Leonard Cohen: “No alibi … You have to stand up and say Hallelujah”

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I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view. I think the other song that is closely related to that is ‘Anthem.’ It’s the notion that there is no perfection–that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say hallelujah under those circumstances.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From “Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen” by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995)

Note: Originally posted November 8, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On Songwriting: “I am completely open and transparent and therefore its easy for anyone to grasp the emotion that’s there…”

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I am completely open and transparent and therefore it’s easy for anyone to grasp the emotion that’s there. I am the person who tries everything and experience myself as falling apart. I try drugs, Jung, Zen meditation, love and it all falls apart at every moment. And the place where it all comes out is in the critical examination of those things – the songs. And because of this, I am vulnerable. There’s the line in ‘Anthem’ that says, ‘There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.’ That sums it up: it’s as close to a credo as I’ve come.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Conversation with Leonard Cohen by Thom Jurek (Metro Times – Detroit: August 18, 1993)

“There is a crack in everything, because this is the realm of the crack, the realm of failure, the realm of death, and unless we affirm failure and death, we’re going to be very unhappy.” Leonard Cohen (1993)


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There is a crack in everything, because this is the realm of the crack, the realm of failure, the realm of death, and unless we affirm failure and death, we’re going to be very unhappy. The more we affirm death, the happier we get. The more we affirm failure, the more successful we get.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

The Future by Alberto Manzano. El Europeo: Spring 1993. Originally posted Jun 17, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“There is another appetite that doesn’t involve victory but involves a reconciliation and that’s where we really long to be” Leonard Cohen

On “Anthem” he sings:
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

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There is a position that embraces all the worlds we live in. That position is one of reconciliation, that’s our real appetite. Our real appetite is not for the victory of the white race. Our real victory isn’t Judaism over Islam, not conservatism over liberalism. There is another appetite that doesn’t involve victory but involves a reconciliation and that’s where we really long to be. Sometimes in the midst of a song you find yourself in that momentquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen: Hello! I Must Be Cohen by Gavin Martin, New Musical Express, 9 January 1993.

“The dismal situation & the future, there’s no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself & your job & your love.” Leonard Cohen

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That is the background of the whole record [The Future]. If you had to come up with a philosophical ground, that is it. Ring the bells that still can ring. It’s no excuse. The dismal situation and the future, there’s no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards your self and your job and your love. Ring the bells that still can ring. They are few and far between. You can find ’em. Forget your perfect offering. That is the hang-up. That you’re going to work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea, we’ve forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This situation does not admit of solution, of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect. Neither your marriage nor your work nor anything. Nor your love of G-d nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect, and, worse: There is a crack in everything that you can put together — physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But, that’s where the light gets in; and, that’s where the resurrection is; and, that’s where the return — that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation with the broken-ness of the thing.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz (a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992).

Note: Originally posted April 5, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

3 Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song #3. Artistic Design – Sacred Mechanics

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Note: This post is an entry in a series of essays considering the question, “What makes a song a Leonard Cohen song?” An introduction and links to all published posts in the series can be found at Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: Summary Page.

Sacred Mechanics:1 One Word At A Time

Leonard Cohen’s songs are the consequence of deliberate and painstakingly careful choices based on years of experience, study, and training.

Prior to his career as a singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen was a well-known, critically acclaimed poet (and novelist). And, he was not a rock-poet, a folk-poet, or any other variant of pop songwriters are today’s poets-poet. Nope, Leonard Cohen was and is the kind of poet who has expertise in the actual craft of writing poetry, who knows a dactyl from a trochee, who understands how the elegiac couplet differs from the heroic couplet. He published volumes of well-reviewed poetry that sold well2 before anyone thought of paying to hear him sing anything other than square dance tunes with the Buckskin Boys.

Writing Poems Vs Writing Songs

Cohen’s perception of the relationship between writing poems & writing songs might best be described by the classic Facebook descriptor, “It’s complicated.”

In some interviews, Cohen presents poems and songs as equivalents:

I never made a big distinction between that which we call a poem and that which we call a song. It was the sort of expression which used beauty, rhythm, authority and truth. All these ideas were implicit. Whether Fats Domino sings “I Found My Thrill On Blueberry Hill” or Yeats writes “Only God could love you for yourself alone and not your yellow hair,” I made no distinction between the popular expression and the literary expression. I knew that “The Great Pretender” was a very good poem; I made no hierarchies.3

My songs are poems with a guitar behind them.4

Music was always the thing closest to me, and I saw poetry as part of that. My early poetry was very much influenced by Scottish Border ballads, the Spanish flamenco songs, the Portuguese fado.5

I don’t have any reservations about anything I do. I always played music. When I was 17, I was in a country music group called the Buckskin Boys. Writing came later, after music. I put my guitar away for a few years, but I always made up songs. I never wanted my work to get too far away from music. Ezra Pound said something very interesting, “When poetry strays too far from music, it atrophies. When music strays too far from the dance it atrophies.”6,7

On other occasions, he made a distinction between the two forms:

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  1. “We’ve got to be very careful, exploring these sacred mechanics. Someone will throw a monkey wrench into the thing, and we’ll never write another line…” Leonard Cohen quoted in The Wisdom Of Leonard Cohen by Kevin Perry. GQ: Jan 19, 2012. []
  2. OK, that sold as well as well-reviewed poetry sells. []
  3. Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Throat Culture magazine, 1992). Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  4. Leonard Cohen by Ray Connolly. Evening Standard, July 1968 []
  5. Conversations from a Room by Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  6. The Ezra Pound quotation is from the Preface of his book, ABC of Reading (1934), and reads, in context, “The author’s conviction on this day of the New Year is that music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” []
  7. Leonard Cohen: Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik. Melody Maker: March 1, 1975. []