“Nobody is the master of his heart” Leonard Cohen On Never Any Good

I was pretty good at taking out
the garbage
Pretty good at holding up the wall
Dealing with the fire and the earthquake
But that don’t count
That don’t count
That don’t count for nothing much at all

From Never Any Good by Leonard Cohen

[In Never Any Good] You doubted you, your actions, your talent, as if it were a second nature. Why? To be “Humbled in love?” And there is also the poem “Better”1  … Finally, do you always think “never any good” or are you “better?”

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But in these cases, these matters of heart, there are no masters. Nobody is the master of his heart.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Meeting with Leonard Cohen – Interview by Albert Labbouz  Translation and adaptation: Dr. Marc Gaffié (Patrice Clos: “Throughout the conversation, Leonard spoke mainly in French but also in English. It is this synthesis of the two languages ​​that was absolutely necessary.”) Paris, June 29, 2001. Published in French; this excerpt via Google Translate.

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  1. Better, a poem from Book Of Longing, can be found at LeonardCohenFiles. []

“I was running from the cops and the robbers too” Leonard Cohen Talks About Never Any Good To Illustrate Use Of Detail In Songwriting

Paul Zollo: It’s one of the great things about your work, your rich use of details. So many songs we hear are empty, and have no details at all.

Leonard Cohen: I love to hear the details. I was just working on a line this morning for a song called ‘I Was Never Any Good at Loving You.’ And the line was — I don’t think I’ve nailed it yet — ‘I was running from the law, I thought you knew, forgiveness was the way it felt with you’ or ‘forgiven was the way I felt with you.’ Then I got a metaphysical line, about the old law and the new law, the Old Testament and the New Testament: ‘I was running from the law, the old and the new, forgiven was the way I felt with you.’ No, I thought, it’s too intellectual. Then I thought I got it: ‘I was running from the cops and the robbers too, forgiven was the way I felt with you.’ You got cops and robbers, it dignifies the line by making it available, making it commonplace.

Paul Zollo: Each of those three versions work well. And so many of your lines, though I understand how hard you work on them and revise them, have the feeling of being inevitable. They don’t feel forced; they just feel like the perfect line.

Leonard Cohen: I appreciate that. Somebody said that art is the concealment of art.

DrHGuy Notes:

Re Leonard’s comment. “Somebody said that art is the concealment of art,”

The quotation …. exists in many forms, and dates at least as far back as Roman times. The rhetorician Quintilian (35 CE – 100 CE) said, “The perfection of art is to conceal art.” Another quotation — unattributed, but probably contemporary — says, ars est celare artem (“True art is to conceal art.”) Centuries later, Oscar Wilde said, “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”1

The “I was running from …” lines discussed by Leonard: None of the variations made it into the final lyrics of the song. See lyrics at Never Any Good

More about using detail in songwriting can be found at Leonard Cohen on “the details that delight us” in songwriting.

The featured excerpt is from Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo (Da Capo Press June 19, 2003).

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  1. Source: Rule 22: The Art is to Conceal the Art by Paul (The First 10,000: November 21, 2011) []

“I don’t think I came across as a particularly good lover. I’m much better at friendship. But I had a strong sexual drive that overpowered every other consideration.” Leonard Cohen


[Interviewer:] Cohen and I talk about his reputation as a ladies’ man…

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I wrote a song a while back called ‘I Was Never Any Good at Loving You.’ And I think it’s true. I don’t think I came across as a particularly good lover. I’m much better at friendship. But I had a strong sexual drive that overpowered every other consideration. I had no idea who the people were that I was sleeping with. I mean, my appetite for intimacy – and not just physical intimacy but the intimacy that went with that activity – was so intense that I was just interested in the essence of those things. It was just an appetite. And consequently misunderstandings and suffering from both parties arose.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

2001 interview from Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents by Mikal Gilmore (Free Press: July 14, 2009)