“Phil [Spector] had a lot of guns all over the place. You’d always be tripping over bullets that had fallen out of guns.” Leonard Cohen

Embed from Getty Images

quoteup2
Phil [Spector] had a lot of guns all over the place. You’d always be tripping over bullets that had fallen out of guns. Once I challenged one of Phil’s bodyguards to draw on me. It got that tense. My state of mind was only slightly less demented that Spector’s at the time.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview).

“Dear Mailer / don’t ever fuck with me” If Leonard Cohen’s “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” Is A Diss Poem; What Is “Dear Mailer”?

OK, I admit I’m not familiar with that segment of literary theory that deals with “diss poems.” None of the courses I took as an English major, Modern American Poetry, Victorian Poetry. Seventeenth Century Verse, Restoration & 18th Century Poetry: From Dryden to Wordsworth, etc., addressed, as far as I recall, Epic Diss Poetry. That may explain why the internet’s current fascination with Leonard Cohen’s “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” and the characterization of that verse as A Diss From Beyond The Grave” elude me. Nonetheless, we press on.

I’ve already posted the recommendation that if you’re weary of reading Twitter-sized appraisals of Leonard Cohen’s currently trending “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” poem (e.g., “Leonard Cohen is right,” “Leonard Cohen sucks,” “Who’s Leonard Cohen?”), take a look at Leonard Cohen’s Kanye West Poem Wasn’t an Insult; It was a tribute by Carl Wilson (Slate: Oct 12, 2018), which offers a more comprehensive, nuanced, and coherent take on the issue. Now, however, I want to approach the issue from another perspective.

Here’s “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” from The Flame by Leonard Cohen:

From my fundamentalist perspective, if Leonard Cohen ever wrote a diss poem, it is “Dear Mailer” (that would be Norman Mailer), published in The Energy Of Slaves (1972).

Dear Mailer
don’t ever fuck with me
or come up to me
and punch my gut
on behalf of one of your theories
I am armed and mad
Should I suffer
the smallest humiliation
at your hand
I will k–l you
and your entire family

I mean, doesn’t that sound pretty diss-ish to you? Yet, here’s what Leonard had to say about it.

quoteup2
I actually recited the poem [‘Dear Mailer’] to [Norman] Mailer with a smile, at some reading where we met up. He didn’t punch me out but he was alarmed. He said, ‘God, don’t publish that. You don’t know that some loony isn’t going to be excited by it and do what you threatened to do.’ It really scared him. I then had second thoughts about the poem because suddenly I saw it from his point of view. Earlier, I saw it as a humorous response to the position he was taking at the time, coming on like a bully. I had a real laugh when I originally wrote it. I then tried to stop its publication but it had already gone to press.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview).

“Dear Mailer” has provoked some interesting responses. The posts collected at “Dear Mailer” – Leonard Cohen  explain the origin the poem and offers observations on it;.

Kanye West photo by the_mlKanye West concert, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

A Fresh, Cogent Take On Leonard Cohen’s Currently Trending “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” Poem

If you’re weary of reading Twitter-sized appraisals of Leonard Cohen’s currently trending “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” poem (e.g., “Leonard Cohen is right,” “Leonard Cohen sucks,” “Who’s Leonard Cohen?”), take a look at  Leonard Cohen’s Kanye West Poem Wasn’t an Insult; It was a tribute by Carl Wilson (Slate: Oct 12, 2018), which offers a more comprehensive, nuanced, and coherent take on the issue. I’ve excerpted a bit below, but the entire article, available at the link, is worthwhile reading.

But that’s getting the poem exactly wrong. It’s not an insult to Kanye West (nor to Jay-Z, who’s also mentioned). It’s a tribute. Cohen isn’t around to confirm this, but remember that the poem is dated March 2015, when West’s right turn off the rails was still in the distant future. Clearly, it was inspired by several occasions when West compared himself with Picasso, including earlier that month in a speech at Oxford University. But its language is closer to the “rants” of the Yeezus tour, during which Ye (the name he now prefers) regularly issued such direct declarations as “I am Henry Ford. I am Michelangelo. I am Picasso.” Thus Cohen’s poem begins, “Kanye West is not Picasso/ I am Picasso.”

He continues, “Kanye West is not Edison/ I am Edison/ I am Tesla”—bringing up two other self-comparisons West made during that same period. (For someone who supposedly had no use for West, Cohen certainly seemed to keep up on his Ye news.) And then comes perhaps my favorite couplet in the whole poem, a response to Jay-Z calling himself “the Bob Dylan of rap music” in the 2013 track “Open Letter”: “Jay-Z is not the Dylan of anything/ I am the Dylan of anything.” (By Cohen’s own account, Dylan once told him, “As far as I’m concerned, Leonard, you’re No. 1. I’m No. 0,” meaning, “that his work was beyond measure and my work was pretty good.” In other words, Cohen knew artist rivalries.)

Kanye West photo by the_mlKanye West concert, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

“I had no conscious desire to have offspring. I didn’t really want to have children. Their mother, Suzanne, wanted children, I obliged.” Leonard Cohen

Did you want to leave something behind you, a descendant?

quoteup2
Oh no, not at all. I had no conscious desire to have offspring. I didn’t really want to have children. Their mother, Suzanne, wanted children, I obliged.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Les Inrocks: Aug 21, 1991). Via Google Translate.

Note: Although he hadn’t wanted children, they became a focus of his life: see Lessons From Leonard Cohen: Your Children Are Your First Priority.

Outstanding Video: Sharon Robinson Performs In My Secret Life, Alexandra Leaving, Boogie Street, Summertime, Hallelujah – L.A. Private Event 2014

David Small, who contributed this well executed, never before published video of Sharon Robinson performing at a June 8, 2014 Los Angeles wedding, is taken with both Leonard Cohen and Sharon. David writes

And I miss (him) so much.
There’s no one in sight.
And we’re still making love
In My Secret Life.

The Ten New Songs album in 2001 surprised me because, after 9 years, I had given up on ever getting a new Cohen album – and, who was the woman on the cover? It has become my favorite album. See my license plate, SCRT LIF. Sharon’s music glides Leonard’s lyrics deep into my soul. I have this secret life.

“When I went to record the vocal for [I Can’t Forget] I found I couldn’t get the words out of my throat. I couldn’t sing the words because I wasn’t entitled to speak of the emancipation of the spirit.” Leonard Cohen

quoteup2
I Can’t Forget began as a song about the exodus of the Hebrew children from Egypt, which was intended as a metaphor for the freeing of the soul from bondage. When I went to record the vocal for the track, however, I found I couldn’t get the words out of my throat. I couldn’t sing the words because I wasn’t entitled to speak of the emancipation of the spirit. I was at the point of breaking downquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Interview by Kristine McKenna (L.A. Weekly: May 6, 1988). The Leonard Cohen I Can’t Forget single depicted atop this post is from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

More About I Can’t Forget: A comprehensive examination of this song can be found at I Can’t Forget By Leonard Cohen: A Dossier.

“The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it.” Leonard Cohen On Revising His Songs

quoteup2
The only advice I have for young songwriters is that if you stick with a song long enough, it will yield. But long enough is not any fixed duration, its not a week or two, its not a month or two, its not necessarily even a year or two. If a song is to yield you might have to stay with it for years and years. ‘Hallelujah’ was at least five years. I have about 80 verses. I just took verses out of the many that established some sort of coherence. The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it. So that lengthens the process considerably. I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, ‘I can’t finish this song.’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen on Hallelujah by Neil McCormick. The Telegraph: December 19th, 2008. Photo of Leonard Cohen taken at the 2008 Fredericton show by J. Gordon Anderson.

Video: Leonard Cohen Performs Hey That`s No Way To Say Goodbye, Featuring Alex Bublitchi – Paris 2012

Leonard Cohen – Hey That`s No Way To Say Goodbye
Paris; Sept 29, 2012
Video by

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new
In city and in forest they smiled like me and you
But now it’s come to distances and both of us must try
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye

Originally posted Oct 9, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric