Leonard Cohen Takes Out Garbage, Lights French Incense, Proffers “Our Famous Montreal Bagels” – And Rebecca De Mornay Wears His Sweatshirt

On a snowy, dreary Montreal morning that looks the way his music sounds, Leonard Cohen is taking out the garbage. No one, however, does trash disposal like Leonard Cohen. For one thing, he’s wearing a sharply cut gray suit-at 10 a.m. For another, he ends the act with a flourish: After he dumps the trash into a can directly outside the cozy kitchen of his drab rowhouse in Montreal’s ethnic shopping district, he walks back in and takes from his jacket what appears to be a matchbook-size piece of wood. “You know what this is?” Cohen intones, the sound of the Lord on a bad day. “It’s old-fashioned French incense. You just light it and stand there.” So he lights it and stands there, and as a thin strand of smoke snakes its way around his hang-dog face, Cohen smiles ever so subtly. The image is the very essence of cool, and you start to understand not only why you want to be there (to paraphrase his song “Suzanne”) but why Cohen-singer, songwriter, poet, and patron saint of angst-is an underground hero revered by everyone from Bob Dylan to R.E.M. Cohen is an unlikely idol. At 58, he’s even older than most aging baby- boomer rock stars, whom he calls “mere boys.” For 25 years, he has recorded a series of intense, often lugubrious albums (the latest is The Future), singing of romantic bondage, spiritual conflict, oppression, and depression- hardly sunny pop sentiments. He’s also part intellectual (“I’m much too preoccupied with myself to notice changes in the commercial environment,” he says when asked about fellow CBS artist George Michael’s suit to get out of his contract with the label) and part schlumpy Jewish guy. “Have you had any of our famous Montreal bagels?” he asks, lighting the ancient stove that, along with a few wood tables and chairs, constitutes most of the furniture in his narrow three-floor home. Suddenly there are footsteps from upstairs, and into the kitchen pops actress Rebecca De Mornay, Cohen’s “very close” partner, wearing black jeans and a wintergreen sweatshirt. “Want some coffee?” Cohen asks her attentively. The two have been a rumored item for five years. It’s hard to imagine a stranger-looking couple – the elegant basset hound and the fresh-faced starlet 28 years his junior – but they seem happy. She coproduced one song on The Future, and he accompanied her to the Oscars telecast last year. After a while, Cohen looks at her and says, “That’s a nice shirt.” She giggles: “Well, it’s yours, actually.” With that, Cohen looks straight at the reporter in his home and, with a face so straight you could use it as a ruler, says, “I never laid a hand on her.” Not only is he a revered rock hero, not only is he worshiped by Rebecca De Mornay – but he can deliver a great line, too.

From 7 Reasons Leonard Cohen Is the Next-Best Thing to God by David Browne. Entertainment Weekly, Jan 8, 1993. Photo of Leonard Cohen’s home in Montreal taken by and posted with the permission of Lilian Graziani.

Leonard Cohen Credits Rebecca De Mornay For “Snatching [Anthem] Out Of The Chaos In Which It Endured So Long”


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I was playing [Anthem] at her house one night on her synthesizer and she said,’God, that sounds pretty good right nowl. Let’s record it tonight.’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen Looks To The Future by Paul Verna (Billboard; Published in Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Nov 27, 1992). Photo of Leonard Cohen & Rebecca De Mornay taken in Berlin by Gerrit Terstiege (1993).

Rebecca De Mornay To Leonard Cohen: “Do you want to know what the best thing is about you interviewing me?”

Here’s the setup: In 1993, Leonard Cohen, the singer-songwriter and poet who was perhaps the world’s greatest interviewee, switched roles to interview Rebecca De Mornay, the movie actress who was, for a time, Mr. Cohen’s fiancée. The source of this excerpt is From Knowing Rebecca De Mornay Like Only Leonard Cohen Can by Leonard Cohen with William Claxton (Interview magazine. June 1, 1993):

Rebecca De Mornay: Do you want to know what the best thing is about you interviewing me?

Leonard Cohen: No.

Rebecca De Mornay: It’s–

Leonard Cohen: I guess I do.

Rebecca De Mornay: –that you’re the only interviewer who won’t ask what the exact nature of my relationship is with Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen: I would like to know. Let’s start with that question.

Rebecca De Mornay: [laughs]

That question never gets answered, but I love the repartee.

Credit Due Department: Rebecca De Mornay (1993), Photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s new Leonard Cohen book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1).

Leonard Cohen’s Abandoned Album – Songs For Rebecca: Who’s Rebecca?

Songs For Rebecca

Songs For Rebecca, a Leonard Cohen-John Lissauer collaborative project in the mid-1970s, was abruptly abandoned after at least five songs were recorded for it. Cohencentric will soon publish a comprehensive post about what some call the Lost Leonard Cohen Album (including who lost it) because (1) it’s interesting and (2) there is a significant amount of confusion and misinformation about Songs For Rebecca.

Consider this a teaser for the main event.

Origin Of The Title “Songs For Rebecca”

An example of the above-referenced misinformation online is this excerpt from the Leonard Cohen biography at Canadian Bands:

Columbia released THE BEST OF LEONARD COHEN in 1975, and eager to get to work on his next album, tentatively titled SONGS FOR REBECCA (for his friend, actress Rebecca De Mornay), Cohen and Lessauer [sic] had actually completed half a record, and several had been performed live.

Well, for one thing, it’s John “Lissauer” rather than “Lessauer,” but typos aren’t our concern here. The notion that Songs For Rebecca was named for Rebecca De Mornay is an egregious (and surprisingly prevalent) error, one that even cursory fact-checking exposes as inaccurate. Songs For Rebecca, you see, was a project that began in 1974 and ended in 1976. It wasn’t until at least ten years later that Leonard and Rebecca became an item.

Leonard Cohen & Rebecca De Mornay – A Summary (for more, see ): For five years or so (accounts, as they tend to do, vary) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Leonard Cohen and Rebecca De Mornay were in a relationship that progressed through a phase “a press officer call[ed] ‘an exclusive dating situation'”1 and into an engagement that was eventually broken off because, according to Cohen, “finally she [Rebecca De Mornay] saw I was a guy who just couldn’t come across. … In the sense of being a husband and having more children and the rest.”2

So, who is the Rebecca of Songs For Rebecca?

None of the (reliable) accounts I’ve found of the project identify the titular Rebecca. The most likely suspect, I submit, is the Rebecca whose story is recorded in Genesis. We know Leonard Cohen was familiar with this Rebecca because the dedication he chose for his 1992 album, The Future, comprises the two verses of Genesis 24:45-46 (KJV), neatly conflating the biblical Rebecca with Rebecca De Mornay, who is also co-credited as a producer of the album:

And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water; and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.

And who is the narrator, the “I” in “And before I had done speaking in mine heart…?” Well, that would be the servant Abraham sent to find a wife for his son, Isaac. It was that servant who devised the test to find the right woman to be Isaac’s spouse. Standing by the well in Abraham’s birthplace with his men and camels, he prayed to God:

And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master. — Genesis 24:14

And, according to Jewish tradition, that servant of Abraham who found Rebecca, who did marry Isaac, was Eliezer (meaning “God is my help”) – which is also Leonard Cohen’s Hebrew name.

Heavy, eh?

There’s much more to come. Stay tuned.

Update: The next post in this series is now online at Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album: Collaborator John Lissauer Talks About The Project, How It Began, & How It Ended

Credit Due Department: Rebecca De Mornay (1993), Photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s forthcoming new Leonard Cohen-book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1). The painting is Rebecca and Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

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  1. The Joking Troubadour of Gloom by Tim Rostron. The Daily Telegraph, April 26, 1993 []
  2. Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already by Pico Iyer. Shambhala Sun. Sept 1998 []

“I first heard [Leonard Cohen] when I was 10. My mother was going out on a date & wanted me to go to sleep, so she … said, ‘I’ll put a record on that’ll put you right to sleep.’ That’s when I first heard Leonard.” Rebecca De Mornay

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Read this charming account of a reporter’s unexpected encounter with Rebecca De Mornay during an interview with Leonard Cohen at his home in Montreal:

Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps descending from the stairs from an upper floor. Turning around, I saw it was Rebecca De Mornay. The two had been a rumored item for a while at that point, but the sight was still shocking: of De Mornay, at the peak of her The Hand That Rocks the Cradle phase, blond, lithesome and wearing one of Cohen’s sweatshirts.

“I never laid a hand on her,” Cohen deadpanned.

As gracious as Cohen was, she joined us at the table. A bottle of red wine sat there, although I can’t recall if either of them had any at that moment. She was about 25 years younger than Cohen. He called her sweetheart and she rubbed his arm. They’d met each over five years before. “Solid-gold artists would kill for this kind of anguish,” he said to me, followed by a smile.

“I first heard you when I was 10,” De Mornay said to me as Cohen listened. “My mother was going out on a date and wanted me to go to sleep, so she lit a candle – for a child alone in a house – and said, ‘I’ll put a record on that’ll put you right to sleep.’ And that’s when I first heard Leonard. And I remember it did put me to sleep. But it was comforting.” Cohen smiled bemusedly, the slightest roll of an eye.

Leonard Cohen at Home in 1992: Singer-Songwriter on Pop Success, New Love by David Browne  (Rolling Stone: November 11, 2016)

Posts featuring Leonard Cohen & Rebecca De Mornay can be accessed at

“[Leonard Cohen] said in his last interview that he was ready to die, and he said in his last public outing that he would live forever. Both are true. There was no one like him, and there never will be.” Rebecca de Mornay

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Leonard Cohen was one of the greatest poets, but for me, he was also one of the most important people in my life, and losing him is like losing a limb. He was my ground, he was my aerial, as he wrote in his song ‘Treaty.’ I really cannot fathom what life will be like without him in it. At least I was able to spend time with him in his last year. He faced death as he faced life: straight on, with honesty, grace, and breathtaking depth of perception. He enjoyed the quiet, simple moments with friends, and being immersed in working on songs. He said in his last interview that he was ready to die, and he said in his last public outing that he would live forever. Both are true. There was no one like him, and there never will be.quotedown2

Rebecca de Mornay

 

Rebecca de Mornay Remembers Ex-Fiancé Leonard Cohen: ‘There Was No One Like Him, and There Never Will Be’ by Alex Heigl (People: November 11, 2016)

Rebecca De Mornay Invokes Gandhi In Beauty Tip To Leonard Cohen; Leonard Responds

 

How do you maintain your pure & rosy complexion?

Leonard Cohen to Rebecca De Mornay

In 1993, Leonard Cohen, the singer-songwriter and poet who was perhaps the world’s greatest interviewee, switched roles to interview Rebecca De Mornay, the gorgeous movie actress who was, for a time, Mr. Cohen’s fiancée. The following excerpt is from From Knowing Rebecca de Mornay Like Only Leonard Cohen Can by Leonard Cohen with William Claxton. Interview magazine. June 1, 1993:

Leonard Cohen: How do you maintain your pure and rosy complexion?

Rebecca De Mornay: What’s inside really reflects outside, there’s no question. I’m happy to know that, having been through considerable difficulties when things were really bad–in terms of my career, in terms of experiencing the death of someone I loved very deeply, in terms of different wounds and scars inflicted on me–and suddenly feeling the seed of bitterness rolling around in my mouth and thinking, Oh my God, here it is, it’s on my tongue. Don’t bite into it, whatever you do. Spit it out. ‘Cause if you bite into that seed, you’re lost, and, incidentally, your face will show it.

Leonard Cohen: That’s a wonderful beauty secret. I intend to use it.

Rebecca De Mornay: You always wanted to be more beautiful, huh? You want a tip?

Leonard Cohen: Yes, I do.

Rebecca De Mornay: O.K., let me tell you: to be more beautiful, Leonard, you have to be happier. Gandhi said–I have it on my bulletin board–that happiness is when what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.

Leonard Cohen: I’ve heard he also chewed a root, rauwolfia, that grows by the side of Indian roads and is used to treat hypertension. That probably helped him a great deal in achieving this harmonious balance of which you speak.

Rebecca De Mornay: [laughs] You’ve got to find some fly in the ointment, don’t you?

Leonard Cohen Dedicates The Future Album To Rebecca De Mornay With Verses From Genesis

Leonard Cohen dedicates The Future to Rebecca De Mornay, who is also credited as a producer of the album:

And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water; and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.

Genesis 24:45-46 (KJV)

Blowup of left upper corner of liner notes