Leonard Cohen on Pop Music (1992): “I can’t understand half the songs”

A good friend of mine actually said if Leonard Cohen started out today, he would be rapping.

I can’t understand half the songs in the centre which is supposed to be the pop world. Either they’ve moved into a new stage of cryptology that I’ve been unable to follow and penetrate or it’s just lazy or it’s gotten slack or people just aren’t workin’ hard enough on the craft. I don’t understand what they’re saying most of the time. A lot of the stuff is, I think, just… lazy; but, because of the social urgencies that produce rap — and because of the demands of rhyme and rhythm — you get coherent statements and you get the impression of a mind, of a mind that has formed and gathered around a topic and is ready to manifest it. Another thing is that we’ve had twenty years or so of dance music which I think we deserved because the self-indulgences of the sixties got pretty intense. I mean, there were few geniuses like Dylan or Phil Ochs who are writing great complex songs with lots of words in them. But, lots of people scrambled and scratched up the bandwagon and, you know, we got a kind of language in our popular music that was intolerable after a while. You really couldn’t figure out what they were saying. The stuff was so mystical, so obtuse, so arcane, so self-indulgent. People just got weary of listening and I think they wanted to start dancing. Well, we’ve been dancing for twenty years and I think everybody’s tired and they want to sit down again and I think that’s the way the pendulum swings. And we really want to figure out, now, what people are thinking about the way things are going.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz. Transcript from a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. The transcript was prepared by Judith Fitzgerald. Originally posted Jun 27, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On The 1960s – He Was Not Impressed (Except With Dylan)

Except for one or two great poets like Dylan, I saw a lot that was extremely fuzzy. Then when I found out how bad the acid had been, what a bummer it really was. I started to suspect that all was not as it had been advertised. Then when I got ripped off by some people who wore boots and had long hair, I knew for certain that nothing had changed.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Quotation from Melancholy Baby by John Walsh. The Independent Magazine: May 8, 1993. Photo by Paul Townsend. Originally posted Jan 8, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I always associated song and singing with some sort of nobility of spirit.” Leonard Cohen

Quotation from Transcript of Pacifica Interview with Kathleen Kendall. WBAI Radio, New York City: December 4, 1974. Photo by Pete Purnell (Leonard Cohen In Concert 1974 To 1993: Photos By Pete Purnell). Originally posted Dec 23, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Invokes Irving Layton’s Dictum: “Whatever else, poetry is freedom”


Q: What is your opinion on the proposition that ‘the visions of poets may teach those who do not want to know it that there is more in shadow than in light?’

I don’t think the poet has a mission. I think that activity more appropriately applies to the priest, the teacher, the politician, and the warrior. As my friend Layton wrote: ‘Whatever else, poetry is freedom.’ It seems a very aggressive proposition to teach someone something they don’t want to learn.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From a 2001 online chat. Photo of Leonard Cohen by Roland Godefroy (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally posted March 20, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Reveals “Biggest Influence On My Music”


Biggest Influence on My Music: The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. There was “The Great Pretender,” “Cross Over the Road.” 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.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From  Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen1 (1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

This quotation parallels the following excerpt from a March 2 1985  Leonard Cohen interview with B.P. Fallon (RTE 2, Dublin, Ireland):

Leonard Cohen: It was a great restaurant. I am sorry it disappeared. It was, it was a real funky restaurant, but it had white tablecloths; I don’t know why. (Laughs) And a really good jukebox. Well, it changed over the years. They had good country songs on it, … “Unchained Melody” was a song that I used to listen to a lot on that.

B. P. Fallon: Which version?

Leonard Cohen:

B. P. Fallon: The Righteous Brothers?

Leonard Cohen: The Righteous Brothers, right.

B. P. Fallon: Interesting, here it is.

Leonard Cohen: Oh, that’s a good one.

These comment by Leonard Cohen led to the publication, beginning April 4, 2009, of , first on 1HeckOfAGuy.com and now continuing on Cohencentric. Currently, this series comprises 58 posts, each featuring a song that has won Leonard Cohen’s admiration and this introduction:  All Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox posts can be found at The Original Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

Note: Originally posted Apr 19, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. Full title: “Yakety-Yak : The Midnight Confessions and Revelation of Thirty-Seven Rock Stars and Legends” published by Fireside. The Leonard Cohen section also includes many other quote-worthy tidbits, including “What to Tell a Woman after Sex:  Thank you. []

Video: Leonard Cohen On His Art “I’ve tried to design the work so that it can last beyond that immediate perception of it”


I mean, that instant response is gratifying, of course, but also you have the risk of the other thing going on all the time, which is instant humiliation. But you know, in some way, I’ve tried to design the work so that it can last beyond that immediate perception of it…If a song lasts for a few years or if a book keeps on turning up, people are still interested in it, or if I myself can pick it up and not be totally embarrassed by it.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From 1980 CBC interview