“Music is like bread. It is one of the fundamental nourishments that we have available…” Leonard Cohen

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Music is like bread. It is one of the fundamental nourishments that we have available, and there are many different varieties and degrees and grades. A song that is useful, that touches somebody, must be measured by that utility alone.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From At Lunch With Leonard Cohen; Philosophical Songwriter On A Wire by Jon Pareles. New York Times: October 11, 1995. Originally posted Nov 23, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I remember what Ben Jonson said: ‘I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.'” Whom was Leonard Cohen actually quoting?

Fans may be familiar with the stage banter Leonard Cohen began using in the 2008 Tour that went something like this:

I was 60 years old [when last on tour] — just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Ritalin, Focalin, … I’ve also studied deeply in the philosophies and religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Earlier, however, Leonard employed a variation of the final portion of that routine, “I’ve studied all the philosophies and all the theologies but cheerfulness keeps breaking through,” in interviews in 1992 and 1993, usually attributing it, as he does in the titular example1 to Ben Jonson. In at least one interview,2 he tentatively attributes it to Samuel Johnson, which is closer, but still doesn’t win a cigar.

The original line was uttered by one Edward Edwards, who directed it to his friend, Samuel Johnson: “You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don’t know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.” It was recorded, as one might expect, by the assiduous James Boswell in his magnificent biographical tome, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

Note: Originally posted Mar 11, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Leonard Cohen and the Death of Cool By Deborah Sprague. Your Flesh magazine, 1992. []
  2. Maverick Spirit: Leonard Cohen by Jim O’Brien. B-Side Magazine, August/September 1993. []

“To get along, you have to become part of the chaos” Leonard Cohen 1966


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A major change occurred last year [1965], something comparable to the beginning of the Renaissance. A lot of people now sense the change and are baffled. They feel the world has gone crazy, and they can’t get their hands on what is happening. To get along, you have to become part of the chaos.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Is the World (or Anybody) Ready for Leonard Cohen? by Jon Ruddy. Maclean’s: Oct 1, 1966. Originally posted November 17, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“The first rebellious act of man is to stay up late” Leonard Cohen

From Songs Sacred and Profane by Ira Mothner. Look: June 10, 1969. Photo: Peter Torbijn of The Netherlands captured this key moment of the 2012 Amsterdam show as Leonard Cohen, cradling a clock in his arms, completes “First We Take Manhattan” just before the 11:30 PM curfew (more information at Leonard Cohen Grand Tour Souvenirs: Cohen Concert Curfew Clock – Amsterdam 2012). Originally posted Nov 12, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Defines Success


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Success is generally an exterior description other people have of you. When you’re struggling with your own work and the struggle for it is at hand, then you don’t really think too much about it except in a negative kind of way.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

DrHGuy Note: While not as punchy or inspirational as Leonard Cohen’s better known comment on success (from the same year, 1972), “Success is survival,”1 this explanation offers, I believe, more insight.

From The Strange, Sad and Beautiful World of Leonard Cohen By Andrew Furnival. Petticoat: December 30, 1972. Originally posted Oct 25, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Source: interview filmed for Tony Palmer’s documentary, “Bird On A Wire” []

“[Singing] is just the evidence of the life that is led. Just like the ash of a fire; if the fire burns well it is a clean white ash, if it doesn’t there are a lot of clinkers.” Leonard Cohen

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I always liked singing but I do a number of other things just like anybody else. But there’s a whole life you know. This is just the evidence of the life that is led. Just like the ash of a fire; if the fire burns well it is a clean white ash, if it doesn’t there are a lot of clinkers.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

The “ash of a fire” is a recurrent Leonard Cohen metaphor for music and poetry; see

Note: A “clinker” is “the stony residue from burned coal or from a furnace.” (Oxford Dictionary)

From The Strange, Sad and Beautiful World of Leonard Cohen By Andrew Furnival. Petticoat: December 30, 1972. Photo from York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433, Photographer: John Sharp, ASC01709.

Leonard Cohen On “The Themes Of My Songs”


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Establishing a theme in a song comes later. I don’t really know what it is any more than I know what the theme of my life is, or anybody else’s is. I don’t know what the themes of my songs are.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Behind The Enigma By Tony Wilson. New Musical Express: March 25, 1972. Photo taken at 1972 Stockholm concert by Lars Sandblom.