Note: Originally posted Dec 17, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
More Of A Sunstroke Than A Book
I have long held that the publication of Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers in Chinese translation in 2000 would have been justified if its sole literary legacy were Cohen’s respectful, gracious, self-effacing, laughter-inducing preface to that edition of the book.
“The frenzied thoughts of my youth
expressed in Chinese characters”
Preface To The Chinese Translation Of Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
Thank you for coming to this book. It is an honor, and a surprise, to have the frenzied thoughts of my youth expressed in Chinese characters. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the translator and the publishers in bringing this curious work to your attention. I hope you will find it useful or amusing.
When I was young, my friends and I read and admired the old Chinese poets. Our ideas of love and friendship, of wine and distance, of poetry itself, were much affected by those ancient songs. Much later, during the years when I practiced as a Zen monk under the guidance of my teacher Kyozan Joshu Roshi, the thrilling sermons of Lin Chi (Rinzai) were studied every day. So you can understand, Dear Reader, how privileged I feel to be able to graze, even for a moment, and with such meager credentials, on the outskirts of your tradition.
This is a difficult book, even in English, if it is taken too seriously. May I suggest that you skip over the parts you don’t like? Dip into it here and there. Perhaps there will be a passage, or even a page, that resonates with your curiosity. After a while, if you are sufficiently bored or unemployed, you may want to read it from cover to cover. In any case, I thank you for your interest in this odd collection of jazz riffs, pop-art jokes, religious kitsch and muffled prayer, an interest which indicates, to my thinking, a rather reckless, though very touching, generosity on your part.
Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book.
Dear Reader, please forgive me if I have wasted your time.
Note: A delightful video of Leonard Cohen reading this preface is included in the 2005 documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man; it is a treat. The pertinent section runs from 33:52 to 36:46.