Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About Poetry, The Soul, & Book Of Mercy + Recite The Captain: 1984 Interview

In June 1984 I sat with Leonard Cohen in his room at the top of Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel where we talked about his newest collection Book of Mercy. I confessed an uneasiness about love poems because of how often other kinds of love beyond the romantic are overlooked or are treated in a puerile fashion. Not so one poem coming three months after my son’s birth… Even more interesting is what he had to say about poetry and the shift away from traditional lyric to language poetry.

David Godkin’s YouTube Description

A few key quotes from Leonard Cohen’s interview follow:

  • Book of Mercy can only be conceived as a book of prayer… it is different from my other books
  • I’m comfortable [using] the name of God
  • There are many superstitions afoot; one is that there is no soul.
  • You only address the problem of soul when you feel that you’re losing it
  • [Referring to Snow Is Falling by William Carlos Williams] That kind of accuracy is present on every page of Book of Mercy; it’s just about a landscape that’s unfamiliar



Photo by Daniel Bastida.

Listen To NRK Broadcast: If It Be Your Will – Leonard Cohen On Art, Love, & Marianne

First broadcast in January 2006, this interview took place at Leonard’s home in Los Angeles near the end of 2005. Included in the broadcast are a telephone call from Leonard’s daughter, Lorca, a call initiated by Leonard inviting Daniel to dinner, a discussion of the neighbor’s dogs, Leonard sharing food with the interviewer, Leonard’s use of Marianne’s corkscrew, and much about Leonard’s take on men connecting with women, writing poetry and songs, and, of course, Marianne. Leonard Cohen’s portion of the interview is in English, and the remainder of the content is a mix of English and Norwegian (with English translations shown on screen).

Kari Hesthamar Talks About Her Interview With Leonard Cohen

In these excerpts from Behind the Scenes With Kari Hesthamar, Producer Of If It Be Your Will,  Kari Hesthamar explains her notions about why these interviews were especially revelatory as well as providing a few tantalizing clues about the content itself:

.. I think maybe [what is revealing is] everything that is “in between” and also the way that the music is used. He is very verbal, and when he speaks it’s with some of the same quality as you find in his lyrics, it’s just very well put. But I think what maybe works the best is the fact that we’re in his house, we can hear the dogs barking in the garden, he pours me wine with Marianne’s old corkscrew,1 he puts his feet on the table, there’s the Friday night party with family and some close friends where they play guitar and sing: we feel that we’re in his home, close to him, and that it’s not just an interview that could have been done in a studio or in the radio station. He becomes an ordinary man, not just a star. And I’ve tried to make the music and the spoken parts reflect on each other.2

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  1. Cohen having won custody of the corkscrew is sufficient raw material for a number of jokes, none of which, unfortunately, are in keeping with the mood of this post. Maybe another time. []
  2. The editing of the content, to emphasize the dogs barking, the telephone calls, the Friday night dinner, etc. strikes me as another example of the ordinary manipulation that is apparently integral to producing documentaries of stars such as Leonard Cohen. I don’t think it’s harmful or even incongruent with Cohen’s personality or lifestyle. I only wish to acknowledge that what viewers are shown is a carefully selected and edited sequence of events, not a random slice of life. []

Leonard Cohen Identifies Himself As “One Of The First Punks,” Tells Bovine Sex Joke, Talks About Roshi, Nick Cave, Jennifer Warnes, Dominique Issermann, & More – 1988 Video Interview

Topics Covered In Interview With Christian Eckert (Munich 1988):

  • Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man album
  • Post-Modernist Disco
  • Leonard as one of earliest Punk Rockers
  • His young bull/old bull joke
  • Book of Mercy
  • “I don’t have time to think about politics”
  • How Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat rehabilitated him
  • Leonard’s attitude covers of his work
  • Nick Cave rescuing his song “to let it fall apart again”
  • His computer
  • Living in a Portuguese section of Montreal\
  • Roshi
  • Gap between public and private life
  • Critics being on trial
  • Concerns about next tour
  • Dominique Issermann’s direction of First We Take Manhattan video

View video on YouTube

Listen To, Download 1994 BBC Radio 1 Kaleidoscope Interview With Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Warnes, Suzanne Vega Talk About Songwriting & More

The description from BBC Radio follows:

Duration: 28 mins

Songwriter Leonard Cohen reflects on the art of songwriting with the help of collaborator Jennifer Warnes and long time fan Suzanne Vega in this Kaleidoscope special. Cohen tells the stories behind some of his most famous songs and recalls an eventful session with a gun obsessed Phil Spector. Part of Radio 4 on Music, re-releasing the best of Radio 4’s Music Archive.

Listen to this broadcast at the BBC Radio site

MP3 Download

The interview can be played directly from the BBC Radio site (see arrow on screenshot atop this post) but downloading is allowed. Just right click on the following link, choose “save link as,” and download

1994 BBC Radio 1 Interview With Leonard Cohen

Note: Originally posted Jan 31, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Hear Leonard Cohen Recite Poems & Talk About Life At Mt Baldy Zen Center, Writing Lyrics, His Kids… – 1998 Radio Interview

Chris Douridas interviewed Leonard Cohen on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic – March 3, 1998. Highlights include

  • “I’m a bad monk” – Life at Mt Baldy Zen Center, including cooking for Roshi
  • “No existential leap” – Leonard’s recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep, including a line written that day
  • “The old are kind” – Leonard’s recitation of a quatrain
  • Discussion of Leonard’s participation in the Montreal poets group
  • The public’s belated discovery of Dance Me To The End Of Love
  • Leonard’s painstaking writing style
  • The influence of Mediterranean music
  • The work of his children, Adam & Lorca

Cars Of Leonard Cohen: Leonard’s Car Talk – Homogenization By Car

Leonard Cohen On Homogenization By Car

Video automatically begins at the pertinent section

Cars Of Leonard Cohen

is a series of posts about actual automobiles owned by or associated with Leonard Cohen, metaphorical cars he employed in his songs, and his thoughts about cars. All posts in this series are collected at as they go online.

“That’s why you pray – because you don’t have a prayer” Listen To CriticsAtLarge Interview with Leonard Cohen (1984)

“[Book Of Mercy] would only be accessible to someone who is in some kind of trouble”

In 1984, Kevin Courrier sat down with poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen to speak about the publication of his latest book of poetry, Book of Mercy. The segment first aired on the radio show, On the Arts, on CJRT-FM in Toronto in 1984. Kevin Courrier writes:

Leonard Cohen and I met once for a conversation in 1984 for “On the Arts” at CJRT-FM after he had come out of a brief retirement from both music and writing. I was aware during our talk that Cohen seemed to be contemplating (and accumulating) more and more unexpressed thoughts as the interview was progressing. So after our chat ended, he asked if he could play me something that he felt might best fully answer some of the questions that the interview kept raising. He was my last guest that morning so all I had was my lunch waiting. Since I had my whole life to eat lunch, but little time to spend with Leonard Cohen, we went into the control room that had just been vacated by my technical producer. He handed me a cassette that was obviously a promo tape with no writing on it and asked me to fast forward it to the concluding song on side two. As I cued the tape titled Various Positions, I brought up the volume on the control board while he lounged back in his chair as I did in mine. As the song began gently, he looked over to me and said, “I think this song best answers your questions during our talk.” What he played was “Hallelujah.” Once it ended, I gave him back the tape, but I forget now what my initial response was. We shook hands and I thanked him for the opportunity to hear this new unreleased song. After escorting him to the door, I went to heat up my lasagna never considering that the song I first heard with Leonard Cohen would turn out one day to be such an enduring one.

Note: If the above embedded player does not function in your browser, listen to the recording at the host site.

Thanks to Gordana Stupar, who alerted me to this recording.

“I always felt I invented Dylan” Hear 1988 Leonard Cohen Ritz Concert + Pete Fornatale Interview

“I’ve studied all the theologies and all the philosophies, but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.”

This recording includes the July 5, 1988 Leonard Cohen concert at the Ritz in New York and, beginning at 1:39:23, an interview by Pete Fornatale broadcast on Mixed Bag on July 31, 1988 (WNEW FM New York).

Mr. Cohen sang songs that ranged across the breadth of his career, from ”Suzanne” to ”Everybody Knows,” to two versions of his recent song, ”First We Take Manhattan,” in which the fashion world and drugs are held up as symbols of the terminal decay of New York. But the turning point of the evening was Mr. Cohen’s spare voice-and-guitar rendition of ”If It Be Your Will,” one of his two or three finest meditations. A prayer for mercy murmured to the void by a world wearing ”rags of light all dressed to kill,” it received a haunting interpretation in Mr. Cohen’s sepulchral bass-baritone growl.1

The interview includes Leonard Cohen discussing the influence of Bob Dylan and the assistance lent by Judy Collins and Jennifer Warnes, his “cheerfulness keeps breaking through” reference (erroneously attributed to Jonson), his multiple revisions that dramatically changed I Can’t Forget, his first public appearance as a singer, his “If I knew where good songs came from, I go there more often” comment, his religious symbolism and the notion of being punished for sin, the difference between a Ladies’ Man and a Romantic, and saying goodbye.

Update: This video has been removed

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  1. Review/Pop; Leonard Cohen Reflects Darkly On the World by Stephen Holden. New York Times: July 9, 1988 []