“A good song exists in very modest terms and also in Himalayan terms” Leonard Cohen

In “Everybody Knows,” there is a line that I found deeply moving, “Old Black Joe’s still picking cotton, for our buttons and our bows,” which seems to be a fairly heavy indictment of capitalism.

Whatever grip capitalism has on its constituents, it seems to be a more benign grip than any of the other systems that people have thought out. So I would resist, although not with a tremendous amount of interest in the matter, having it serve an anti-capitalist program. I think that a good song exists in very modest terms and also in Himalayan terms. I mean, it’s a thing to get you through the dishes. It provides a sound-track for your courting and for your solitude. That’s the modest element. Then there is an element in song which provides deep comfort and deep solace and stimulation for the imagination and courage. You can’t use it for something as deliberate as a program. It could be, but it falls away. A good song slips away from its dogma.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Leonard Cohen:  Several Lifetimes Already by Cindy Bisaillon (Shambhala Sun, Jan, 1994). Originally posted Dec 16, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I wanted to write one of those tough guy songs, one of those saloon songs” Leonard Cohen On Everybody Knows

I wanted to write one of those tough guy songs, one of those saloon songs. If you look closely, you can see it is a guy on the road or in the bar affirming his feelings but in a friendly way. It’s not like someone spitting on your grave. It’s like we are all in this together — everybody knows.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen by Robert Hilburn I (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995). Photo by Alberto ManzanoOriginally posted Feb 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen’s Early Influences


Buckskin Boys – Leonard Cohen on guitar

In assisting the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (more familiarly known as the MAC) in preparing for the  2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Exhibition,1 Cohencentric gathered information in two areas:

  1. Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences
  2. Recordings Of Leonard Cohen Speaking/Singing In French

That data, already forwarded the MAC, is also being shared with Cohencentric readers, many of whom contributed to the effort.  Today’s post focuses on Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences. For context, the original request from the MAC follows:

Ari Benjamin Myers, one of the exhibition’s participating, artists is interested to learn more about the origins of Leonard’s musicality. He is specifically interested to learn more about the encounter(s) that took place between Maury Kaye and Leonard in the 50’s. We of course have listened to Leonard’s first performance at Dunn’s in 1958. [see Leonard Cohen & All That (Montreal) Jazz] Fascinating! Would you by chance have access to the entire recording? Do you know if there is any more recorded material from that period? Ari is also interested to learn about the sings that Masha would sing to Leonard as a child. We have read that she used to sign lullabies in Russian and Yiddish. Would you know anything more about this? As well we are interested to learn if there is any recording available of the Buckskins Boys?

Buckskin Boys, Maury Kaye, & Masha

While no Buckskins Boys or Maury Kaye-Leonard Cohen recordings have been found,  there is a bit of specific information about Masha’s preferences in music. Sylvie SImmons wrote

As noted in the epilogue of my book, Leonard’s mother loved the Donkey Serenade and had a dance teacher teach her a dance step to it. That was the onlyspecific song Leonard mentioned in regards to his mother – other than saying that her favourite of his songs was Famous Blue Raincoat, which he was not so fond of, feeling he had released it before it was ready.

“The Donkey Serenade,” a reworking by Herbert Stothart of Friml’s 1918 orchestral piece “Chanson,” became popular as sung by Alan Jones in the 1937 musical film, The Firefly.2

Update: “My father…had no voice at all. He sang army songs, like ‘K-K-K-K-Katie, my beautiful Katie…’ I’ve modeled myself on his style.” Leonard Cohen

References: Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences

Mikal Gilmore summarizes Leonard Cohen’s early influences in this excerpt from Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness (Rolling Stone: 30 November 2016):

Long before mystery junctions between spirit and flesh made their way into Cohen’s songs, he had already established himself as an unorthodox and powerful poet and author. His mother had encouraged him in those ways. His early influences included metaphysical poets – Andrew Marvell, John Donne, W.B. Yeats – and W.H. Auden, who mixed cultural and religious themes. Nobody affected him so much as surrealist Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who collected Spain’s folk songs, turning them into poetry, before he was executed by Spanish nationalist forces in 1936. Cohen also heard socialist folk songs from a director at summer camp. “The lyrics of these songs,” he said, “touched me: ‘To you, beloved comrade, we make this solemn vow/The fight will go on. . . /We pledge our bodies down/The fight will go on.’ A very passionate and heroic position.” Around the same time, Cohen started a country band called the Buckskin Boys.


Masha & The Synagogue Cantor

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  1. See Help The MAC Create The 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Exhibition: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything []
  2. Wikipedia []