Leonard Cohen’s Response Following The September 11 Attacks

On Sept. 11,  Mr. Cohen was in India visiting another teacher, Ramesh Balsekar. He returned to the States as soon as he could. The level of suffering that he believes is always present in the world had been raised to unfathomable heights. And Mr. Cohen knew better than to try to comfort the comfortless.

You know, there’s an ancient Hebrew blessing that is said upon hearing bad news: ‘Blessed art thou, king of the universe, the true judge.’ It’s impossible for us to discern the pattern of events and the unfolding of a world which is not entirely our making. So I can only say that.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Look Who’s Back at 67: Gentle Leonard Cohen by Frank DiGiacomo. New York Observer: Oct 15, 2001. Photo by Coast Guard News Originally posted May 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Nothing in this human realm is meant to work. So once you can deeply appreciate that…the mind of compassion grows if you understand that everybody’s up against it.” Leonard Cohen

The greatest help you can get from anything is to find out it doesn’t workquotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Update: The “French woman” to whom Leonard alludes in the final sentence is Simone Weil (thanks Thelma Blitz for this correction); the full quote is ““The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, “What are you going through?”

From Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Mount Baldy Zen Center: 1997. Originally posted Dec 16, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On The Value Of “A Reference Always Beyond The Activity”

Q: Do you hold as strongly as you once did views about the importance of ceremony in everyday life?

LC: I think that whether we call them ceremonies or not people fall into patterns of greeting one another, of experiencing phenomena. My feeling is that there are certain patterns that have been developed and discerned to be extremely nourishing. It seems to be a waste to discard them. There are some of them from our traditions that I think are very worthwhile.

Q: Of the religious sort?

In a real religious life, such as I don’t lead but have led from time to time, there is a vision for everything that comes up. For instance, in the orthodox Jewish tradition, there’s a blessing for everything: when you see a rainbow, when you meet a wise man, when you meet a stupid man, when you hear bad news. They all start off, ‘Blessed are Thou, King of the Universe, the True Judge…’ In other words, we can’t determine where bad news fits in. When you see someone who’s very beautiful, or who’s deformed, it’s the same blessing. It’s ‘Blessed are Thou, King of the Universe, who varied the appearance of this creature…’ I’m not saying that everyone should learn the blessings, but that kind of approach to things, where there is a reference always beyond the activity, is a perspective I think is very valuable. Most of our ceremonies, the ones we develop ourselves, usually out of cowardice, ambition, or just mean-spiritedness, all have that.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Leonard Cohen interview by Doug Fetherling in Books in Canada: Vol. 13, no 7, August/September 1984. Photo “Leonard Cohen, 1988 01” by GorupdebesanezOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons. Originally posted April 25, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.’ That’s the closest thing I could describe to a credo.” Leonard Cohen

‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.’ That’s the closest thing I could describe to a credo. That idea is one of the foundations, one of the fundamental positions behind a lot of the songs.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Sincerely, L. Cohen by Brian Cullman (Details for Men, January, 1993). Photo by Ted McDonnell.

“Leonard Cohen Displayed That Knife-edge Walk Between Melancholy And Hilarity” 1985 L.A. Concert Review

June 9, 1985 Leonard Cohen Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles Concert Review

Most of  the review of the June 9, 1985 Leonard Cohen Wiltern Theatre (Los Angeles) show by Ethlie Ann Vare in Billboard (June 29, 1985) appears to have been composed by the boilerplate phrases that one assumes is given to all reporters assigned to Cohen Concerts. For example, “Cohen is first and foremost a poet.”  Moreover, he uses “his usual self-depreciating tone” when speaking to the “reverential crowd.” And there is the appearance of the always popular “Cohen hasn’t toured America in [fill in the number – 10 in this case] years.” There are, however, some noteworthy sections.

Leonard Cohen On His Songs

The description Cohen gives his own songs, for example, doesn’t seem to be found elsewhere online and certainly seems worth memorializing. His songs, he told  the audience, are

The kind of songs you sing when you don’t feel like singing

Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen

While not recorded in this review, it was also at this concert that Cohen described himself as

... an old veteran of the rainbows, rambling on in his invisible trench.1

From the same source, ((Various Positions by Ira Nadel. University of Texas Press. 2007 edition)) we learn

Dressed in black and playing a black acoustic guitar, Cohen sang new compositions like “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and a rollicking “Diamonds in the Mine.” Afterwards, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Al Kooper visited him backstage to congratulate him.

Leonard Cohen On Guilt

The other quotation recorded by Ms Vare is thoughtful and poignant (it also appears elsewhere in slightly altered form):

Guilt has gotten a lot of bad press lately.  Guilt is the only way we know we’ve done something wrong.

This is a rephrasing of his introduction to “The Law” the previous night, June 8th, 1985, in San Francisco:

It’s [The Law is] about our current dismal catastrophe. It’s about the Age of post-guilt. Guilt has been given a very bad name. There are entire medical industries that are devoted to describing guilt as a disease. Actually it’s the only way that we know that we’ve done something wrong.2

At the December 4, 1988 Mannheim concert, he worded it

Yes, guilt is a very under-estimated emotion. It has a lot of bad press today, guilt has. Actually, it is the only way we know when we’re doing a wrong thing. 3

And Ethlie Ann Vare Scores

I’m also going to give the author credit for her rendering of Cohen as “the black-clad troubadour of the minor key” and her hyperbolic observation, “You can’t really sing along [with Cohen’s songs] (hell, he can’t really sing along) … .”

And A Final Word About Record Labels

The phrase “Cohen’s new Passport album” used in the review refers  to Various Positions, the album that Cohen’s label Columbia Records refused to release  in the US. (Yep, this is when Walter Yetnikoff, president of the company, called him to his office in New York and said, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.”) Various Positions was subsequently picked up by the independent label Passport Records. The album was finally included in the catalog in 1990 when Columbia released the Cohen discography on compact disc.

Credit Due Department: The photo of the Wiltern Theatre was taken by Carol M. Highsmith, who has stipulated it part of public domain. It was found at Wikipedia.

Note: Originally posted Apr 19, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. University of Texas Press. 2007 edition []
  2. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []
  3. Found at Leonard Cohen Prologues – The Law []

“My teacher’s [Roshi’s] school places much emphasis on work and ordinary life, and is very structured, severe and strict. What happens is that you stop thinking about yourself. It worked for me.” Leonard Cohen

My teacher’s school places much emphasis on work and ordinary life, and is very structured, severe and strict. What happens is that you stop thinking about yourself. It worked for me. I never really understood the Zen philosophy. What kept me coming back was my friendship with Roshi. Like all great teachers, he accommodates all students who come to him. Some seek a teacher, others discipline. I needed a friend and he gave me a great deal of affection. He did not try to give me spiritual instruction, but a solution to the pressures of my life, and it didn’t matter to me if it passed for religion, the kitchen or philosophy.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From An Intimate Conversation With…Leonard Cohen by Elena Pita. Translated by Marie Mazur (using translation software) and aided by Guadalupe Baquero. Originally posted in Spanish at Magazine, Sunday Supplement to El Mundo: September 26, 2001.

Note: Originally posted June 13, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric