Patrick Leonard’s Collaboration With Leonard Cohen

Note: Originally posted Jan 12, 2015 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Collaborations

Although Leonard Cohen’s professional persona is that of the consummate solo artist, he has a long history of collaboration. Sharon Robinson, for example, co-wrote and produced Ten New Songs as well as singing and playing all the instruments on the album.1 A single sentence from Robert Christgau’s commentary on New Skin for Old Ceremony economically attests to the significance of two of Cohen’s best known producers:

Some of the new songs are less than memorable, but the settings, by John Lissauer, have the bizarre feel of John Simon’s “overproduction” on Cohen’s first album, which I always believed suited his studied vulgarity perfectly.

Similarly, Jennifer Warnes, Bob Johnston, Lewis Furey, Anjani Thomas, and Henry Lewy, among other musicians, songwriters, and producers, have influenced Cohen’s music. And, while the impact of some individuals has been limited to a single instance, e.g., Phil Spector’s work on “Death Of A Ladies’ Man,” several collaborators have left their imprints on a number of projects over a period of years.2

The Two Leonards

Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote three songs on the Old Ideas album and co-wrote eight of the nine songs on Popular Problems, is Cohen’s confederate in the current edition of these musical partnerships. The pair, in fact, are said to have “half of another album in the can.”3 This post offers an introduction to the nature of this collaboration.

Patrick Leonard’s efforts have changed  how Leonard Cohen songs are created. Perhaps the most obvious effect has been the acceleration of Cohen’s notoriously slow, laborious development process:

“Some of them came together with shockingly alarming speed,” said Cohen, who recorded many of the songs at his home studio. “Usually, I take a long, long time – partly because of an addiction to perfection, partly just sheer laziness.”4

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  1. Except Bob Metzger’s guitar work on “In My Secret Life” []
  2. Thanks to Jugurtha Harchaoui (personal communication) for this insight. []
  3. Leonard Cohen on Collaborating with Madonna Collaborator Patrick Leonard for Upcoming ‘Popular Problems’ By Phil Gallo. Billboard: September 11, 2014 []
  4. Leonard Cohen Offers Rare Peek Into His Process at ‘Popular Problems’ Preview by Steve Appleford. Rolling Stone: September 11, 2014 []

Kezban Özcan Talks About What It’s Like To Be Leonard Cohen’s Assistant

During recording of Sony-Bravia ad in Santa Monica

Leonard Cohen & Kezban Özcan during recording of Sony-Bravia ad in Santa Monica

The Artist Assistant

Behind every great artist there is an assistant.

So begins A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Assistant, an entertaining and instructive essay by Graham T. Beck published at The Brooklyn Rail.1 While the entire piece is worthwhile reading, this excerpt is especially pertinent to our purposes today:

Depending on who you ask, being an artist’s assistant is a lot like being a friend, or a secretary, or a 19th-century factory worker. Wages range from paltry to lawyerly; work spaces from stately to slovenly to simply unsafe. Some spend their days in business-casual and others in coveralls, but what they all share is unfettered access to the personalities and studio workings that others only glean from CVs or biographical blurbs. There are stories of ungainly tantrums, eye-popping extravagance, clichéd eccentricity or profound compassion; these accounts are traded by artist’s assistants like baseball cards or bragged about like battle scars. It would be a gross understatement to say that it’s engaging to talk with assistants about their workdays; it’s often like hearing from a star-struck therapist freed from the binds of doctor-patient confidentiality.

It turns out that Leonard Cohen has an assistant.2 In fact, many readers are aware that Kezban Özcan,  who handles – well, anything that needs to be handled, holds that position because a significant portion of her work is interacting with fans.

billboard-with-kx

It was, in fact, Kezban’s performance of a task benefiting this blogger3 that first triggered the thought, What would it be like to be Leonard Cohen’s artist assistant?  Given that I have identified myself as a blogger, it is, of course, a redundancy to note that my next immediate thought was Can I make a post out of that?

kezbam-lc1x

Leonard Cohen & Kezban Özcan during recording of Old Ideas album – May 2011

It has required some time to transform that nascent notion into the post before you now,4 but the final product proves worth the wait.

Background

Born and raised in Istanbul, Kezban came to the US eleven years ago.  She has a younger sister and brother, Elif and Yasin, respectively. Her parents ran a catering business, but, as she explains, “My dad has recently retired, and they are out and about having finally some fun now.” She is, in her words, “single and available.”

The Old Ideas Album Cover Photo

OldIdeasThe photo on which the cover of Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas album is based was taken by Kezban Özcan.

Q: When and where was photo on the album cover taken?
KO: In front of his house, in Los Angeles, around March 2011.

Q: How did photo get taken?
KO: I take pictures of him and his family on an almost daily basis and show them to him. He just liked this particular one and decided to use it for his album cover.

Being Leonard Cohen’s Assistant

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  1. Beck’s essay deals with artists who work in the visual arts, such as painters and sculptors, but the content also seems apposite to those in the performing arts. []
  2. Kezban is officially Leonard Cohen’s artist assistant – aka administrative assistant, aka personal assistant, aka celebrity personal assistant,  personal assistant to recording artist, and many other titles (eHow offers advice for those interested in such a position at How to Find Celebrity Personal Assistant Jobs) []
  3. That task involved Kezban and the Duchess colluding to present me with items autographed by Leonard Cohen as wedding gifts.  See Thank You Leonard Cohen and Duchess Of Durham For The Wedding Gifts. []
  4. To put it bluntly, the responsibility for the delays lays at the feet of Mr Cohen, who inexplicably determined that his assistant’s priorities over the past month were those jobs associated with the release of his Old Ideas album rather than her working on this post for me []

Must-Read Leonard Cohen Posts And Resources

Leonard Cohen fans have benefited from the recent plethora of publications about the Canadian singer-songwriter triggered by the release of his Old Ideas album.  The following are a few of my favorites.

Note: Originally posted Feb 11, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Newswire

Created and maintained by long-time Cohen admirers and veteran webmasters Marie Mazur and Tom Sakic, both of whom are familiar to habitués of this site, the Leonard Cohen Newswire offers annotated links to current online pieces about Leonard Cohen.

The Leonard Cohen Newswire blurb follows:

The Newswire provides the latest in articles, interviews, reviews, press releases and announcements in all languages about Leonard Cohen and his works. Only serious news for a serious artist.1

Leonard Cohen Newswire

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Leonard Cohen In The Financial Times

Encountering an article in the astute Financial Times that directly addresses the psychoeconomics that have dominated the past few years of Leonard Cohen’s career may, understandably, trigger a degree of cognitive dissonance among those readers already aware of the fiscal catastrophe that led to the 2008-2010 World Tour – but it works.

The author, Gautam Malkani, who is not only a journalist for The Financial Times but also the author of the novel Londonstani – and a self-confessed Heck Of A Guy reader, opens his essay with

You would think he [Leonard Cohen] had just discovered a cure for the business cycle.

And, Malkani captures a key aspect of Cohen’s character and his appeal when he writes

As taken aback by his success as the rest of us, Cohen wasn’t trying to be the top dog. Mid-life-crisis proof, he wasn’t even trying to be cool. He was just trying to act his age.

In an explanatory email, Malkani points out

The FT has been reviewing albums and concerts on our Saturday arts pages for a while – and we’ve run a few Leonard Cohen reviews over the years, including a very positive one for Old Ideas. But they’re written by our rock critic and I work on the management page. I pitched the piece that ran on Saturday to our Op-Ed pages rather than our arts pages because I wanted to get across a sense that there’s something really special going on with LC’s resurgence – fueled by his sublime music and lyrics, but its impact going beyond that… I didn’t imagine they’d take it, but it ended up running right next to an Op-Ed by George Osborne, the UK chancellor.

This piece is an outstanding specimen of the rarely sighted species of articles that are analytic, reality-focused (although the word “mystic” is fearlessly brandished), and inspirational.

Bow Down Before The Sage From Mt Baldy
[free registration required at the site]

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 It’s The Same Old Song

 Neo-Neocon, whose posts are primarily political, has made one of her occasional forays into exotic province of Cohenlandia. 2 “Famous Blue Raincoat: the provenance of a familiar tune” opens with this observation:

My favorite YouTube activity these days seems to involve watching singer/songwriters morph from young to old almost instantaneously. There’s something both creepy and magical about getting into the YouTube time machine and seeing ten different live versions of a song spanning thirty years or more, something that simply could not have been done in the privacy of one’s home just a few short years ago.

In this case the singer-songwriter is Leonard Cohen performing Famous Blue Raincoat, which is, the author points out, set to a tune which turns up later in songs by Leo Sayer and Elton John.

Famous Blue Raincoat: the provenance of a familiar tune

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 Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Loser Timeline

Michael Barclay, writing for exclaim.ca, has produced a prose timeline of Leonard Cohen’s life that not only offers those interested in but unfamiliar with the Lord Byron Of Rock ‘n’ Roll the essential biographical information written in a succinct, interesting, and extraordinarily readable fashion but also includes the a number of  little known incidents and details likely to prove new to even the most grizzled Cohenite.

Leonard Cohen Beautiful Loser

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The Many Aspects Of Leonard Cohen

Ben Kaplan has collected a number of perspectives on Leonard Cohen  for the January 31, 2012 edition of the National Post:

Leonard Cohen … has always been more than just an everyday rock star. He’s a prophet, a poet, a sex symbol, an observant Jew who practices Zen, a businessman who lost his fortune, a muse and, perhaps most importantly, a father. The Post’s Ben Kaplan assembled a panel to dissect the various parts of the 77-year-old icon.

Contributors include Adam Cohen and Fred Wah, the Poet Laureate of Canada. The above illustration by Steve Murray is from the same article.

Leonard Cohen: Portrait Of The Artist As An Older Man

  1. That last sentence, “Only serious news for a serious artist,” provides a quick means of distinguishing between the Newswire and Heck Of A Guy, given that the latter is rife with silly stuff about that same serious artist. []
  2. Neo-Neocon is also a Heck Of A Guy reader (see a trend developing?) and  has been featured here before. See Don’t Give Up and Leonard Cohen, Bard Of Bedsits Boffo In Boston. []