From “Q Questionnaire – Leonard Cohen” in Q Magazine, September 1994.
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 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: What are your recollections of Summerhill, your school in England?
Rebecca De Mornay: Summerhill, founded by A.S. Neill, was the beginning of many of the experimental schools in the West. You visited a friend’s son there, who was there exactly the same year as I was. You have a recollection that you saw me when I was five.
Leonard Cohen: That’s right.
Rebecca De Mornay: Do you really remember that?
Leonard Cohen: Yes, I do.
Rebecca De Mornay: You promise?
Leonard Cohen: There’s no reason that I would want to deceive you. I remember looking through a doorway and seeing a woman, half-clad, sweeping the floor…
Rebecca De Mornay: That was Sheila, our housemistress. It was the ’60s. She had very large, tan breasts.
Leonard Cohen: …and I remember a little girl running from behind her skirt, out into the campus. I thought, What a beautiful child.
Rebecca De Mornay: How do you know that child was me?
Leonard Cohen: You have the same light as that child. One doesn’t see this light so often. Now, it may have been another child there, but I think it’s highly unlikely. I think it was you.
But you’ve never married.
No, I never really fell in love, so I never saw the point. If I understood what ‘they’ were trying to tell me, I was in love, but they all said that wasn’t good enough: I had to ‘fall.’ It’s finally happened… if by falling in love they mean that life becomes impossible to live and you hardly know how to get from one moment to another, and that you cannot entertain the idea of living without the approval and love of ‘the object.’ If that’s what falling in love is, I know what it’s like.
My Long-Overdue Love Letter to Leonard Cohen by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring (Huffington Post: July 2, 2012). The quotation is from a June 18, 1988 interview. Rebecca De Mornay (1993) photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s Leonard Cohen book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1).
DrHGuy Note: While the identity of “the object” is not revealed in the article, the date and description of the relationship clearly indicate that the woman Leonard Cohen references is Rebecca De Mornay.
Sitting with De Mornay in his kitchen as snow sprinkles his patio, Cohen suddenly utters a phone number. It’s the number of Air Canada; they need to fly to Toronto tonight — Cohen for more media flesh-pressing, De Mornay to return to the set of her next movie, Sidney Lumet’s Beyond Innocence. ‘Is that my cue?’ De Mornay says. Cohen calmly states, to no one in particular, ‘Well, we should make reservations.’ She goes over to the phone. The adulation of hipsters, a lovely woman helping him with errands — is this the brooding lifestyle most people would associate with Leonard Cohen? He smiles grimly and says, without missing a beat, ‘Solid-gold artists would kill for this kind of anguish.’ Need any more reasons?
From “7 Reasons Leonard Cohen Is the Next-Best Thing to God” by David Browne. Entertainment Weekly, Jan 8, 1993. Rebecca De Mornay (1993), Photo by Christof Graf (taken from Christof`Graf`s new Leonard Cohen book “Zen & Poetry” – The Cohenpedia Series Vol. 1).
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 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).
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).
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. (Update: The two other posts in this series are now online. Links to them are found at the end of this entry.)
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 Rebecca De Mornay): 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.
Next In Songs For Rebecca – The Lost Leonard Cohen Album
The second 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
The third and final post in this series is now online at.
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.