Leonard Cohen On Why “I don’t see my music as a steady diet for anyone”

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Cohen has been criticised for putting the same kind of chords and melodies to a lot of different words. I asked him whether certain harmonies, music progressions prompted him to produce or whether he didn’t find, the music that important, just the words.

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Well, I only know three or four chords [jokingly]. I’m very interested in the music, I love the music and most of the tunes, a lot of them have more than three or four chords. I know a lot of them have a certain similarity but my talent is very limited. You can only work within your own limitations and I’ve done that. I can certainly understand it if people get a touch of monotony. I think that if people are interested in certain kinds of musical experience they are eventually going to be disappointed, disappointed because they need other kinds of nourishment. I don’t see my music as a steady diet for anyone.

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Leonard Cohen

 

From The Strange, Sad and Beautiful World of Leonard Cohen By Andrew Furnival. Petticoat: December 30, 1972. Image atop post from the 1974 Tour in Europe program; contributed by Dominique BOILE. Originally posted Oct 24, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Lessons From Leonard Cohen: Dealing With Grief “You don’t avoid the situation – you throw yourself into it, fearlessly.”

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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 #2: When Dealing With Grief “You don’t avoid the situation – you throw yourself into it, fearlessly.”

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It is, I think, a matter of tradition. You have a tradition on the one hand that says if things are bad we should not dwell on the sadness, that we should play a happy song, a merry tune. Strike up the band and dance the best we can, even if we are suffering from concussion. And then there’s another tradition, and this is a more Oriental or Middle Eastern tradition, which says that if things are really bad the best thing to do is sit by the grave and wail, and that’s the way you are going to feel better. I think both these efforts are intended to lift the spirit. And my own tradition, which is the Herbraic tradition, suggests that you sit next to the disaster and lament. The notion of the lamentation seemed to me to be the way to do it. You don’t avoid the situation – you throw yourself into it, fearlessly.

From Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: Leonard Cohen – London, June 1974 by Allan Jones. Uncut: Dec 2008.

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

Q: Which song do you wish you had written? Leonard Cohen: “If It Be Your Will.” And I wrote it.”

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From “Q Questionnaire – Leonard Cohen” Q Magazine, September 1994. Photo by Rama – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, via Wikipedia, Originally posted Jan 18, 2010 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I remember what Ben Jonson said: ‘I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.'” Whom was Leonard Cohen actually quoting?

Fans may be familiar with the stage banter Leonard Cohen began using in the 2008 Tour that went something like this:

I was 60 years old [when last on tour] — just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Ritalin, Focalin, … I’ve also studied deeply in the philosophies and religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Earlier, however, Leonard employed a variation of the final portion of that routine, “I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through,” in interviews in 1992 and 1993, usually attributing it, as he does in the titular example1 to Ben Jonson. In at least one interview,2 he tentatively attributes it to Samuel Johnson, which is closer, but still doesn’t win a cigar.

The original line was uttered by one Edward Edwards, who directed it to his friend, Samuel Johnson: “You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don’t know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.” It was recorded, as one might expect, by the assiduous James Boswell in his magnificent biographical tome, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Note: Originally posted Mar 11, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Leonard Cohen and the Death of Cool By Deborah Sprague. Your Flesh magazine, 1992. []
  2. Maverick Spirit: Leonard Cohen by Jim O’Brien. B-Side Magazine, August/September 1993. []

Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat: “Let Your Lover (& Everybody Else) Off The Hook”

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.1

Lesson #1: Let Your Lover (And Everybody Else) Off The Hook

This is the lesson I’ve personally found most useful. It’s set forth in this excerpt from the original English questionnaire for Le Dernier Empereur by J.D. Beauvallet and Pierre Siankowski (Les Inrocks: Oct 19, 2016) forwarded to me from Leonard Cohen]:

Interviewer:
At the beginning and at the very end of the [You Want It Darker] album you mention a “treaty.” What kind of treaty is it exactly?

Leonard Cohen:
A treaty between your love and mine,
both these loves utterly impenetrable
and unknowable,
one to the other.

A man I studied with said: Love your neighbor? Difficult. How about, Try not to hate your neighbor. Unless the situation is life-threatening, let your lover (and everybody else) off the hook.

AKA “Everyone’s Up Against It”

In other instances, Leonard proffered the related notion that compassion can grow from the realization that “everyone’s up against it.” This passage is from Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Mount Baldy Zen Center: 1997):

Note: The “French woman” to whom Leonard alludes in the final sentence is actually Simone Weil (thanks to Thelma Blitz for this information); the full quote is “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, “What are you going through?”

lcfileSimilarly, Leonard’s premise that “free will is overrated” leads to the understanding that injury caused by another doesn’t necessarily have to result in hatred. These words are from Life Of A Ladies’ Man by Sarah Hampson (Globe and Mail: May. 25, 2007):

You have to take responsibility because the world holds you accountable for what you do. But if you understand that there are other forces determining what you do, then there’s no pride when the world affirms you, no shame when the world scorns you. Also, when someone does something to you that you really don’t like or that hurts you, well, a feeling of injury may arise, but what doesn’t is hatred or enmity, because those people aren’t doing it, either. They’re just doing what had to be done.

 

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. For information about how this series differs from other collections of so-called lessons from Leonard Cohen, see Lessons From Leonard Cohen – Introduction. []

Leonard Cohen Explains Why Bird On The Wire “Is So Important To Me”


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The song [Bird On The Wire] is so important to me. It’s that one verse where I say that I swear by this song, and by all that I have done wrong, I’ll make it all up to thee. In that verse it’s a vow that I’ll try and redeem everything that’s gone wrong. I think I’ve made it too many times now, but I like to keep renewing it.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Cohen Regrets (1973) by Alastair Pirrie. Beat Patrol: December 30, 2008. [Originally written for the New Musical Express: March 10, 1973.] Originally posted Nov 19, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric