“Some melange of harshness and sweetness–modern and sentimental all at once–even Kitsch used so skillfully” Leonard Cohen Writing About The Music Of Tom Waits (From The Flame)

In “Dream Brighton” in the Notebooks section of The Flame, Leonard writes about Tom Waits. I’ve extracted this portion of the piece because – well, it’s a perfect description of the music Tom Waits writes and performs:

More information at The Flame By Leonard Cohen.

"Waltzing Matilda" By Tom Waits Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox


Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

– Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Cohencentric feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at The Original Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

Tom Waits – Also Born With The Gift Of A Golden Voice


Evidence of Leonard Cohen’s preference for today’s selection comes by way of Florian1 who submitted an excerpt from “Leonard Cohen – In Eigenen Worten” (In His Own Words) by Jim Devlin that includes a Leonard Cohen’s Top Ten Songs of 1988. Eighth on that list is “Waltzing Matilda” by Tom Waits, a song also known as “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” the opening track of the fourth Waits album, Small Change (1976).

And Tom Waits Likes Leonard Cohen – Go Figure

As it turns out, this is a mutual admiration sort of thing. Tom Waits, writing about his “20 most cherished albums of all time” in The Guardian, lists I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1988) in the number 9 spot with this description of the Montreal Mensch.2

Euro, klezmer, chansons, apocalyptic, revelations, with that mellifluous voice. A shipwrecked Aznovar, washed up on shore. Important songs, meditative, authoritative, and Leonard is a poet, an Extra Large one.

The Video: “Waltzing Matilda” By Tom Waits

We are serendipitously blessed with an excellent video rendition of this song. Enjoy.

Note: While this song is often, as in this case, called “Waltzing Matilda,” its correct name is “Tom Traubert’s Blues.”

Tom Waits – Tom Traubert’s Blues aka Waltzing Matilda  (Live 1977)
Video from theBPlog

Note: Originally posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. Of the several members of LeonardCohenForum who responded to my request for help in finding documented instances of Leonard Cohen favoring a specific song performed by another artist, Florian was far and away the most prolific. []
  2. “Montreal Mensch” is another of the nicknames applied to Leonard Cohen at one time or another. See Leonard Cohen Nicknames []

Pop Music Cartography: Maps For The Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, & Tom Waits


Tom Waits map

Those readers with a musico-geographic predilection may be interested to find that, in addition to Cohencentric’s Leonard Cohen Lyrical Map, which marks all locations referenced in Leonard Cohen songs,1 and the analogous, previously mentioned Bob Dylan’s World, there is also a Tom Waits Map, which identifies the places in Waits’ songs.

There are, one suspects, still more maps of song locations for still other performers; if such sites do show up, I’ll pass along those that might be of interest to Leonard Cohen fans.


Leonard Cohen Lyrical Map


Bob Dylan’s World

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Penelope Toni, who alerted me to the Tom Waits Map.


  1. The next phase of the Leonard Cohen Lyrical Map, the mapping of locations in Cohen’s poetry and prose is still in the works. []

“Leonard is a poet, an Extra Large one” Tom Waits Lists Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man Among His “Most Cherished Albums”

Euro, klezmer, chansons, apocalyptic, revelations, with that mellifluous voice. A shipwrecked Aznovar, washed up on shore. Important songs, meditative, authoritative, and Leonard is a poet, an Extra Large one.quotedown2

Tom Waits


Also See Leonard Cohen On Tom Waits

From ‘It’s perfect madness’ by Tom Waits (The Observer: 20 March 2005). Photo by stunned

Tom Waits Tells Creativity “Go Bother Leonard Cohen”


Elizabeth Gilbert, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, & TED

An anecdote that originated with Tom Waits is retold by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, to illustrate a point in her TED Talk on Nurturing Creativity. In this story, Tom Waits refers to Leonard Cohen only once – but that instance is the punchline.

The entire talk is worthwhile listening but for those of us who habitually hasten hurriedly to the punchline, the anecdote that features Leonard Cohen begins at 12:24. A transcript of that portion of the presentation is available below the video.

Transcript (from 12:24 to 16:33):

“And what is that thing? And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but, in fact, might actually keep us sane?”

“And for me, the best contemporary example that I have of how to do that is the musician Tom Waits, who I got to interview several years ago on a magazine assignment. And we were talking about this, and you know, Tom, for most of his life he was pretty much the embodiment of the tormented contemporary modern artist, trying to control and manage and dominate these sorts of uncontrollable creative impulses that were totally internalized.”

“But then he got older, he got calmer, and one day he was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles he told me, and this is when it all changed for him. And he’s speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing, and he wants it, you know, it’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He doesn’t have a piece of paper, he doesn’t have a pencil, he doesn’t have a tape recorder.”

“So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, ‘I’m going to lose this thing, and then I’m going to be haunted by this song forever. I’m not good enough, and I can’t do it.’ And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, ‘Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.’”

“And his whole work process changed after that. Not the work, the work was still oftentimes as dark as ever. But the process, and the heavy anxiety around it was released when he took the genie, the genius out of him where it was causing nothing but trouble, and released it kind of back where it came from, and realized that this didn’t have to be this internalized, tormented thing. It could be this peculiar, wondrous, bizarre collaboration kind of conversation between Tom and the strange, external thing that was not quite Tom.”

“So when I heard that story it started to shift a little bit the way that I worked too, and it already saved me once. This idea, it saved me when I was in the middle of writing ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and I fell into one of those, sort of pits of despair that we all fall into when we’re working on something and it’s not coming and you start to think this is going to be a disaster, this is going to be the worst book ever written. Not just bad, but the worst book ever written. And I started to think I should just dump this project. But then I remembered Tom talking to the open air and I tried it. So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room. And I said aloud, ‘Listen you, thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have anymore than this. So if you want it to be better, then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal. OK. But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.” [emphasis mine]

Credit Due Department: “Tom Waits Praha 2008” by Gut (Anna Wittenberg) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons. Thanks to Coco Éclair, who suggested this video to me.

Note: Originally posted Nov 3, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric