Nothing speaks to the integrity and humanity that infuses Leonard Cohen’s songwriting more eloquently than these words from his 2011 Prince Of Asturias Awards Speech (Photo by Ted McDonnell)
It is, I think, a matter of tradition. You have a tradition on the one hand that says if things are bad we should not dwell on the sadness, that we should play a happy song, a merry tune. Strike up the band and dance the best we can, even if we are suffering from concussion. And then there’s another tradition, and this is a more Oriental or Middle Eastern tradition, which says that if things are really bad the best thing to do is sit by the grave and wail, and that’s the way you are going to feel better. I think both these efforts are intended to lift the spirit. And my own tradition, which is the Herbraic tradition, suggests that you sit next to the disaster and lament. The notion of the lamentation seemed to me to be the way to do it. You don’t avoid the situation – you throw yourself into it, fearlessly.
From Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: Leonard Cohen – London, June 1974 by Allan Jones. Uncut: Dec 2008.
We are all living defeat and with failure and with disappointment and with bewilderment. We are all living with these dark forces that modify our lives. I think the ‘Manual For Defeat’ is to first of all acknowledge that everyone suffers, that everyone is engaged in a mighty struggle for self-respect, for meaning, for significance. I think the first step would be to recognise that your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle, and that your suffering is the same as everyone else’s suffering. “I think that’s the beginning of a responsible life, otherwise you’re in a continual savage battle with each other. Unless we recognise that each of us suffer in the same way there’s no possible solution: political or social or spiritual. So that would be the beginning, the recognition that we all suffer.
“A manual for living with defeat” is from the lyrics of Going Home:
He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
Cohen’s description of a Manual For Living With Defeat is only one part of Q Magazine’s piece on The London Preview Of Popular Problems. This is the Best Of Show in its category: Column – “I’m a closet optimist…” Last night in London with Leonard Cohen by Paul Stokes (Q Magazine: September 17, 2014)
Note: Originally posted September 17, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
I think people, perhaps legitimately sometimes, feel that anguish or suffering is the engine of creativity. It’s a very popular notion . . . I think most people live their lives in an emergency, and I’m certainly not unique in this respect. I have certainly battled depression over the years, and my time on Mount Baldy was one of the remedies. And I found that my depression might have been the background of my work, but not the spur, not the trigger.
State of Grace by Doug Saunders. Globe and Mail: Sept 1, 2001. Accessed 09 June 2014 at Ten New Songs
Angst & Aquavit by Brendan Bernhard. LA Weekly: September 26, 2001. Accessed 19 May 2014 at Ten New Songs.
Sometimes, when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory, and you understand deeply that this is not paradise… somehow we’re, especially the privileged ones that we are, we somehow embrace the notion that this veil of tears, that it’s perfectible, that you’re going to get it all straight. I’ve found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win.
From Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, the 2005 documentary written and directed by Lian Lunson.