It isn’t that in my life I had some inner vision that I’ve been trying to present. I just had the appetite to work. I think the appetite for activity was much more urgent than the realization of any search or vision. I felt that this was my work, and that it was the only work I could do. This sounds like the most hackneyed nineteenth-century platitude, but in the midst of my own tiny personal troubles, I was able to turn to art, or whatever you want to call it. I was able to turn to art, and in the making of art find solace and strength. I mean, this sounds terrible, but I turned to the thing I knew how to do and I made some songs out of it. And in the making of those songs, much of the pain in my life was dissolved, from time to time. And that is one of the things that I see that art does, is that it heals.
Leonard Cohen Interviewed by Mikal Gilmore, 2001. Accessed at Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents by Mikal Gilmore (Free Press: 2008)
Scenes From A Cabin
Viewing the Armelle Brusq 1996 documentary about Leonard Cohen’s experience at the Mount Baldy Zen Center (see Superb Video Of Leonard Cohen At Mt Baldy Zen Center), I was struck by the amount of detail the film displayed of the interior of Cohen’s cabin. I am posting these screen captures from the film and Pico Iyer’s description of this residence (see below) to provide readers a sense of Cohen’s lodgings from 1994 to 1999.
Other than his computer and synthesizer and the cabin phone, Cohen’s implements of daily life, glasses, mirrors, pencils, tissues, and such, could be characterized as “simple but plentiful.”
Pico Iyer’s Description Of Leonard Cohen’s Mount Baldy Cabin
Published in Buzz in April 1998, the year before Cohen left Mount Baldy, Leonard Cohen Unplugged by Pico Iyer describes Cohen’s residence at the Zen Center:
His home is a markedly simple place, with a small black WELCOME mat outside its door. Inside, a narrow single bed, a tiny mirror, a dirty old carpet, and a picture of some puppies cavorting under the legend “Friends Are All Welcome.”
Farther inside, a pair of scissors, a few Kleenexes, a small shoulder bag with a Virgin airlines tag around it, and on a chest of drawers, a menorah. “This place is really quite a trip,” he says, smiling. “You enter a kind of science-fiction universe which has no beginning and no end.” His own ragged gown, I notice, is held together with safety pins. The small Technics synthesizer in the next room is unplugged.
Howard Bilerman, the producer and recording engineer who runs Montreal’s hotel2tango studio and a Grammy nominated musician who performed with, among others, Arcade Fire, played a role in creating You Want It Darker, the Leonard Cohen album scheduled for release this fall. His account of the experience – from meeting Leonard to working with producer, Adam Cohen, recording a unique set of backup singers for the album, is interesting, entertaining, and enlightening:
Howard, Vic Chesnutt, & Leonard Cohen
The story starts some 10 years ago. I had just finished recording an album with the now departed Vic Chesnutt. It was the first time we had worked together, and we bonded over our love of Leonard Cohen songs. It made Vic’s day when I pointed out where Leonard lived and his favorite spot for breakfast.
A native of Georgia, Vic fell in love with Montreal, largely because it was Leonard’s home. Vic’s album was was released mid-July 2007 to incredibly positive reviews. One, written by Sean Michaels (now a Giller Prize winning author) concluded, “This record, done at the hotel2tango, is Vic’s best record in some many years … Now someone get Leonard Cohen there!” (a reference to an interview I had done some years before about artists I had dreamt of working with).
Within 12 hours of that review going online, an email arrived with the subject line “from Leonard Cohen” which read simply “Can I visit your studio? Leonard.”
I trust, dear reader, you will excuse me for thinking this was a prank from one Vic Chesnutt. But, you know, stranger things have happened. So, I quizzed this “Leonard Cohen,” asking him the last names of two mutual acquaintances, something only the real Leonard Cohen would know. At 4:56 am the next morning I received an email, and in bold letters read the correct answers to my skill testing questions. There was no doubt about it — this was Leonard Cohen. Plans were made for Leonard to stop by the studio the next day at 4:30 pm.
At 4:30 pm, the studio doorbell rang. Opening the door revealed a handsome, dapper Leonard Cohen dressed in his trademark suit and cap. The first words out of his mouth were “if you’re busy I can come back.”
The reference to Leonard Cohen’s negative take on psychotherapy in Hey, That’s Some Way To Heave A Sigh by Juliette Jones calls to mind the single known episode in which the Canadian singer-songwriter did attend a therapy session. This excerpt is from Angst & Aquavit by Brendan Bernhard (LA Weekly: September 26, 2001):
Cohen did go to a therapist once, actually — out of desperation. He was so depressed that he called a friend and asked if she could arrange for him to see her therapist straightaway. Then he drove to St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica “at about five miles an hour,” barely able to negotiate the traffic. When he got there, the therapist asked him to describe his feelings. After Cohen had finished, she said, “How can you stand it?”
Ongoing readers may recall the multiple posts devoted to the weirdness that was the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. Today’s addition to that catalog focuses on the sporadically recurring query among (hard core) Leonard Cohen fans, “What’s with that Regina song Leonard Cohen sings on the 1970 French TV video?”
As far as I can determine, there are only two known recordings of Leonard Cohen singing the song Cohen fans call “The Arms Of Regina.”
1. On August 28, 1970 (two days before the Isle Of Wight Festival), Leonard Cohen and his band played an unpaid gig at the Henderson, a therapeutic community in Sutton on the southern edge of London.1 Sylvie Simmons, who listened to an audience recording of the show, reports in “I’m Your Man, her biography of Cohen,
… the band did a quick sound check – “Arms Of Regina,” an unreleased song, sounding here like a midtempo country ballad with heart-tugging harmonies.”
2. On May 13, 1970, Leonard Cohen performed two songs on French TV’s Joe Dassin Show – “Arpèges sur Joe Dassin.” The first, with only Cohen on camera, was “The Partisan.” After completing “The Partisan,” Cohen assembled the band and backup singers on camera and led them in a rendition of “The Arms Of Regina.”
And, what else do we know about “The Arms Of Regina?”
- For more about this performance, see Leonard Cohen & Babies, Therapy, Covers, Lyrics, Roberta Flack, Jian Ghomeshi, 1993, … [↩]
Los Angeles is a great city — it’s falling apart on every level. Geologically it’s falling apart, politically it’s falling apart, the physical realm is also in deep fragmentation…a very suitable landscape for my dismal expression.
From “Hello! I Must Be Cohen” By Gavin Martin (New Musical Express, January 9, 1993). Photo by Robert A. Eplett – This image is from the FEMA Photo Library., Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Note: In addition to experiencing the 1992 Los Angeles earthquake, Leonard Cohen observed the 1992 LA Riots up close and personal from his home:
I live about 8 minutes drive from South Central & the local shops were going up. My 7-11 grocery store went up, Goodman’s Music where I buy my musical supplies, Radio Shack, where I buy my electronics, they all went up. From my balcony I could see five great fires. The air was thick with cinders.1
See other Leonard Cohen geopolitical quotes at Leonard Cohen On Location
- Melancholy Baby by John Walsh. The Independent Magazine: May 8, 1993 [↩]
Many viewers have expressed a special appreciation for Leonard Cohen’s poetry recitations. If you fall into that group, this is a resource that will delight you. Marie, at Leonard Cohen Concordance, has compiled an annotated list of links to online recordings (including both videos and audio-only recordings) of Leonard Cohen reciting a significant number of his own poems as well as a few works by others: Poems Recited By Leonard Cohen.
I’ve included a screenshot below (click on image to enlarge) of the first few poems listed to offer a sense of the available recitations. The actual Poems Recited By Leonard Cohen list is, of course, much larger.
I’ve been writing about this for a long time. In a song I wrote in 1979 [The Gypsy’s Wife] I said these are the final days, these are the final hours, this is the darkness, this is the flood. Y’know — don’t wait for the apocalypse, It’s already happened. It’s already come down on us, we are in it right now. It’s not something that’s going to happen outside, this one is inside and it’s raging. I don’t feel like being a wild-eyed prophet on the streets shouting, ‘Repent, repent’ but we do live in several different worlds. We live in a world that’s mundane, a world that’s apocalyptic, a world of order and a world that knows no order. We’re continually juggling these worlds, entering them and leaving them. I’ve always had the sense that this apocalyptic reality is with us, it’s not something that’s coming.
From “Hello! I Must Be Cohen” By Gavin Martin (New Musical Express, January 9, 1993).
Leonard Cohen – Lover Lover Lover, Featuring Javier Mas + Final Words To Audience
Berlin: August 18, 2010
Video by albertnoonan
Is it true that you wrote Beautiful Losers largely under the influence or with the help of drugs?
That is true. I took a lot of amphetamines. I felt that it increased the powers of my mind tenfold. I could work very hard for hours. I was never addicted, and I was not aware of the consequences. At a certain point, I could not take anything anymore, I could hardly live. It just stopped, I collapsed, the system collapsed. This is not a very good drug for the depressed because the descent is very unpleasant. I took ten years to fully recover, I had absences, I was grilled from the inside. I could not get up, I was in bed like a vegetable, long unable to do anything, without eating. I weighed less than 40 kg. It is said that amphetamines do not invent anything, that they draw on the resources to come. At home, they had taken over ten years. I have taken it once in a while, but never again regularly. I have not touched the hallucinogens, never the hard drugs, while many people around me have died, some very close.
From Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Les Inrocks: Aug 21, 1991). Via Google Translate.
Dino Soldo was not only Leonard Cohen’s “Master Of Wind;” he was also the “Caliph Of Clapping.” To rev up the audience in anticipation of First We Take Manhattan, he would perform his signature above-the-head clapping. While Javier Mas and Bob Metzger would contribute as well, it was Dino who was the most emphatic. This animation depicts his efforts at the August 1, 2010 Sligo show as recorded by Albert Noonan.
View more animated gifs at Leonard Cohen Animations.