“The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace” Leonard Cohen Talks About Hallelujah & Bernadette


[John McKenna:] Song of Bernadette works on several levels. There the young visionary of February and March 1858 with that apparition in her soul. A vision no-one believed. And, there are the rest of us with our own visions and dreams, which no-one, least of all ourselves, can believe in. Once we realise that visions don’t last – they disappear – and we end up running and falling, rather than flying. There’s Bernadette, true to her belief and finally rewarded with the knowledge that there is mercy in the world. There’s Leonard Cohen, acknowledging that each of us is torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo.

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I think that we mostly do fail in these things, but the thing that makes these failures supportable are these moments like the one I tried to talk about in Hallelujah or the one I tried to talk about in Bernadette it’s those are the moments when the thing is resolved – the thing is reconciled – not actually by moving pieces around; it’s not a chess game. As I say in my new version of Hallelujah, ‘I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.’ Nobody’s going to win this, not the men not the women not the socialists, not the conservatives. Nobody’s going to win this deal. The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles. Originally posted November 22, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“This world is full of…things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’” Leonard Cohen

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Finally there’s no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.’ And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation. That’s what it’s all about. It says that none of this – you’re not going to be able to work this thing out – you’re not going to be able to set – this realm does not admit to revolution – there’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles

Note: Originally posted Feb 12, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen: “No alibi … You have to stand up and say Hallelujah”

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I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view. I think the other song that is closely related to that is ‘Anthem.’ It’s the notion that there is no perfection–that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From “Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen” by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995)

Note: Originally posted November 8, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen & Bob Dylan Compare Songwriting Velocity

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That [Hallelujah] was a song that took me a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praised a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen From Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo Los Angeles 1992

The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Note: Originally posted at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

3 Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song #3. Artistic Design – Sacred Mechanics

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Note: This post is an entry in a series of essays considering the question, “What makes a song a Leonard Cohen song?” An introduction and links to all published posts in the series can be found at Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: Summary Page.

Sacred Mechanics:1 One Word At A Time

Leonard Cohen’s songs are the consequence of deliberate and painstakingly careful choices based on years of experience, study, and training.

Prior to his career as a singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen was a well-known, critically acclaimed poet (and novelist). And, he was not a rock-poet, a folk-poet, or any other variant of pop songwriters are today’s poets-poet. Nope, Leonard Cohen was and is the kind of poet who has expertise in the actual craft of writing poetry, who knows a dactyl from a trochee, who understands how the elegiac couplet differs from the heroic couplet. He published volumes of well-reviewed poetry that sold well2 before anyone thought of paying to hear him sing anything other than square dance tunes with the Buckskin Boys.

Writing Poems Vs Writing Songs

Cohen’s perception of the relationship between writing poems & writing songs might best be described by the classic Facebook descriptor, “It’s complicated.”

In some interviews, Cohen presents poems and songs as equivalents:

I never made a big distinction between that which we call a poem and that which we call a song. It was the sort of expression which used beauty, rhythm, authority and truth. All these ideas were implicit. Whether Fats Domino sings “I Found My Thrill On Blueberry Hill” or Yeats writes “Only God could love you for yourself alone and not your yellow hair,” I made no distinction between the popular expression and the literary expression. I knew that “The Great Pretender” was a very good poem; I made no hierarchies.3

My songs are poems with a guitar behind them.4

Music was always the thing closest to me, and I saw poetry as part of that. My early poetry was very much influenced by Scottish Border ballads, the Spanish flamenco songs, the Portuguese fado.5

I don’t have any reservations about anything I do. I always played music. When I was 17, I was in a country music group called the Buckskin Boys. Writing came later, after music. I put my guitar away for a few years, but I always made up songs. I never wanted my work to get too far away from music. Ezra Pound said something very interesting, “When poetry strays too far from music, it atrophies. When music strays too far from the dance it atrophies.”6,7

On other occasions, he made a distinction between the two forms:

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  1. “We’ve got to be very careful, exploring these sacred mechanics. Someone will throw a monkey wrench into the thing, and we’ll never write another line…” Leonard Cohen quoted in The Wisdom Of Leonard Cohen by Kevin Perry. GQ: Jan 19, 2012. []
  2. OK, that sold as well as well-reviewed poetry sells. []
  3. Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Throat Culture magazine, 1992). Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  4. Leonard Cohen by Ray Connolly. Evening Standard, July 1968 []
  5. Conversations from a Room by Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  6. The Ezra Pound quotation is from the Preface of his book, ABC of Reading (1934), and reads, in context, “The author’s conviction on this day of the New Year is that music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” []
  7. Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik. Melody Maker: March 1, 1975. []

Leonard Cohen On The “Tiny Trouble” With His Songwriting

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I wrote “Hallelujah” over the space of at least four years, I wrote many, many verses. I don’t know if it was eighty, maybe more or a little less. The trouble… my trouble… it’s not the world’s trouble, and it’s a tiny trouble, I don’t want you to think that this is a significant trouble. My tiny trouble is that before I can discard a verse, I have to write it. I have to work on it, and I have to polish it and bring it to as close to finished as I can. It’s only then that I can discard it, so the process takes a long, long time. I can work on a verse for a long, long time before I understand that it isn’t any good, but I can’t discard it before it’s finished.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

The Wisdom Of Leonard Cohen by Kevin Perry. GQ: Jan 19, 2012

Note: Originally posted Aug 15, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric