“[I had] some kind of shining idea that my voice was important, that I had a meaning in the cosmos. Well, after enough lonely nights you don’t care whether you have a meaning in the cosmos or not.” Leonard Cohen On Acknowledging Himself As A Songwriter


It’s remarkable that you’d written two well-received novels before becoming a professional songwriter. After that much struggle, why did you abandon a career as a novelist?

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Many times in the last few years I’ve thought I should have stayed with writing. Then maybe life would have been a little easier. I would have shipwrecked less dramatically. From my point of view. [Interviewer: You think it’s a less difficult life emotionally?] As I remember it, for the writing of books you have to be in one place. The regime is just completely different. It usually involves a certain type of stability. You tend to gather things around you when you write a novel. You need a woman in your life. It’s good to have some kids around, ’cause there’s always food. It’s nice to have a place that is clean and orderly, where this light comes in… I had those things and then I decided to be a songwriter. I don’t know what it was, something to do with money. Although I was being affirmed in certain circles, I couldn’t pay the rent. I’d always written songs, so it was more like an emphasis changed rather than a venue. But I still don’t know how I got so deeply into it. It started to engross me – and also, I had enormous success at the beginning. That’s always a trap; you think, ‘I can repeat that.’ This seems like a wonderful way to live. Everywhere you go people seem delighted to have you around. It seems to be more lively. But …it wasn’t. I found myself mostly alone and that all the flaws of my nature were aggravated and written large. And I found myself mostly alone in cities that I didn’t know very well, trying to find a date for dinner. That’s really what I found. What I left, which was an intimate relationship and a beautiful house on a Greek island, was obviously something I couldn’t stand either. So I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t work out very happily over the years. It’s taken me a long time to come out of the shipwreck of 10 or 15 years of broken families and hotel rooms. And some kind of shining idea that my voice was important, that I had a meaning in the cosmos. Well, after enough lonely nights you don’t care whether you have a meaning in the cosmos or not. But you don’t know what to change to. When we’re young and we’re standing in front of this buffet table, you can pick and choose from the vast range of generality. The older you get the more specific your life becomes, and you can’t say, ‘I could be a forest ranger’ or ‘I could be a brain surgeon.’ When all the while you’re this songwriter living in L.A. It takes a long time to know it, and to say, ‘Well, okay, that’s what I’m gonna be.’ Or even, ‘That’s who I am. Now I’m going to be a good one.’ Now I know what I am. I’m not a novelist. I’m not the light of my generation. I’m not the spokesman for new sensibility. I’m a songwriter living in L.A., and this is my new record.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988

Leonard Cohen On Learning To Live With Loneliness

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I think loneliness or emptiness is a fearful condition and I’ve certainly felt it throughout my life. I think you have to learn to live with it. You have to get used to being married to your hand.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Posted Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview). Originally posted April 13, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On Being Called “A Romantic”


Is it a misconception that all your songs are overly romantic?

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Well, if you examine the work I think you’ll find quite a realistic take on the whole matter. The notion I get of ‘romantic’ is someone who cherishes illusions. I think just a partial study of my songs — if anyone was actually bored enough to undertake such an enterprise — will discern that the illusions are few and far between. But if people want to call me romantic . . . there are worse things to be called.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen: Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe? by Adrian Deevoy. Q, 1991. Photo “Leonard Cohen, 1988 01” by GorupdebesanezOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

“I think if I had one of those good voices, I would have done it completely differently. I probably would have sung the songs I really like rather than be a writer.” Leonard Cohen


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I think if I had one of those good voices, I would have done it completely differently. I probably would have sung the songs I really like rather than be a writer. When I was a kid I always had this fantasy of singing with a band. We’d have get-togethers and I’d sing ‘Racing with the Moon,’ stuff like that. I just don’t think one would have bothered to write if one could have really lifted one’s voice in song. But that wasn’t my voice. This is my voice.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

“Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough” By Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988. Photo by Johann Agust Hansen.

Leonard Cohen Announces “I intend to go back to [smoking] shortly” – In 1974

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You know why I really stopped smoking? I had a rival – not a rival for anyone’s hand or anyone’s love. It was just someone who saw me in a comparative way and forced me to look at him that way. And he didn’t smoke. And I said to myself, ‘If he can do it, then you can do it.’ But I think it’s [smoking is] wonderful… I love the smell of it – the associations of the stylistic possibilities. I intend to go back to it shortly.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen & Smoking

Smoking was a long term issue with Leonard Cohen. The above excerpt from Leonard Cohen Looks at Himself by Danny Field (Soho Weekly News, Vol. 1, #9. Dec 5, 1974) is only the latest addition to Cohencentric’s category. Current fans may be familiar with Leonard’s more recent version of the “go[ing] back to smoking” declaration: his “start smoking again at 80” stage shtick, which itself led to the below photo and its caption, “Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday,” from the booklet accompanying the Leonard Cohen Can’t Forget album.

"Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday" from the Can't Forget album booklet

And there’s more. For example, Everybody Knows, a Leonard Cohen song1 delivered in his famously deep, raspy voice, the final result, as Cohen himself puts it, of “about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes,” was chosen as the music for a major anti-smoking ad. Cigarettes, once an obligatory accoutrement for Cohen, were apparently vanquished in 2003 when he quit smoking on doctor’s advice.2 And, of course, several records feature cover art with Leonard smoking.


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  1. Authorship of Everybody Knows, first released in 1988 on Cohen’s I’m Your Man album, is co-credited to Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson []
  2. He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free by Sarah Hampson. Shambhala Sun: Nov 2007 []

Leonard Cohen Outs Himself As “A Rapacious, Gimlet-Eyed Pop Monster”

Dan Cairns: If you look back, and I’m not suggesting you do, but if you were to, are there moments in your life as a writer and musician that would be harder/more uncomfortable to have to remember than others? I’m thinking in terms of recordings, or decisions, you later regretted; or moments that, at this distance, could seem questionable in terms of motives? For instance, I don’t ever read much about your ambition, yet it must have been part of the picture, and created some blurred lines on occasion. I’m not expecting you to out yourself as having been a rapacious, gimlet-eyed pop monster, I’m just wondering if there are things that might, now, make you go: ‘Oh my.’

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No you got it right Dan. I am a rapacious gimlet-eyed pop monsterquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From the Dan Cairns – Sunday Times Culture questionnaire Leonard Cohen sent me Oct 17, 2016. While portions of that questionnaire were incorporated into Leonard Cohen: Hey, that’s some way to say goodbye by Dan Cairns (The Sunday Times: October 23 2016), this specific response was not used.

Leonard Cohen On Getting Wise To Himself


Can you remember the first time you got wise to yourself – as a writer, but also as a person, in relationships, dealings, behavioural patterns? As in: ‘Ah, I see. So that’s what you’re doing.’

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I never got wise to that fictional characterquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From the Dan Cairns – Sunday Times Culture questionnaire Leonard Cohen sent me Oct 17, 2016. This response, without the lead-in, was incorporated into Leonard Cohen: Hey, that’s some way to say goodbye by Dan Cairns (The Sunday Times: October 23 2016)

Leonard Cohen Responds To “Do you remember the last time you cried?” (Oct 2016)

Do you remember the last time you cried?

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Yes, it was at the movies.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen, Oct 2016

 

From the original questionnaire (in English) for Le Dernier Empereur by J.D. Beauvallet and Pierre Siankowski (Les Inrocks: Oct 19, 2016) forwarded to me on Oct 16, 2016 by Leonard Cohen.