Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat: Introduction


Lessons From Leonard Cohen

Multiple articles and videos have already been published with titles like Lessons From Leonard Cohen, Things I Learned From Leonard Cohen, What Leonard Cohen Taught Us …. So why start a series of posts with the same goal?

Well, the problem with many of these pieces is that they include items which are not lessons as much as something along the lines of positive thoughts inspired by Leonard Cohen.

For example, the most recent specimen of this genre I’ve found is Lessons From Leonard Cohen at the World Jewish Congress Facebook Page, a video described as follows:

The late Leonard Cohen believed strongly in the virtue of modesty, and despite years of being in the spotlight, he always lived true to his believes. As we mark one year since his death, here are some of the timeless lessons the beloved poet and musician left behind. May his memory be a blessing.

And, it is an enjoyable video.


But, let’s consider one of the lessons from that recording:

The pertinent definition of “lesson” follows: a piece of instruction.1 I’m not convinced that “Be good at what you do” meets the minimal criterion of “lesson,” but even if that imperative does somehow qualify, it provides little in the way of direction. It would be as useful to instruct readers to “Become a legendary singer-songwriter-poet-novelist icon.”

And from Music legend Leonard Cohen left us plenty of lessons to guide us through our life troubles by Kathleen Noonan (The Courier-Mail: Nov 3, 2017), we read

Put your house in order: “It’s a ­cliche,” Cohen tells Remnick. “But it’s underestimated as an ­analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

Now, putting your house in order strikes me as useful advice. But, from that same article, we are also instructed

Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit: Not every man can wear a fedora as fine as Cohen, but a good suit? Yes. All over the world, ageing rock stars still pour themselves into black skinny jeans, but Cohen wisely stuck to his family’s business roots and chose the well-tailored suit. Remnick writes: “He wore a well-tailored midnight-blue suit – even in the ’60s he wore suits – and a stickpin through his collar. He extended a hand like a courtly retired capo.”

“Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit.” Really, that’s one of Leonard Cohen’s “lessons to guide us through our life troubles?” It’s true that I wore suits throughout my professional life and believe they conveyed a certain gravitas and the notion that I took my work as a physician seriously. But, when Leonard calmed the riotous spectators at the Isle of Wright Festival, he wasn’t wearing Armani.

Yet, I’ve never come across the claim that a lesson to learn from Leonard is “Never underestimate the power of a safari suit.” Further, a sharp suit doesn’t seem an exclusive route to success; lots of tech professionals, for example, seem to do well wearing jeans and hoodies.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “So – do you think you could do better?” Well, my answer to that incredibly convenient rhetorical question is “Heck yes – without even donning that dark grey pinstripe double breasted suit that I’m pretty sure is still in my closet although I haven’t worn it in at least eight years.”

Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat

Cohencentric’s Lessons From Leonard Cohen series focuses on those insights articulated or embodied by Leonard Cohen that are straightforward and pragmatically useful in everyday life.

The first Lessons From Leonard Cohen planned for posting (in the next few days) can be summarized, in Leonard’s own words, as follows:

Try not to hate your neighbor. Unless the situation is life-threatening, let your lover (and everybody else) off the hook.quotedown2



Pretty good, eh? So, stay tuned. This could be interesting.


  1. Merriam-Webster []

Montreal After – Celebrating Leonard Cohen On The Eve Of The First Anniversary Of His Passing By Christof Graf


Tower Of Song: A Leonard Cohen Memorial Tribute

A Guest Post By Christof Graf
Photos: Christof Graf

Introduction:  Christof Graf has authored multiple books and articles about Leonard Cohen and has published material online at www.cohenpedia.de since 1996. (More about Christof can be found at his Q&A.) In this post, he reviews the Nov 6, 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert supplemented by his own exclusive photos and videos. Update: Also see Christof Graf’s Multi-Media Walk Through The Montreal Mac Leonard Cohen Exhibition With Curator John Zeppetelli

Montreal, November 6th, 2017. The 22,000-seat Bell Centre, best known as a hockey stadium. was transformed to a Mecca for the faithful  on the first anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death. Cohen’s son Adam and the Cohen family organized a concert event of the highest quality and depth.

Participants included Canadian and international artists such as Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Feist, K.D. Lang, Damien Rice and Sting, who each offered their interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs.  (Philip Glass, who was on the program list, did not  appear.) The concert was a prelude to the Leonard Cohen Exhibition, “A Crack in Everything,” commemorating the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Expectations were accordingly high and were more than fulfilled.

Sting kicked-off the almost three hour show, interpreting “Dance Me To The End Of Love” in his trademark fashion.

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“He was the greatest hang ever” Hear Patrick Leonard Talk About Working With Leonard Cohen & Their Planned Projects


lcheadThis 10 minute conversation is insightful, revealing, and endearing, If the embedded player below is not available in your browser, the recording can be heard at Patrick Leonard reveals that Leonard Cohen was working on an R&B record by Tom Power (CBC: November 11, 2016)

“Reb, I am getting ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. I have some questions for you.” Leonard Cohen’s Rabbi Talks About Their Relationship


Being Leonard Cohen’s rabbi by Rabbi Mordecai Finley (Jewish Journal: Nov. 16, 2016) is a wonderful account of the long relationship between Rabbi Mordecai Finley and Leonard Cohen, as well as Anjani and others. I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs but do yourself a service and read the full account at the link.

Anjani and Leonard also started attending my Monday night classes, Jewish spiritual psychology dharma talks. I taught Mussar, gave talks on Chasidut and led meditations. I did not know yet that Leonard was a Buddhist monk. I probably would have been self-conscious leading meditations in front of him had I known. He would sit in the front row, shoes off, in his signature suit, tie and fedora, eyes closed, listening, radiant.

Let me tell you how generous Leonard was. First, after I knew him about a year, he gave me one of his fedoras, right off of his head.Second, when our synagogue was scraping bottom during a brutal remodeling of the dilapidated building we bought, Leonard (with several other families) came to the rescue. He was very generous (always handed his checks in person) and appreciative of the work my wife (the designer and general contractor) was doing. On one of this visits to the building, he spent a full afternoon with Meirav. He delighted in everything we had done, especially the café and the preschool. He visited with the kids in the pre-kindergarten. (The teachers almost fainted.) Got some of the lentil soup that he loved — he liked to call it “Jacob’s stew.”

Photo atop post by Maarten Massa

Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas Intimidate Craig – 2007



Leonard Cohen’s Back – As Seen From The Good Seats

The above photo, posted October 11, 2007, was itself interesting enough to catch my eye. The blogger, seated behind Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas, has, obviously, snapped a photo from his perspective.

In the title of his post, he identifies Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas. Below the photo, he enters only the brief, self-effacing text, “Yes, I was pretty intimidated …” followed by his signature, “Craig.”

That is a nicely done, clever blog entry.

The post, however, gains another a level of complexity when viewed in its entirety, as in the screenshot below. Continue Reading →

Leonard Cohen On Writers Who Influenced Him



Who are the poems and artists that you respect or who influenced you, or both?

I think that is also very difficult to untangle influences because you represent the sum of everything you have seen or heard or experienced. The kind of language that I have liked, I have been influenced by the Bible and by Cervantes and by the Old Masters. The kind of sensibility I have been influenced of course a great deal by the French writers Sartre and Camus, the Irish poets, Yeats, the English poets and of course we had our own little group of poets in Montreal years back all very fine. One man especially standing out I think one of the finest writers in language Irving Layton. I don’t think he is known down here at all.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Transcript of Pacifica Interview with Kathleen Kendall. WBAI Radio, New York City: December 4, 1974. Photo from back cover of The Energy Of Slaves 1974. Originally posted Jan 20, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Read, Download Songs of Leonard Cohen: Postmodernity, The Victimary, Irony, A Blaze of Light By Ian Dennis

This is the explanatory introduction to Songs of Leonard Cohen: Postmodernity, The Victimary, Irony, A Blaze of Light by Ian Dennis (Anthropoetics XXIII, no. 1 Fall 2017). The entire paper can be accessed at the link. (For information about generative anthropology, see A Brief Introduction to Generative Anthropology)

An Age of Song

The 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan, but for many commentators the choice recognized, perhaps belatedly, a whole genre. And surely for at least a century, in reach, popularity, achievement, even sheer volume of production and reproduction, song has had claims to be amongst the most significant and influential of art-forms, in the West and ever more globally. Has any other been integrated more deeply into the life-narratives, aspirations and imaginings of so many, across so wide a spectrum of aesthetic sophistication? Brought so much comfort and release, been so loved? Only cinema might compare.

We should attend to this, to such a focalization of desire. The present paper attempts to use the heuristic and insights of generative anthropology (GA) to better understand a few of the productions of one notable song-writer of our time. There are a number of reasons to single him out, amongst which is his distinctive negotiation of the popular to “high” art continuum, something this essay will try to explore. His songs are also less closely or permanently associated with his own recorded performances and stage persona, and have been sung and recorded widely, even in “definitive” versions by others, allowing us a clearer focus on the particulars of the works themselves. And it is finally the insights of these remarkable and widely performed songs, their gifts and revelations, that recommend them to us. They not only express the ethos of their time—apt vehicles as so many songs have been for the evolving desires and resentments of an era—but in their characteristic double vantage provide new understandings of the human scene itself.

Christof Graf’s Multi-Media Walk Through The Montreal Mac Leonard Cohen Exhibition With Curator John Zeppetelli

“A Crack In Everything / Une Brèche en toute” – First Impressions

A Guest Post By Christof Graf
Photos: By Christof Graf

Introduction:  Christof Graf has authored multiple books and articles about Leonard Cohen and has published material online at www.cohenpedia.de since 1996. (More about Christof can be found at his Q&A.) In a previous post, he reviewed the Nov 6, 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert supplemented by his own exclusive photos and videos. In today’s offering, he walks us through the MAC Leonard Cohen Exhibit, again providing his own exclusive photos and videos.

Three days after the Tower Of Song Tribute Concert  at Montreal`s Bell Centre, the “Musée d’Art contemporain de Montréal opened its new exhibition, “Leonard Cohen: Une Brèche en toute / A Crack In Everything.” The exhibit, approved by Leonard Cohen before he died, will continue until April 9, 2018.

The exhibit offers 20 works by 40 artists from 10 countries and provides different forms of contemporary art. It is not only a collection of memorabilia but a consideration of Cohen’s songs and their effect on contemporary artists, who, inspired by Cohen, “take his work deeper into the twenty-first century,” says curator John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator of the MAC.

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Death Before Dishonor, Vladimir Mayakovsky, & Leonard Cohen’s “Silver Bullet Suicides”

Introduction: Silver Bullet Suicides

This is the conclusion of an essay that began with Examining Allusions In & Provenance Of “Silver Bullet Suicides” In Leonard Cohen’s Field Commander Cohen focusing on the three word sequence, silver bullet suicides, in the first verse of Field Commander Cohen:

Come back to nothing special,
Such as waiting rooms and ticket lines,
Silver bullet suicides,
And messianic ocean tides,
And racial roller-coaster rides
And other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.

While the previous post dealt with references tied to “silver bullet,” today’s entry concentrates on (1) the embedded tradition of taking one’s own life with a silver bullet and (2) Leonard Cohen’s inspiration for the phrase.

Death Before Dishonor: The Silver Bullet As Means Of Noble Suicide

This description of a special category of suicide using silver bullets is derived from notes by Jugurtha Harchaoui.

In the 15th century European aristocrats (east of France; Germany; Austria; Hungary; etc.) devised a methodology for committing suicide with a bullet made of silver as a means of dying with dignity should they fail in combat.

Early Christians believed (and many still believe) that suicide is a sin. Because the nobility, however, often had influence over local clergy, an aristocrat, arguing the exceptional circumstances (e.g., going to war; the enemy’s proximity; the non-Christian character of the enemy; etc.), would direct a clergyman to bless a special bullet crafted from silver. He would then carry that silver bullet, blessed by the Church, to use to take his life, should the need arise, thus circumventing the Church’s condemnation of suicide and allowing him to enter heaven.

In addition, I found two specific instances that could fall into the category of noble silver bullet suicides:

Jan Potocki, (1815), Polish aristocrat, traveler, writer: “Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.”1

Henry Christophe, King of Haiti (1820): “King Henry committed suicide by shooting himself with a silver bullet rather than risk a coup and assassination.” ((Wikipedia)) This episode inspired Eugene O’Neil’s 1920 play, Emperor Jones, in which Brutus Jones commits suicide as the natives in revolt close in on him using the silver bullet which he had worn around his neck as a good-luck charm

Significance: This allusion invokes the tension between religion and the individual and an extreme version of noblesse oblige. It also conjures up a sense of exoticism and romanticism.

Provenance Of Silver Bullet Suicides: The Leonard Cohen-Mayakovsky Hypothesis

This discussion of Leonard Cohen’s inspiration for this phrase begins with the page from Leonard’s notebook containing the phrase silver bullet suicides. (The image of the page shown below is from the Field Commander Cohen site.)

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  1. Wikipedia []

Leonard Cohen Explains Why Bird On The Wire “Is So Important To Me”

The song [Bird On The Wire] is so important to me. It’s that one verse where I say that I swear by this song, and by all that I have done wrong, I’ll make it all up to thee. In that verse it’s a vow that I’ll try and redeem everything that’s gone wrong. I think I’ve made it too many times now, but I like to keep renewing it.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Cohen Regrets (1973) by Alastair Pirrie. Beat Patrol: December 30, 2008. [Originally written for the New Musical Express: March 10, 1973.] Originally posted Nov 19, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

For a long time now [Leonard Cohen has] been more preoccupied with the eternal, with humility and surrender—and by all signs he’s much happier for it.” Slate 2014


“It’s hopeful that even the self-proclaimed ‘patron saint of envy and grocer of despair’ could find peace by persisting.” Slate’s Take On Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, & Loudon Wainwright III Aging Gracefully

Read the complete thoughtful, interesting essay at How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully by Carl Wilson. Slate: Oct 1, 2014. Photo by Dominique BOILE. Originally posted October 3, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric