Lessons From Leonard Cohen: Not Running The Show Is “No Alibi…You Have To Stand Up & Say Hallelujah”

A Manual For Living With Defeat

Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat is a collection of Leonard Cohen’s observations that offer insight into living in this imperfect world. (For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction.)

Lesson #7: The realization “that you’re not running the show” in an imperfect world is “no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities”

I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view. I think the other song that is closely related to that is ‘Anthem.’ It’s the notion that there is no perfection–that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.1

That is the background of the whole record [The Future]. If you had to come up with a philosophical ground, that is it. Ring the bells that still can ring. It’s no excuse. The dismal situation and the future, there’s no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards your self and your job and your love. Ring the bells that still can ring. They are few and far between. You can find ’em. Forget your perfect offering. That is the hang-up. That you’re going to work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea, we’ve forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This situation does not admit of solution, of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect. Neither your marriage nor your work nor anything. Nor your love of G-d nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect, and, worse: There is a crack in everything that you can put together — physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But, that’s where the light gets in; and, that’s where the resurrection is; and, that’s where the return — that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation with the brokenness of the thing.2

The evidence accumulates that you’re not running the show. You still have to make choices as if you were running the show. But you make your choices with the intuitive understanding that it’s unfolding as it must. And that’s why I use that phrase ‘a thousand kisses deep.’ That’s the intuitive understanding of the fundamental mystery. And if you can relax in that, or if you can even touch it, or if it asserts itself from time to time, then the invincible defeat is transcended.3

Somehow things are given and they are given powerfully. You’re stuck with them. Your own nature is one of those things. You don’t wake up in the morning and choose the sort of guy you’re gonna be. Maybe you can in a really superficial way. Like in Rhinehart’s Dice Man. I loved that book very much, as a wonderful escapist idea. I think you’re kind of stuck with who you are and that’s what you’re dealing with. That’s the hand that you’ve been dealt. To escape from the burden of decision is a delightful notion…but nothing more.”4

More Lessons From Leonard Cohen

All posts in this series can be found at

Cohencentric Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat


  1. Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995) [emphasis mine] []
  2. Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz (a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992). [emphasis mine] []
  3. Our Poet of the Apocalypse: In the wake of September 11, Leonard Cohen reflects on love and death — and the war on America by Brian D. Johnson. Maclean’s: Oct 15, 2001 [emphasis mine] []
  4. From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview).   []