Recommended Reading: Origins Of & Insights Into Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad Of The Absent Mare”

Lyric Of The Week: “Ballad Of The Absent Mare,” Leonard Cohen by Jim Beviglia (American Songwriter: September 2nd, 2014) is a thoughtful, insightful, clear explication of one of Leonard Cohen’s lesser known gems. I’ve included three excerpts as a sampling of the quality. The complete article can be accessed at the link.

… frequent collaborator Jennifer Warnes wrote about the song’s creation in an essay on her website: “Leonard had found some old pictures somewhere,” Warnes recalled. “They were called The Ten Bulls, old Japanese woodcuts symbolizing the stages of a monk’s life on the road to enlightenment. These carvings pictured a boy and a bull, the boy losing the bull, the bull hiding, the boy realizing that the boy was nearby all along. There is a struggle, and finally the boy rides the bull into his little village. ‘I thought this would make a great cowboy song,’ he joked.” [See Zen’s 10 Oxherding Pictures & Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare”]

It’s typical of Cohen that he muddies up the metaphor just enough to make us wonder about the object of the cowboy’s quest. After all, those who don’t know the allusion to the bulls might easily interpret the song as an endless cycle of recrimination and reunion that typifies a tumultuous romantic relationship. No one has ever mixed the spiritual and sexual as deftly as Cohen, and “Ballad Of The Absent Mare” is just another brilliant manifestation of this ability.

… Cohen then knocks down the fourth wall and reveals that this entire story has taken place within his head as he and his wife witness “That old silhouette/On the great western sky.” In that moment, he unites his old ideas of romance and transcendence and hints at the difficulty of lassoing either one. “Ballad Of The Absent Mare” is, as Leonard hoped it would be, a great cowboy song, one as vast and elusive as the horizon itself.

Originally posted September 2, 2014 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Jennifer Warnes practically revived me from the dead in America by putting out Famous Blue Raincoat.” Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen by Susan Nunziata. (Billboard Tribute to Leonard Cohen: November 28, 1998). Originally posted October 27, 2013 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Why would [Bob Dylan] go for Jesus at a late time like this? … I don’t get the Jesus part.” Leonard Cohen


Excerpt from Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes Grove Press (April 12, 2002) p 336

The Cohen-Dylan Interface

All posts about Leonard Cohen’s & Bob Dylan’s opinions of each other, their meetings, and comparisons by others can be found at

Originally posted Jan 15, 2010 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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

“It’s singing on poetry. It’s an elegant and wonderful event that I feel fortunate I could do year after year.” Jennifer Warnes On Performing Leonard Cohen Songs

How did you decide which songs to put on Famous Blue Raincoat?

The ones that suited my voice, and they had to hang together. I wanted it to be a whole album. Roscoe [Beck] and I had been in Leonard’s band for the Field Commander Cohen tour, so we knew the songs. It wasn’t like we casually cherry-picked a few – we knew exactly which ones had to be and delivered a kind of musical payoff. Leonard is not known for his great melodies, but he actually is a great melody writer. If you take the words off and just listen to the melodies, he’s really, really good. It’s just not known, because we’re so distracted by the poetry.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes


Jennifer Warnes by Carl Wiser (Songfacts: April 13, 2018) is an informative and entertaining interview with Jennifer Warnes about working with Leonard Cohen, her musical history, and her impending album, Another Time, Another Place. The entire piece, available at the link, is a highly recommended read.

“My first tour with Leonard [Cohen] was in 1972. Looking into his audience, I saw a sea of beautiful faces not unlike the ecstatic ones you see in old religious paintings, where the men and women were openly weeping.” Jennifer Warnes

My first tour with Leonard was in 1972. Looking into his audience, I saw a sea of beautiful faces not unlike the ecstatic ones you see in old religious paintings, where the men and women were openly weeping—and even though I was only 22 years old, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore. This was the tour when famously the audience sang to him in Jerusalem [after Cohen walked offstage mid-performance, overwhelmed by the crowd’s applause]. I was onstage when it happened; we were crying, and it was this moment when I understood the depth of his commitment and their commitment to him. I think somebody had given him some windowpane acid, and it was coming on as they were singing to him. He thought a miracle was happening, and you could see it on his face. He just sat down on the stage and listened to them sing. It was a Jewish chant, and it was heart-rendingly beautiful. I’m just this sunshine girl from Orange County! And when I encountered such depth and richness and spiritual power—when I finally understood that kind of intimacy within music was possible—I came home changed. I refused to go out on tour with an opening act for Neil Diamond, not because I disliked Neil Diamond, but because I was still reverberating from that impact. Leonard shattered my relationship with pop music, and now I’ve had this career that kind of vacillated between pop and music with meaning.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes


From Remembering Leonard Cohen: Close Friends, Collaborators & Critics on How He Changed Music Forever by Sasha Frere-Jones (Billboard: November 17, 2016).

“I wanted to be around [Leonard Cohen] because I wanted to be around that radical kindness.” Jennifer Warnes

It’s probably hard to pick one [song[, but what are your favorites?

I have no favorites. My favorites are my friendship with the man himself. I don’t care about the music on some level. I care about the man. I care about the man and what he gave and what we stood for. What he showed and how he led, with gentleness and kindness and tenderness. And how he respected women, the overwhelming gentleness always shocked me because I was raised in a rougher universe. I came from that situation where men didn’t treat women well, so to be around somebody so overwhelmingly gentle, you kind of put everybody else on the back burner. I wanted to be around him because I wanted to be around that radical kindness. And I think people sensed that he was like that, but as a woman to be around that? It was the reason why everybody wanted to be his girlfriend or his boyfriend or whatever. He was revolutionary in the stance that he brought to the world. So the music is gorgeous and the body of work is huge. And, you know, he is Dylan’s equal. But I would say when all is said and done, what I’m going to remember are a few tones of voice and the look in the eyes and his impeccable timing when you were in pain, those kinds of things. I’ll remember that I woke up from a surgery to see him in there sleeping in the hospital, and I’ll remember him at my mother’s funeral. That’s what I’ll remember.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes


From ‘Born to be his conduit’: Jennifer Warnes remembers her friend and collaborator Leonard Cohen by Randall Roberts (LA Times: Nov 14, 2016)