Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About Terrorism, Kerouac, Songwriting, Zen, Dylan, Joan Baez, Chelsea Hotel #1 and #2, Jennifer Warnes, & Irving Layton (1993)

Plus Recitation Of “Paris Models,” Using Computers To Write & Draw, Origins Of “Way Down Deep” and “Do Dum Dum Dum, De Do Dum Dum” In Tower of Song

Leonard Cohen interviewed about The Future
Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight – June 13, 1993

From the Soundcloud description:

This originally aired live on the Sunday night sojourn of Idiot’s Delight on WXRK (92.3 KROCK) in New York. The first attack on the World Trade Center in late February 1993 was still on everyone’s mind; thoughts and questions about the nature of “the terrorist mentality” were very much in the air. Leonard’s latest album was “The Future.” He was in New York for a concert. His thoughts on the subject were vivid and have proved chillingly prescient over the years. Note : The music played that night has been truncated for this Podcast; same with the commercial breaks. Otherwise this is how it went down. Leonard Cohen was unique … it was a great privilege to spend this time with him.


A transcript of this interview is included in Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen, Editor Jeff Burger

Leonard Cohen Meets Jack Kerouac At Allen Ginsberg’s Home


Jack Kerouac

The Beats Go On – Without Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s account of his meeting with Jack Kerouac has always impressed me not only because the scene described  is pretty darn funny but also because Cohen’s self-assessment of his position on the periphery of the bohemian literary group rather than an integral participant is a paradigm played out in many and perhaps most of his professional and social relationships.

A parallel sense of being tolerated but not, as was Cohen’s longing, being accepted as an equal is, for example, embedded in these lines from the version of “A Thousand Kisses Deep” he has recited during the current World Tour:

I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray
I never had their sweep
but once or twice they let me play
a thousand kisses deep.

Recently, I shared, on separate occasions, the Cohen-Kerouac anecdote with a couple of knowledgeable Cohen fans; their interest in the incident and Cohen’s analysis of his own role among these writers convinced me to post the story.

The Context

This excerpt1  is taken from the discussion in Ira Nadel’s “Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen” of Cohen’s brief sojourn in 1956-1957 as a graduate student in literature at Columbia University.  It was not a good fit.  Nadel notes that Cohen “continued the casual study habits he had developed at McGill,”  filling his notebooks with caricatures of his professors and fellow students

Cohen lived at International House, the dormitory for foreign students located on Riverside Drive, close to the Hudson River. But he spent most of his time in the fledgling bohemian scene around the Columbia campus and downtown in the Village.

The Beats were emerging and Allen Ginsberg, a graduate of Columbia, had captured national attention with his famous reading of Howl in March 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco (memorialized in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums).

Jack Kerouac, who himself had attended Columbia on a sports scholarship was also part of the Village scene. Cohen recalls hearing him read at the Village Vanguard and (with musical accompaniment) and later meeting him at Ginsberg’s apartment: “He was lying under a dining room table, pretending to listen to some jazz record while the party swirled on ’round him.”

Kerouac’s novel On the Road would appear to great acclaim in September 1957 from Viking, who would go on to publish The Favorite Game.

Cohen appreciated Kerouac’s work, calling him “a certain kind of genius who was able to spin it out that way like some great glistening spider.” What Kerouac was “really spinning was the great tale of America.”

Counterculture writing from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and William S. Burroughs shaped a new world of literary recklessness.

In New York, Cohen found confirmation of his anti-establishment stance, although he was never accepted by the Beats. “I was always on the fringe. I liked the places they gathered, but I was never accepted by the bohemians because it was felt that I came from the wrong side of the tracks. I was too middle class. … I didn’t have the right credentials to be at the center table in those bohemian cafes.”2

Credit Due Department: By Kerouac_by_Palumbo.jpg: Tom Palumbo from New York, NY, USAderivative work: Sir Richardson at en.wikipedia – This file was derived from  Kerouac by Palumbo.jpg: , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18834407

Note: Originally posted Oct 6, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. The excerpt is one continuous paragraph in Nadel’s book.  I have formatted it as several sections for the reader’s convenience. Otherwise, the excerpt is reproduced here as it was printed in “Various Positions.” []
  2. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira Bruce Nadel, 2007, University of Texas Press. P 52. []

“‘Darling, you’re an angel.’ I mean the fact that somebody can bring you the light, and you feel it, you feel healed or situated.” Leonard Cohen On His Fascination With Angels


You once said that “the angels of mercy are other people.”1 What does that mean? And what is the relationship between angels and language?

I don’t know. One of the things I always liked about the early Beatnik poetry — Ginsberg and Kerouac and Corso– was the use of the word ‘angel.’ I never knew what they meant, except that it was a designation for a human being and that it affirmed the light in an individual. I don’t know how I used the word ‘angel.’ I’ve forgotten exactly, but I don’t think I ever got better than the way that Ginsberg and Kerouac used the word in the early fifties. I always loved reading their poems where they talked about angels. I’ve read a lot of things about angels. I just wrote a song with Lewis Furey called ‘Angel Eyes.’ I like it as a term of endearment: ‘Darling, you’re an angel.’ I mean the fact that somebody can bring you the light, and you feel it, you feel healed or situated. And it’s a migratory gift. We’re all that for other people. Sometimes we are and sometimes we aren’t. I know that sometimes it’s.just the girl who sells you cigarettes saying ‘have a good day’ that changes the day. In that function she is an angel. An angel has no will of its own. An angel is only a messenger, only a channel. We have another kind of mythology that suggests angels act independently. But as I understand it from people who have gone into the matter, the angel actually has no will. The angel is merely a channel for the will.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen: Various Positions as interviewed by Robert Sward Montreal 1984. Note: Originally posted Mar 6, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. See “The angels of mercy are other people” Leonard Cohen []