Leonard Cohen Battles Publisher Over Title & Cover Of Flowers For Hitler

It Could Have Been “Opium and Hitler”
By Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen argued with publisher Jack McClelland over the title and covers of Flowers For Hitler. This account is from Frank Newfeld’s Masterpiece (And Leonard Cohen’s Unseen Face For Tits) by Brian Busby (The Dusty Bookcase: Sept 20, 2009):

In retrospect, The Spice-Box of Earth seems to have enjoyed a fairly easy birth. Not so, Flowers for Hitler, Cohen’s next book of verse. Jack McClelland thought the quality of the poems uneven, while Cohen considered the collection ‘a masterpiece’. Then, there was the matter of the proposed title, Opium and Hitler, on which publisher and poet could not agree. The two were still arguing in September 1964, mere months before the pub date, when a new battle flared up. At issue was Newfeld’s cover image. I’ve not seen the design, so rely on imagination coupled with Cohen’s own description in a letter to McClelland:

Nobody is going to buy a book the cover of which is a female body with my face for tits. You couldn’t give that picture away. It doesn’t matter what the title is now because the picture is simply offensive. It is dirty in the worst sense. It hasn’t the sincerity of a stag movie or the imagination of a filthy postcard or the energy of real surrealist humour. It is dirty to the brain.

Adding that he refused to ‘preside over the distribution of a crude hermaphrodotic distortion of the image of my person’, Cohen suggested canceling the book altogether. With the book in production, McClelland could only back down.

What became the cover is, according to Nadel, an amalgamation of six designs Cohen himself provided.

Update: Also see “This book moves me from the world of the golden-boy poet into the dung pile of the front-line writer” Leonard Cohen’s Letter To Jack McClelland Printed – Against His Wishes – On Flowers For Hitler Back Cover

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Note: Originally posted January 29, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen’s Commendation Of John Ralston Saul On Completion Of His Term As President of PEN International (2015)

John Ralston Saul, a Canadian novelist, was the President of PEN International, until October 2015.  Photo by Tavis from Canada – John Ralston Saul keynote speech at the 2006 Parkland Conference, CC bY 2.0, via Wikipedia

“Dylan’s a Picasso–that exuberance, range, and assimilation of the whole history of music.” Leonard Cohen


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Most music criticism is in the nineteenth century. It’s so far behind, say, the criticism of painting. It’s still based on nineteenth century art–cows beside a stream and trees and ‘I know what I like.’ There’s no concession to the fact that Dylan might be a more sophisticated singer than Whitney Houston, that he’s probably the most sophisticated singer we’ve had in a generation. Nobody is identifying out popular singers like a Matisse or Picasso. Dylan’s a Picasso–that exuberance, range, and assimilation of the whole history of music.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From an interview with Mark Rowland published in Musician (1988)

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

“I might sense a deep resentment to Mr Walter Yetnikoff, who has been playing Salieri to my Mozart these many years” Leonard Cohen

Embed from Getty Images

From Leonard Cohen’s introduction of Jennifer Warnes at her Famous Blue Raincoat LP Showcase, Park-Café, Munich, West Germany; April 15, 1987.

DrHGuy Note: Cohen’s label Columbia Records refused to release Various Positions in the US. Walter Yetnikoff, president of the company, called Leonard to his office in New York and said, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” Various Positions was subsequently picked up by the independent label Passport Records. The album was finally included in the catalog in 1990 when Columbia released the Cohen discography on compact disc.

The Mozart – Salieri relationship is summarized nicely by this excerpt from Mozart and Salieri Rivalry by Jessica Lorey (Clef Notes: February 18, 2014):

Mozart and Salieri were competitors within the music realm. Salieri worked as the Kapellmeister for Emperor Joseph II. Believing he was better qualified for the post, Mozart applied for the job following the emperor’s death. He was astounded when they turned him away. As to be expected, the two men’s paths crossed as they composed in similar mediums vying for public approval. Though Salieri admitted to close friends in confidence that he did not like his competitor or his work, he never wanted to make his sentiments known as to avoid attracting attention. Historians also note that Salieri grew bitter toward Mozart with age as his works continued to gain fame following his premature death. Despite these supposed negative reactions toward Mozart, did Salieri perhaps have a deeper respect for his rival’s talents? Following Mozart’s death, Franz Xaver Niemetschek quoted Salieri in his Mozart biography: “It is indeed sad, the loss of so great a genius; but well for us that he is dead. For had he lived longer, verily, the world would not have given us another bit of bread for our compositions!” Perhaps Salieri revered Mozart but feared his ability would soon drown out his contemporaries’ work in the public eye.

What seems a relatively harmless rivalry between Mozart and Salieri started what became a gruesome rumor that many people still believe today. Not long after Mozart’s death, people began to gossip that Salieri killed Mozart with poison due to jealousy. Historians now know that evidence proves that the great composer actually died at a young age as a result of acute rheumatic fever, an ailment he suffered multiple times throughout his life before it ultimately proved fatal. Despite the inaccuracy of the rumors, most people remember Salieri as Mozart’s enemy rather than associating him with his own work.

Leonard Cohen’s discontent with Columbia Records was also expressed in his comments about the CBS Building on New York’s 6th Avenue, aka Black Rock,

“I might burden my heart with a sense of bitterness toward that great, dark building on 6th Avenue, known to many as the Black Rock but which I prefer to call ‘the Tomb of the Unknown Record.'” Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen’s introduction of Jennifer Warnes at her Famous Blue Raincoat LP Showcase, Park-Café, Munich, West Germany; April 15, 1987.

The CBS Building in New York City, located at 51 West 52nd Street at the corner of Sixth Avenue, is also known as Black Rock. The CBS Building was, of course,  the headquarters of CBS Corporation, including Columbia Records, which was Leonard Cohen’s record label (Columbia Records has since been purchased by Sony Entertainment).

Update: Mr Cohen also expressed his discontent with Walter Yetnikoff, President of Columbia Records.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Americasroof at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons