Death Before Dishonor, Vladimir Mayakovsky, & Leonard Cohen’s “Silver Bullet Suicides”

Introduction: Silver Bullet Suicides

This is the conclusion of an essay that began with Examining Allusions In & Provenance Of “Silver Bullet Suicides” In Leonard Cohen’s Field Commander Cohen focusing on the three word sequence, silver bullet suicides, in the first verse of Field Commander Cohen:

Come back to nothing special,
Such as waiting rooms and ticket lines,
Silver bullet suicides,
And messianic ocean tides,
And racial roller-coaster rides
And other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.

While the previous post dealt with references tied to “silver bullet,” today’s entry concentrates on (1) the embedded tradition of taking one’s own life with a silver bullet and (2) Leonard Cohen’s inspiration for the phrase.

Death Before Dishonor: The Silver Bullet As Means Of Noble Suicide

This description of a special category of suicide using silver bullets is derived from notes by Jugurtha Harchaoui.

In the 15th century European aristocrats (east of France; Germany; Austria; Hungary; etc.) devised a methodology for committing suicide with a bullet made of silver as a means of dying with dignity should they fail in combat.

Early Christians believed (and many still believe) that suicide is a sin. Because the nobility, however, often had influence over local clergy, an aristocrat, arguing the exceptional circumstances (e.g., going to war; the enemy’s proximity; the non-Christian character of the enemy; etc.), would direct a clergyman to bless a special bullet crafted from silver. He would then carry that silver bullet, blessed by the Church, to use to take his life, should the need arise, thus circumventing the Church’s condemnation of suicide and allowing him to enter heaven.

In addition, I found two specific instances that could fall into the category of noble silver bullet suicides:

Jan Potocki, (1815), Polish aristocrat, traveler, writer: “Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.”1

Henry Christophe, King of Haiti (1820): “King Henry committed suicide by shooting himself with a silver bullet rather than risk a coup and assassination.” ((Wikipedia)) This episode inspired Eugene O’Neil’s 1920 play, Emperor Jones, in which Brutus Jones commits suicide as the natives in revolt close in on him using the silver bullet which he had worn around his neck as a good-luck charm

Significance: This allusion invokes the tension between religion and the individual and an extreme version of noblesse oblige. It also conjures up a sense of exoticism and romanticism.

Provenance Of Silver Bullet Suicides: The Leonard Cohen-Mayakovsky Hypothesis

This discussion of Leonard Cohen’s inspiration for this phrase begins with the page from Leonard’s notebook containing the phrase silver bullet suicides. (The image of the page shown below is from the Field Commander Cohen site.)

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  1. Wikipedia []

For a long time now [Leonard Cohen has] been more preoccupied with the eternal, with humility and surrender—and by all signs he’s much happier for it.” Slate 2014


“It’s hopeful that even the self-proclaimed ‘patron saint of envy and grocer of despair’ could find peace by persisting.” Slate’s Take On Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, & Loudon Wainwright III Aging Gracefully

Read the complete thoughtful, interesting essay at How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully by Carl Wilson. Slate: Oct 1, 2014. Photo by Dominique BOILE. Originally posted October 3, 2014 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat: Introduction

Lessons From Leonard Cohen

Multiple articles and videos have already been published with titles like Lessons From Leonard Cohen, Things I Learned From Leonard Cohen, What Leonard Cohen Taught Us …. So why start a series of posts with the same goal?

Well, the problem with many of these pieces is that they include items which are not lessons as much as something along the lines of positive thoughts inspired by Leonard Cohen.

For example, the most recent specimen of this genre I’ve found is Lessons From Leonard Cohen at the World Jewish Congress Facebook Page, a video described as follows:

The late Leonard Cohen believed strongly in the virtue of modesty, and despite years of being in the spotlight, he always lived true to his believes. As we mark one year since his death, here are some of the timeless lessons the beloved poet and musician left behind. May his memory be a blessing.

And, it is an enjoyable video.


But, let’s consider one of the lessons from that recording:

The pertinent definition of “lesson” follows: a piece of instruction.1 I’m not convinced that “Be good at what you do” meets the minimal criterion of “lesson,” but even if that imperative does somehow qualify, it provides little in the way of direction. It would be as useful to instruct readers to “Become a legendary singer-songwriter-poet-novelist icon.”

And from Music legend Leonard Cohen left us plenty of lessons to guide us through our life troubles by Kathleen Noonan (The Courier-Mail: Nov 3, 2017), we read

Put your house in order: “It’s a ­cliche,” Cohen tells Remnick. “But it’s underestimated as an ­analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

Now, putting your house in order strikes me as useful advice. But, from that same article, we are also instructed

Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit: Not every man can wear a fedora as fine as Cohen, but a good suit? Yes. All over the world, ageing rock stars still pour themselves into black skinny jeans, but Cohen wisely stuck to his family’s business roots and chose the well-tailored suit. Remnick writes: “He wore a well-tailored midnight-blue suit – even in the ’60s he wore suits – and a stickpin through his collar. He extended a hand like a courtly retired capo.”

“Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit.” Really, that’s one of Leonard Cohen’s “lessons to guide us through our life troubles?” It’s true that I wore suits throughout my professional life and believe they conveyed a certain gravitas and the notion that I took my work as a physician seriously. But, when Leonard calmed the riotous spectators at the Isle of Wright Festival, he wasn’t wearing Armani.

Yet, I’ve never come across the claim that a lesson to learn from Leonard is “Never underestimate the power of a safari suit.” Further, a sharp suit doesn’t seem an exclusive route to success; lots of tech professionals, for example, seem to do well wearing jeans and hoodies.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “So – do you think you could do better?” Well, my answer to that incredibly convenient rhetorical question is “Heck yes – without even donning that dark grey pinstripe double breasted suit that I’m pretty sure is still in my closet although I haven’t worn it in at least eight years.”

Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat

Cohencentric’s Lessons From Leonard Cohen series focuses on those insights articulated or embodied by Leonard Cohen that are straightforward and pragmatically useful in everyday life.

The first Lessons From Leonard Cohen planned for posting (in the next few days) can be summarized, in Leonard’s own words, as follows:

Try not to hate your neighbor. Unless the situation is life-threatening, let your lover (and everybody else) off the hook.quotedown2


Pretty good, eh? So, stay tuned. This could be interesting.

Update – 20 November 2017: The first post in this series is now online at Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat: “Let Your Lover (& Everybody Else) Off The Hook.” All posts in this series can be found at

Cohencentric Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat


  1. Merriam-Webster []

Montreal After – Celebrating Leonard Cohen On The Eve Of The First Anniversary Of His Passing By Christof Graf

Tower Of Song: A Leonard Cohen Memorial Tribute

A Guest Post By Christof Graf
Photos: Christof Graf

Introduction:  Christof Graf has authored multiple books and articles about Leonard Cohen and has published material online at since 1996. (More about Christof can be found at his Q&A.) In this post, he reviews the Nov 6, 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Tribute Concert supplemented by his own exclusive photos and videos. Update: Also see Christof Graf’s Multi-Media Walk Through The Montreal Mac Leonard Cohen Exhibition With Curator John Zeppetelli

Montreal, November 6th, 2017. The 22,000-seat Bell Centre, best known as a hockey stadium. was transformed to a Mecca for the faithful  on the first anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death. Cohen’s son Adam and the Cohen family organized a concert event of the highest quality and depth.

Participants included Canadian and international artists such as Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Feist, K.D. Lang, Damien Rice and Sting, who each offered their interpretations of Leonard Cohen songs.  (Philip Glass, who was on the program list, did not  appear.) The concert was a prelude to the Leonard Cohen Exhibition, “A Crack in Everything,” commemorating the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Expectations were accordingly high and were more than fulfilled.

Sting kicked-off the almost three hour show, interpreting “Dance Me To The End Of Love” in his trademark fashion.

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Klaus Offermann, Linda Lee, And The Life & Death Of Leonard Cohen

Klaus Offermann’s story about a particularly poignant celebration of the life and art of Leonard Cohen begins with a friendship that started in elementary school and that led to his enchantment with the Canadian singer-songwriter.

In 1968 Linda came back for a visit from Ottawa with great tales about big city life and with a present for me – the vinyl album ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’. My friend Linda Lee knew I would like this man’s songs and so began my love affair with the works of Leonard Cohen. Friend and family to this day tease me about my Leonard Cohen “shrine”. Linda had bestowed me with the gift of a lifetime.

The entire account, which is lucidly written, touching, and well worth reading, can be found at This is the story

Adam Cohen On Leonard Cohen As Mentor

No one can pay enough money to have Leonard Cohen stand over your shoulder and say, ‘This is good work, this is not good work.’ I am the beneficiary of his taste and wisdom and experience.quotedown2

Adam Cohen

Also see Anjani Thomas On Leonard Cohen As Mentor

Kids of Carlos Santana, Bob Marley sing their dads’ praises in ‘A Song for My Father’ compilation by Jim Farber (Daily News: June 19, 2010)