The Story Behind Leonard Cohen’s Plea To Marita + Updated, Tinderized Version

Original Version

Leonard originally scribbled his poem on the wall of Le Bistro Chez Lou Lou in Montreal1

Marita
Please find me
I am almost 30

This excerpt from Leonard Cohen Hits 70 by Philip Marchand (Toronto Star: Sept 2004) explains the circumstances:

[Leonard Cohen] does remember scrawling the poem on the wall of a Montreal bistro, after unsuccessfully trying to pick up one Marita La Fleche, an older woman who patted him on the head and said, “Go on your way, young man, and come back when you’re 30.”

Tinderized Version

Of course, if Leonard had been born a few years later, his verse to Marita might have appeared not on the wall of a bistro but on the screen of a dating app.

_________________________

  1. Image is a screen capture from NFB’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen” []

Does Hitchens’ Description Of W.H. Auden Apply To Leonard Cohen?

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Auden and Cohen: Summoning Despair & Simultaneously Inspiring Resistance To Fatalism

In reading Arguably, a collection of essays by Christopher Hitchens, I came across, in “She’s No Fundamentalist,”1 his characteristically precise and elucidative description of W.H. Auden’s poetry:

W.H. Auden, whose centenary fell late last month, had an extraordinary capacity to summon despair—but in such a way as to simultaneously inspire resistance to fatalism

Hitchens goes on to use a portion of one verse of Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939,” to lead into his defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel, against those reviewers who describe her as an “Enlightenment fundamentalist.”  The full poem is found at the Poets.org site.

My thesis is that the achievement Hitchens ascribes to Auden in poems such as “September 1, 1939” – i.e., the  “capacity to summon despair—but in such a way as to simultaneously inspire resistance to fatalism” – is also an apt explanation of the process employed by Leonard Cohen to produce songs such as “The Future” that simultaneously call forth wretchedness, grief, humor, and courage.

Rather than construct a compare & contrast essay in support of this notion (and risk producing a pseudo-scholarly Freshman Comp paper of the sort that would all too likely diminish the souls and sap the ardor of fans of Auden, Hitchens, and Cohen as well as endangering a number of innocent bystanders), I instead invite readers to simply review the lyrics of “The Future” with my hypothesis – and, of course, Hitchens’ original, elegant  observation about Auden on which my contention is based – in mind to intuitively verify or refute that idea.

The more ambitious may also find a comparison of the texts of “September 1, 1939” and  “The Future” worthwhile. I would, in fact, hold that the symmetry of Auden’s warning, “We must love one another or die,” and Cohen’s exhortation, “love’s the only engine of survival,” will alone justify the effort.

The Future
by Leonard Cohen

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
and stuff it up the hole
in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
When they said repent repent
I wonder what they meant
When they said repent repent
I wonder what they meant
When they said repent repent
I wonder what they meant

You don’t know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I’m the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It’s over, it ain’t going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder

Things are going to slide …

There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road
and the white man dancing
You’ll see a woman
hanging upside down
her features covered by her fallen gown
and all the lousy little poets
coming round
tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson
and the white man dancin’

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ
or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby:
it is murder

Things are going to slide …

When they said repent repent

Note: Originally posted Sep 25, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. She’s No Fundamentalist” was originally published in Slate, March 5, 2007, and  the complete article can be found at the link. []

Best Bootlegs: The Stranger Song – Leonard Cohen Live At The 92nd Street YM-YWHA 1966

Because I may not know music, but I know what you should like
92nd… and where to find it

Leonard Cohen –  The Stranger Song
Live at The 92nd Street YM-YWHA (The Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association) Hotel, New York City, New York; February 14, 1966. Very good soundboard

Leonard Cohen visited the 92Y in 1966 to read several poems and perform one song that would become an all-time classic.

Tracklist

1. Introduction by Leon Edel 1:30 (2.5MB)
2. Catherine Tekakwitha – introduction by Leonard Cohen 2:47 (4.7MB)
3. Beautiful Losers excerpt, Book Two 8:48 (14.8MB) from “There! Done! Dear friend, I did what was necessary!” to “The flood is real at last”
4. Beautiful Losers excerpt, Book One 4:40 (7.8MB)  from “I do not know what bravado compelled me” to “Remove yourself from this treehouse”
5. Introduction by Leonard Cohen 0:53 (1.5MB)
6. Beautiful Losers excerpt, Book Two 13:48 (23.2MB)   from “You plagued me like the moon” to “Your hand’s gone limp”
7. Introduction by Leonard Cohen 0:42 (1.2MB)
8. Beautiful Losers excerpt, Book One 9:56 (16.7MB)  from “Now it is time for Edith to run” to “Natural Law they felt”
9. You All in White – from The Spice-Box of Earth 1:22 (2.3MB)
10. For EJP – from Flowers for Hitler 2:08 (3.6MB)
11. You Have the Lovers – from The Spice-Box of Earth 3:08 (5.3MB)
12. The Traveler (The Stranger Song) [vocals, acoustic guitar] 5:52 (9.9MB)
56 mins

Download Files

The files are already in 224 kbps MP3 format available for download directly from the site, thus avoiding the need to enter codes, decompress the files, or deal with the hassles of services such as Rapidshare. Cover art is available on site.

Leonard Cohen;a 1968 92Y performance can be downloaded at

Roio – Leonard Cohen – New York 1966 Stranger Song

1951 – Leonard Cohen Writes First Song: “Twelve O’Clock Chant”

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“Twelve O’Clock Chant” By Leonard Cohen – Written 1951, Sung On TV 1965

The process by which Leonard Cohen wrote his first song is described in this excerpt from Ira Nadel’s “Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen” (Pantheon; 1st edition, October 8, 1996):

… in 1951 he [Leonard Cohen]  wrote his first song. He and another counsellor [at Camp Sunshine, a Jewish Community Camp] worked on a tune all summer and when it was done, they went to a local restaurant to celebrate. Unexpectedly, the very song they sweated over was heard from the jukebox. They had incorporated a pop song of the day, “Why, Oh Why,” into their now dismal effort which they had to abandon.  But Cohen soon made another attempt titled “Twelve O’Clock Chant,” which he sings in the 1965 NFB film about him.

At 22, Cohen performed “Twelve O’Clock Chant” and another work, “Out of the Land of Heaven (for Marc Chagall)” as poems, accompanied by guitar, for a CBC program broadcast on April 22, 1958.

Note: Some browsers will not display content from non-https sites. In such cases, this performance can be heard at CBC Archives: Poet, 22, splashes on to world stage.

“Twelve O’Clock Chant” is also found in Leonard Cohen’s second collection of poems, The Spice-box Of Earth, published in 1961.

“Twelve O’ Clock Chant” by Leonard Cohen

Hold me hard light, soft light hold me,
Moonlight in your mountains fold me,
Sunlight in your tall waves scold me,
Ironlight in your wires shield me,
Deathlight in your darkness wield me.

In burlap bags the bankers sew me,
In countries far the merchants sell me,
In icy caves the princes throw me,
In golden rooms the doctors geld me,
In battlefields the hunters rule me.

I will starve till prophets find me,
I will bleed til angels bind me,
Still I sing till churches blind me,
Still I love till cog-wheels wind me.

Hold me hard light, soft light hold me,
Moonlight in your mountains fold me,
Sunlight in your tall waves scald me,
Ironlight in your wires shield me,
Deathlight in your darkness wield me.

Leonard Cohen Performs “Twelve O’Clock Chant” On Film As A Poem & As A Song

In “Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen,” the 1965 National Film Board of Canada (NFB) documentary about the poet, who was then 30 years old, Cohen performs “Twelve O’Clock Chant” consecutively as a poem and as a song.

The video below is cued to automatically begin just prior to Cohen’s recitation of “Twelve O’Clock Chant” as a poem. Immediately thereafter, he sings the same words, accompanying himself on guitar.

Note: Originally posted Jun 22, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Hear Leonard Cohen Read His Poems & Talk About Boogie Street, The Loss Of His Savings, Mount Baldy Zen Center, & More

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Leonard Cohen Book Of Longing NPR Interview

The May 27, 2006 NPR episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross features an interview with Leonard Cohen, focusing on his “Book Of Longing.” Included in this 45 minute program are Leonard Cohen reading his poems, explaining the significance of Boogie Street, discussing the loss of his retirement fund, describing life at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, distinguishing between poems that “lie gracefully on the page” and poems that are meant to be sung, and, yes, much, much more.

The interview can be heard on the player embedded below or downloaded as an MP3 file at NPR Fresh Air – Book Of Longing. (Note: Two poems recited during this interview, “Thousands” & “Mission,” have been excerpted into a video.)

Note: Originally posted Apr 10, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric