirth Of A Ladies’ Man by Steven Blush. Seconds No 22: June/July 1993. The image atop this post is the cover of Rock & Folk No. 131, Dec 1977 (illustration by Dominique Lechaud) from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

“Each one of my songs is above me” Leonard Cohen on Songwriting

When I write a song, and it becomes a finished work, to me it becomes an incredible achievement. Each one of my songs is above me. When I say above me, I mean almost as though it was better than me. With the books and the poems, it’s a different feeling. My God, to do a song is a total mental process.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Leonard Cohen Talks To Roy Hollingworth by Roy Hollingworth (Melody Maker: Sept 5, 1970). Photo Credit: Peter Brosseau/Library and Archives Canada/PA-170174. Thanks to Rike, who contributed this article.

Was Leonard Cohen A Vegetarian?

Because questions about Leonard Cohen’s vegetarianism arise periodically, I’ve compiled a summary for reference.

Was Leonard Cohen A Vegetarian?

Yep. Leonard Cohen was a self-professed vegetarian for a few years in the 1960s. The exact dates given or his vegetarianism are a tad inconsistent..

Leonard Cohen Loses His Veginity

There is some confusion about when Leonard’s stint as a vegetarian began and ended. The best contemporaneous description I’ve found is this excerpt from Is the World (or Anybody) Ready for Leonard Cohen? by Jon Ruddy. Maclean’s: October 1, 1966.

He [Leonard Cohen] has started eating meat again after being a vegetarian for two years. He had stopped eating meat because he disapproves of the killing of animals. He wrote:

Great torsos of meadow animals strung in glistening exhibition Heads piled in pyramids like parked cannon balls some of them cruelly facing a display of their missing extremities.

He started eating meat again because he got to dislike a certain kind of arrogance he had developed about being a vegetarian. The arrogance was shown in his subtle and partly unconscious attempts to convince Marianna, the sweet-faced Norwegian blonde he has been living with for six years, that not eating meat somehow would make her a finer person. Sometimes Marianna would abstain, sometimes she would be fiercely carnivorous. Now, sitting there among the turtles, drinking Welch’s grape juice, eating a licorice cigar, Cohen says, “1 don’t know, everybody has become kind of loony.”

In his description of the life Leonard & Suzanne [Elrod]  led on their rented Tennessee farm in 1968, Nadel writes1

At the time, he [Leonard Cohen] was continuing  with his macrobiotic diet (between 1965 and 1968 he was a vegetarian). Cohen often had nothing to offer his guests but soy tea.

In the same volume, Nadel notes

A January 28, 1968 article in the New York Times captured Cohen’s state of mind … He offered diet tips; three years earlier, he had been a vegetarian, now he ate only meat.

Leonard Cohen On Vegetarianism

In Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, the 1965 documentary about Leonard Cohen from the National Film Board of Canada, Leonard declared:

Well its true, ever since I stopped eating meat I feel a lot better among animals, I feel I can be much more honest when I pat a dog.

He also wrote A Person Who Eats Meat2, which he recited during his performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival:

A person who eats meat
wants to get his teeth into something
A person who does not eat meat
wants to get his teeth into something else
If these thoughts interest you for even a moment
you are lost.

And, he composed

So you’re the kind of vegetarian
Who only eats roses
Is that what you meant
with your beautiful losers

The final words of this poem (for more about this poem, see They Eat Roses, Don’t They? Leonard Cohen, Roses, Vegetarians, Poetics, & Abligurition) from Parasites of Heaven (1966) provide the name for Cohen’s novel, Beautiful Losers.

The serendipitous consecutive mentions of Cohen’s Beautiful Losers (1966) and his vegetarianism proffer an irresistible opportunity to – finally – present my favorite passage from that novel that features vegetarians and hilarity in equal parts:

Secret kabals of vegetarians habitually gather under the sign to exchange contraband from beyond the Vegetable Barrier. In their pinpoint eyes dances their old dream: the Total Fast. One of them reports a new atrocity published without compassionate comment by the editors of Scientific American: “It has been established that, when pulled from the ground, a radish produces an electronic scream.” Not even the triple bill for 65˘ will comfort them tonight. With a mad laugh born of despair, one of them throws himself on a hot-dog stand, disintegrating on the first chew into pathetic withdrawal symptoms. The rest watch him mournfully and then separate into the Montreal entertainment section. The news is more serious than any of them thought. One is ravished by a steak house with sidewalk ventilation. In a restaurant, one argues with the waiter that he ordered “tomato” but then in a suicide of gallantry he agrees to accept the spaghetti, meat sauce mistake.


  1. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel (Random House of Canada, Oct 29, 2010) []
  2. Selected Poems 1956-1968 []

“When an experience is embracing or total you don’t know who you are.” Leonard Cohen On Writing

In Beautiful Losers you wrote, ‘disarmed and empty, an instrument of grace.’ Can you make that condition happen?

Those conditions arise spontaneously. Often they’re the result of writing. I have in a poem, ‘How sweet to be that wretch, forgotten by himself in the midst of his own testimony.’ When an experience is embracing or total you don’t know who you are. When you jump into a pool of really cold water, when you hit that water there’s no you.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Interview / Leonard Cohen By Alan Twigg. Essay Date: 1979, 1984, 1985. ABC Bookworld.

Leonard Cohen, Cairns, & Cojones


In a LeonardCohenForum post about the Nov 26, 2013 Leonard Cohen concert, Bev aka B4real reported

Near the beginning of Going Home Leonard sang this line ‘He just doesn’t have the cojones to refuse
[emphasis mine]

In the original lyrics that line reads

He just doesn’t have the freedom to refuse

Like many Cohen admirers, I’m intrigued by  the changes he frequently makes in his lyrics. I am especially taken with the substitution of “cojones” for “freedom” because – well, mostly because it’s just so damn cool.

And, it’s not a trivial change. “He just doesn’t have the freedom to refuse” could, for example, be legitimately interpreted as a Calvinistic declaration that refusal is not and never could be an option because every human’s life and behavior has long ago been predetermined and free will is an illusion. The ability to refuse – if one has the courage – is, however, implicit in “He just doesn’t have the cojones to refuse.”

Yep, it takes cojones to make a change like that.

Note: Originally posted Nov 30, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric