Leonard Cohen’s Songwriting Shifts From “I’ve had to scrape them out of my heart” (1972) To “Scavenging” (2001)

1972: “I’ve had to scrape them out of my heart”

I’ve never written [lyrics] with the kind of luxury of choice. I’ve never sat down at my table and said ‘there are people starving and there are people who are being tortured and brutalized, I must write a song to redeem them’. My songs have come to me, I’ve had to scrape them out of my heart. They come in pieces at a time and in showers and fragments and if I can put them together into a song and I have something at the end of the excavation I’m just grateful for having it. It tells me where I am and where I’ve been. I can’t predispose the song to any situation or anything in the political realm, but if I live in the political realm and I’m aware of what is going down and my songs come out of that awareness of ignorance. A lot of my songs come out of ignorance. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From “Complexities And Mr. Cohen” by Billy Walker (Sounds, March 4, 1972).  Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles

2001: “Scavenging”

Sylvie Simmons: You had said previously that songs had to be ‘scraped’ or ‘torn’ from your heart. Is writing still that bloody?

Did I say that? That romantic image has somewhat evaporated. Now I’d say it’s the work of a scavenger. … The content of whatever it is you write is a matter of scavenging around and trying to satisfy this appetite to make something.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Felonious Monk by Sylvie Simmons, (MOJO: November 2001) [underlining mine]

Note: Originally posted June 19, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“One is always wrestling with one’s doubt, indifference and Dionysian appetite …” Leonard Cohen On The Elements Of His Work

lc-good dublin2-1024 Interviewer: Was there ever complete disillusionment?

Every day. Whatever I’m studying, I have the sense that this isn’t it. One is always wrestling with one’s doubt, indifference and Dionysian appetite: You know – let’s go get drunk and forget this stuff. Maybe this doesn’t lead to anywhere. These are just the elements of my work. I don’t think they’re great. They’re just all I have.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Conversations from a Room by Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Photo by Armando Fusco. Originally posted Feb 6, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“One is distracted by this notion that there is such a things as inspiration” Leonard Cohen On Songwriting

So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat. But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a things as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff to come up with the payload.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen – Los Angeles 1992 from Songwriters On Songwriting By Paul Zollo. Originally posted Apr 25, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“America has its own version of the blues. What I do is the European blues. That is, the soul music of that sensibility – White Soul.” Leonard Cohen 1975


From Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik (Melody Maker:1 March 1975). Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles. Photo by Guido Harari. Originally posted May 21, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I try to write good songs that move along” Leonard Cohen On Songwriting

Leonard Cohen: I try to write good songs that move along. I just take the subject matter for granted. It’s from my own visions. I would think that’s the way anybody writes a song.

Interviewer: But Cohen’s visions, full of mystical figures such as Joan of Arc and allusions to such things as Scientology and Zen [both of which he’s “plugged into” at one time or another] are not what most people in popular music write about.

Leonard Cohen: Hmm, yes, that’s true. But then, my music isn’t very popular, is it?

For Cohen, Grief Is Joy by Lynn Van Matre (Chicago Tribune: Nov 23, 1975). Thanks to Rike, who discovered and contributed the article from which this quote is taken.

“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.