“Just to say ‘Hallelujah’, to praise the energy that manifests, just to affirm our journey. It’s very invigorating to sing that word.” Leonard Cohen

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The word ‘Hallelujah’ of course is so rich, so abundant. It’s a wonderful word to sing and people have been singing that word for thousands of years. It seems to call down some beneficial energy when you declare it in the face of the kind of catastrophes that are manifesting everywhere. Just to say ‘Hallelujah’, to praise the energy that manifests, just to affirm our journey. It’s very invigorating to sing that word.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m a closet optimist’ [a report on the Sept 16, 2014 London Press Preview Of Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems] by Andy Morris. Gigwise, Sept 16, 2014. Image is a screen capture from a video of Leonard Cohen performing Hallelujah in Birmingham – 2013.

“Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!” Leonard Cohen’s Resolution Of The Irresolvable

Central to Leonard Cohen’s work is the notion that not only is life imperfect but also “this realm does not admit to resolution.” His solution is to surrender the illusion that we can decipher, let alone solve the human predicament, so that, instead, we can “stand before the Lord of Song” to say “Hallelujah.” While more poetically expressed in his songs like “Hallelujah” and “Anthem,” my favorite of Leonard Cohen’s own explanations of this idea is taken from a 1988 interview: How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns by John McKenna. RTE: May 9 & 12, 1988; Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles. Photo by Antonio Olmos.

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The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

“The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace” Leonard Cohen Talks About Hallelujah & Bernadette


[John McKenna:] Song of Bernadette works on several levels. There the young visionary of February and March 1858 with that apparition in her soul. A vision no-one believed. And, there are the rest of us with our own visions and dreams, which no-one, least of all ourselves, can believe in. Once we realise that visions don’t last – they disappear – and we end up running and falling, rather than flying. There’s Bernadette, true to her belief and finally rewarded with the knowledge that there is mercy in the world. There’s Leonard Cohen, acknowledging that each of us is torn by what we’ve done and can’t undo.

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I think that we mostly do fail in these things, but the thing that makes these failures supportable are these moments like the one I tried to talk about in Hallelujah or the one I tried to talk about in Bernadette it’s those are the moments when the thing is resolved – the thing is reconciled – not actually by moving pieces around; it’s not a chess game. As I say in my new version of Hallelujah, ‘I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.’ Nobody’s going to win this, not the men not the women not the socialists, not the conservatives. Nobody’s going to win this deal. The only time we win is that moment when we drop the battle and we affirm the whole situation with this embrace.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles. Originally posted November 22, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“This world is full of…things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’” Leonard Cohen


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Finally there’s no conflict between things, finally everything is reconciled but not where we live. This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.’ And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation. That’s what it’s all about. It says that none of this – you’re not going to be able to work this thing out – you’re not going to be able to set – this realm does not admit to revolution – there’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Interview With Leonard Cohen Presented By John McKenna. RTE Ireland, May 9 & 12, 1988. Retrieved from LeonardCohenFiles. Originally posted Feb 12, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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

Videos: Bob Dylan Covers Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Twice – Montreal & Los Angeles 1988

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Leonard Cohen Sings “Hallelujah” To Bob Dylan

It’s a rather joyous song . I like very much the last verse. I remember singin’ it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse “And even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah

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Of course, no post about Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and “Hallelujah” would be complete without the anecdote, a classic in Cohen’s repertoire, about the contrast in the time required by Dylan and Cohen to compose a song. The story appears in several Cohen interviews. The following iteration is from Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles 1992, a section of “Songwriters On Songwriting” by Paul Zollo:

That [“Hallelujah”] was a song that took me [Leonard Cohen] a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praise a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]

Bob Dylan Sings “Hallelujah” To  Leonard Cohen’s Montreal

Dylan was one of the first artists to cover “Hallelujah,” performing it twice in his 1988 concert tour.. When Dylan’s Never Ending Tour came to Montreal in 1988, he performed “Hallelujah.” Dylan also sang it in Los Angeles on Aug 4, 1988.

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Montreal: July 8, 1988

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Hollywood: Aug 4, 1988

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Credit Due Department: Photo of Dylan playing Barcelona in 1984 by Stoned59 – originally posted to Flickr as Bob Dylan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia

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

Note: Originally posted May 10, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. From 1985 interview published in Paroles et Musiques []

Leonard Cohen & Bob Dylan Compare Songwriting Velocity

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That [Hallelujah] was a song that took me a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praised a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen From Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo Los Angeles 1992

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

Note: Originally posted 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. []