Lessons From Leonard Cohen: “You’re on the front lines of your own life, and you really don’t have too much opportunity for making grand plans.”

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 #11: “You’re on the front lines of your own life, and you really don’t have too much opportunity for making grand plans.”

“It’s hard to develop a strategy, especially in this accidental life. Contrary to what Wordsworth said, I never felt my life was ‘recollected in tranquility.’ It seems like you’re on the front lines of your own life, and you really don’t have too much opportunity for making grand plans.”1

Leonard Cohen

“I’ve never had a strategy. To me it was perfectly natural that my work would penetrate and find an audience in the popular culture and I think you can approach it in any way you want. I think it’s important not to let it tyrannize you. I don’t think we’re completely creatures of that culture and neither are we creatures of our own personal culture. We’re continually moving back and forth between those two areas. I never had a strategy because I never felt alien from popular culture. You just set the thing up in the way you can handle it. I don’t have the kind of mind to do anything else. I think Irving Layton once described my mind as ‘unblemished by a single idea.’ I never had a plan. I had a certain kind of faith although. I would never have given that word to it. If the work was good enough or, more specifically, if the work was appropriate to move into the world, it would move into the world. There are certain kinds of work that stay with you. You don’t develop any kind of chip on your shoulder because that kind of work doesn’t move out or gain hundreds of admirers. I have a clear idea of the process, of a song say, in the popular realm. The world can use certain kinds of work at certain times and at certain times it can’t.”2

Leonard Cohen

Someone observed that whoever marries the spirit of their generation will be a widow in the next. I never married the spirit of my generation because it wasn’t that attractive to me. And I’ve since moved further and further from any possible matrimonial commitment. As you get older, I think you get less willing to buy the latest version of reality. Mostly, I’m on the front line of my own tiny life.”3

Leonard Cohen

“You must do the thing you want most. We are all our own crash test dummies.”4

Leonard Cohen

“I find that more and more I inhabit the front line of my own life, with missiles and shrapnel flying through the air. You really don’t have the opportunity to develop much of a strategy about things. Certainly not about your career, and not even about your loves or dreams. So there’s a certain urgency to the moment and how to negotiate from one instance to the next.”5

Leonard Cohen

“I don’t have a spiritual strategy … Occasionally, your back is against the wall, and you cry out for help and that becomes a type of song. Events surround you. You develop a sense of resignation. That becomes a song like ‘If It Be Your Will.’ … You’re provoked, you’re feeling somewhat demented. That becomes a geopolitical manifesto full of menace like ‘First We Take Manhattan.’ But these statements develop with a sense of immediacy although the process of refinement is very long. The impulse for the work is immediate and stunning.”6

Leonard Cohen

“I don’t think I’ll be able to finish those songs. Maybe, who knows? And maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”7

Leonard Cohen

 

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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

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  1. November 9, 1988 interview with Ralph Benmergui, Massey Hall in Toronto (Broadcast live on CBC radio and rebroadcast on March 11, 1990 on The Entertainers) []
  2. Leonard Cohen: Working for the World to Come. The interview (probably from 1982) was published in the book In Their Own Words: Interviews with fourteen Canadian writers, by Bruce Mayer and Brian O’Riordan, 1984. Found at LeonardCohenfiles. []
  3. Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland. Musician: July 1988. []
  4. Leonard Cohen, Patricia Rozema, & The How To Be Happy Documentary []
  5. Leonard Cohen, The Lord Byron of Rock-and-Roll by Karen Schoemer New York Times: November 29, 1992. []
  6. November 9, 1988 interview with Ralph Benmergui, Massey Hall in Toronto (Broadcast live on CBC radio and rebroadcast on March 11, 1990 on The Entertainers) []
  7. Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker by David Remnick (New Yorker: October 17, 2016) []