Leonard Cohen Lays Out His Mission In 1974: “To Become An Elder”


Leonard Cohen performing in concert: 1974 & 2013

I love to hear an old guy laying out his situation.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

A recurrent theme in Leonard Cohen’s discussions of his preferred singing style has been the notion that his performances fall into the category of the story-teller:

There is a whole tradition of music where you just want to hear the man telling a story as authentically as you can. That is why there is a place for singers like me.1

In addition, however, he has long admired singers whose songs are invested with age and experience:

Have you heard George Jones’ last record, Cold Hard Truth? I love to hear an old guy laying out his situation.2 He has the best voice in America.3 [emphasis mine]

Leonard Cohen’s Lifetime Mission Articulated At 40


Janis Ian & Judy Collins drop in on Leonard Cohen after his Dec 1, 1974 show at the Bottom Line

While Cohen has made similar statements on several occasions, a quotation from an interview after his Dec 1, 1974 show at the Bottom Line offers the most poignant and articulate expression of Leonard Cohen’s goal as a singer:

If one’s health holds out, then doing this [giving concerts] forever would be marvelous. To really bring the information of the older ages – you don’t hear that on the concert stage. Maybe we’ll be able to hear John Lennon in 40 years on his experience of maturity. That’s what I’d like to hear and that’s what I’d like to be. Every man should try to become an elder.4

And, this goal of becoming an elder “laying out his situation” – his experience of maturity – is precisely what Leonard Cohen has accomplished.

Damn impressive, Leonard.

Update: This 1974 interview was not the first time Leonard touched on this concept. See “I see a time when Elders will be honored…” Leonard Cohen, 1968

Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen in 1974 taken by Pete Purnell at the Oct 2, 1974 Leonard Cohen Jaap Edenhal, Amsterdam show. Photo of Leonard Cohen in 2013 taken at the June 18, 2013 Leonard Cohen Bercy, Paris show by Ted McDonnel. Bottom Line photo by Peter Cunningham.

Note: Originally posted Dec 20, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. The Profits Of Doom by Steve Turner. Q Magazine: April 1988 []
  2. George Jones was born September 12, 1931, making him only 3 years older than Leonard Cohen, who was born September 21, 1934. It was because Jones began his professional career at 16 and was singing on Texas stations in the 1940s that his songs could possibly have been available on radio while Cohen was still an adolescent. I haven’t been able to track down when Jones began singing at WWVA, but, according to allmusic, the first George Jones recording (a single called “No Money in This Deal”) was released in early 1954, just after Jones returned from a stint in the Marines, on a local Texas label where it received no attention. At that time, Leonard Cohen would have been 19 years old. []
  3. Q&A: The New Leonard Cohen – by Mark Binelli. Rolling Stone. Posted Oct 19, 2001. []
  4. Rolling Stone: Leonard Cohen by Larry Sloman, The Sunday Citizen: May 25, 1975. []

2 Replies to “Leonard Cohen Lays Out His Mission In 1974: “To Become An Elder””

  1. Dick

    Great post Allan.
    Your maturity is showing through here too!
    Sincere good wishes and holiday greetings to you and Penny.