Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass, And The Iceberg


Leonard Cohen Explains Philip Glass Interpreting Leonard Cohen.

Given my druthers, I would have attended the performance of Philip Glass’s musical interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Book Of Longing at Toronto’s LuminaTO.

Nonetheless, while returning readers may have discerned from the stray comment within these posts that I tend to feel positively toward Cohen’s work, I confess that the only effect listening to a Glass composition has ever had on me is to deepen the conviction that I am indeed a Philistine.1

My only defense is that Lord knows I’ve tried; unfortunately, the only positive result of my repeated efforts has been that I now have a visceral appreciation of the classic Philip Glass knock-knock joke:

Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Philip Glass.

Consequently, I am not profoundly disappointed that the cultural epitome of my weekend was watching Jackie Chan in Drunken Master with Prodigal rather than being in the audience for the performance of the collaboration of the two masters, (neither of whom, I’m going to assume, was then drunken), Glass and Cohen.

I do, however, regret missing the discussion between Glass and Cohen if for no other reason than to witness Leonard Cohen being unabashedly delighted as he is in this grand portrait of sophisticated, learned pleasure.

For what it’s worth, reviews of the performance were respectful but unenthusiastic. The essential points of Greg Twill’s report in The Star are succinctly captured in the headline, Glass work unclear despite Cohen and the subheading, Book of Longing event proves a confusing hybrid, save for when writer’s voice is heard.

From my seat below the 49th parallel, it appears that the high point of the presentation may have been Leonard Cohen’s explanation that his poetry and Glass’s music defy logic to become a thing of beauty “like that iceberg that hit the museum down the street,”2 referring to Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Royal Ontario Museum.3


Naw – the high point is that photo with Cohen beaming.

Credit Due Department: Photo of Philip Glass taken by MITO SettembreMusica and used under Creative Commons license. Found at Wikipedia Commons. Photo of the Royal Ontario Museum was also found at Wikipedia Commons.

  1. Actually, I fear I may only be a hillbilly with Philistine pretensions. From my reading of trustworthy sources, I’m willing to stipulate that Glass is a genius who has arguably been the single greatest influence on classical composition in our time. Happy now? []
  2. Quoted in The Star – Sketch []
  3. I also give high marks to Cohen’s comment about Glass’s motivation for the piece, “It’s his 70th birthday, and he’s just a kid with a crazy dream.” Quoted in The Gazette []