“[I had] some kind of shining idea that my voice was important, that I had a meaning in the cosmos. Well, after enough lonely nights you don’t care whether you have a meaning in the cosmos or not.” Leonard Cohen On Acknowledging Himself As A Songwriter


It’s remarkable that you’d written two well-received novels before becoming a professional songwriter. After that much struggle, why did you abandon a career as a novelist?

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Many times in the last few years I’ve thought I should have stayed with writing. Then maybe life would have been a little easier. I would have shipwrecked less dramatically. From my point of view. [Interviewer: You think it’s a less difficult life emotionally?] As I remember it, for the writing of books you have to be in one place. The regime is just completely different. It usually involves a certain type of stability. You tend to gather things around you when you write a novel. You need a woman in your life. It’s good to have some kids around, ’cause there’s always food. It’s nice to have a place that is clean and orderly, where this light comes in… I had those things and then I decided to be a songwriter. I don’t know what it was, something to do with money. Although I was being affirmed in certain circles, I couldn’t pay the rent. I’d always written songs, so it was more like an emphasis changed rather than a venue. But I still don’t know how I got so deeply into it. It started to engross me – and also, I had enormous success at the beginning. That’s always a trap; you think, ‘I can repeat that.’ This seems like a wonderful way to live. Everywhere you go people seem delighted to have you around. It seems to be more lively. But …it wasn’t. I found myself mostly alone and that all the flaws of my nature were aggravated and written large. And I found myself mostly alone in cities that I didn’t know very well, trying to find a date for dinner. That’s really what I found. What I left, which was an intimate relationship and a beautiful house on a Greek island, was obviously something I couldn’t stand either. So I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t work out very happily over the years. It’s taken me a long time to come out of the shipwreck of 10 or 15 years of broken families and hotel rooms. And some kind of shining idea that my voice was important, that I had a meaning in the cosmos. Well, after enough lonely nights you don’t care whether you have a meaning in the cosmos or not. But you don’t know what to change to. When we’re young and we’re standing in front of this buffet table, you can pick and choose from the vast range of generality. The older you get the more specific your life becomes, and you can’t say, ‘I could be a forest ranger’ or ‘I could be a brain surgeon.’ When all the while you’re this songwriter living in L.A. It takes a long time to know it, and to say, ‘Well, okay, that’s what I’m gonna be.’ Or even, ‘That’s who I am. Now I’m going to be a good one.’ Now I know what I am. I’m not a novelist. I’m not the light of my generation. I’m not the spokesman for new sensibility. I’m a songwriter living in L.A., and this is my new record.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988