“My discussion of the song took place within the song and my discussion with the subject or the emotion resulted in the song. Anything I have to say about it is just superfluous.” Leonard Cohen

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I don’t mind that they [my songs] are discussed. It’s nice to know your songs are being discussed as long as I don’t have to discuss them. My discussion of the song took place within the song and my discussion with the subject or the emotion resulted in the song. Anything I have to say about it is just superfluous to me.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From The Strange, Sad and Beautiful World of Leonard Cohen by Andrew Furnival. Petticoat: December 30, 1972. Photo of Leonard Cohen performing at his 1972 Newcastle concert by Rik Watson.

“I need some chocolate if I’m gonna do this.” Leonard Cohen, Working On Blue Alert With Anjani Thomas

Anjani tells of fueling the Leonard Cohen lyric-writing engine with candy during their work together on the Blue Alert album:

The song was No One After You, and we just needed one line to finish it so I could record it the next day:

I lived in many cities
from Paris to LA
I’ve known rags and riches

It was a bit tense as he paced back and forth. I sat at the piano and didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Then he finally said, “I need some chocolate if I’m gonna do this.”

That would have been milk chocolate, because he doesn’t like dark — and of course I always keep some around — so he ate a bar and about a minute later he came up with the line:

I’m a regular cliche

From personal communication with Anjani Thomas. (Anjani also used this anecdote with some minor differences in an interview with PureMusic.) Photo atop post by Dominique BOILE.

“I was not unaware of the ironic impact of saying, ‘Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.,’ but the song is affirmative. I just can’t keep my tongue in my cheek that long.” Leonard Cohen

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I began to write it when the events in Eastern Europe began to indicate there was a democratic resurrection, and the Berlin Wall came down and people were saying, democracy is coming to the East. I was one of those people who weren’t entirely convinced that this was going to happen, and that it wasn’t going to come about without a tremendous amount of suffering. I was not unaware of the ironic impact of saying, ‘Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.,’ but the song is affirmative. I just can’t keep my tongue in my cheek that long. I’m Canadian, and we watch America very carefully. Everybody in the world watches America. And regardless of the skepticism and irony, [wiseguy] superiority that most intellectual circles have about America, it is acknowledged that this is where the experiment is taking place, where the races are confronting one another, where the rich and poor are confronting one another, where men and women, the classes…this is the great laboratory of democracy.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

The Loneliness of the Long-Suffering Folkie by Wayne Robins (Newsday: November 22, 1992)

“In the case of Eminem and some of the other rappers, the lyrics are impressive. I think it’s great. I studied and was formed in this tradition that honored the ancient idea of music being declaimed or chanted… to a rhythmic background.” Leonard Cohen

From Cohen on Wry by Michael Krugman (Flaunt: Oct 2001). Photo by DoD News Features141111-D-DB155-046, Public Domain, Link

“When I went to record the vocal for [I Can’t Forget] I found I couldn’t get the words out of my throat. I couldn’t sing the words because I wasn’t entitled to speak of the emancipation of the spirit.” Leonard Cohen

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I Can’t Forget began as a song about the exodus of the Hebrew children from Egypt, which was intended as a metaphor for the freeing of the soul from bondage. When I went to record the vocal for the track, however, I found I couldn’t get the words out of my throat. I couldn’t sing the words because I wasn’t entitled to speak of the emancipation of the spirit. I was at the point of breaking downquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Interview by Kristine McKenna (L.A. Weekly: May 6, 1988). The Leonard Cohen I Can’t Forget single depicted atop this post is from the private collection of Dominique BOILE.

More About I Can’t Forget: A comprehensive examination of this song can be found at I Can’t Forget By Leonard Cohen: A Dossier.

“The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it.” Leonard Cohen On Revising His Songs

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The only advice I have for young songwriters is that if you stick with a song long enough, it will yield. But long enough is not any fixed duration, its not a week or two, its not a month or two, its not necessarily even a year or two. If a song is to yield you might have to stay with it for years and years. ‘Hallelujah’ was at least five years. I have about 80 verses. I just took verses out of the many that established some sort of coherence. The trouble that I find is that I have to finish the verse before I can discard it. So that lengthens the process considerably. I filled two notebooks with the song, and I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, ‘I can’t finish this song.’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen on Hallelujah by Neil McCormick. The Telegraph: December 19th, 2008. Photo of Leonard Cohen taken at the 2008 Fredericton show by J. Gordon Anderson.

“Coming up with the words is very hard. Hard on the heart, hard on the head and it just drives you mad.” Leonard Cohen On Writing

lcerite

Have you always found it easier to write about women?

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I’ve never found it easy to write. Period. I mean, I don’t want to whine about it or anything but… it’s a bitch! It’s terrible work. I’m very disciplined in that I can settle down into the work situation but coming up with the words is very hard. Hard on the heart, hard on the head and it just drives you mad. Before you know it, you’re crawling across the carpet in your underwear trying to find a rhyme for ‘orange.’ It’s a terrible, cruel job. But I’m not complaining.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe? by Adrian Deevoy/ Q Magazine: 1991. Found at LeonardCohenFiles.

Leonard Cohen Advises His Son, Adam: “Man, you’re going to scrap your record? That’s an amateur move… It’s not about how you feel about the record. It’s how the songs make them feel.”

I was a deep, deep admirer of [my father, Leonard Cohen’s] melodies of – at first, you know, as a child, just the melodies – the generosity of the melodies. And then as I grew older, there was the complexities and the beautiful marshaling of language. And then you grow older, and then you sort of see – I remember I myself, you know, was making a record at the time. And I’d scrapped it. And I asked my father for counsel.

I said, Dad, you know, meet me. I really got to talk to you. I got to pick your brain. And we were sitting on the corner of Wilshire and La Brea, and I confessed to him that I was going to scrap this entire record and was expecting him to put his hand on my shoulder and say, like, that’s my boy – you know, altruistic values. Don’t ever stop, continue refining. But instead, he turned to me and said, man, you’re going to scrap your record? That’s an amateur move. I said, amateur move? He says, yeah, it’s not about how you feel about the record. It’s how the songs make them feel.

And at that moment, I realized that the love I had always had for his material wasn’t just about their construction, but it was also about their intentionality. He was holding up this baton that he had been given by the love he had for the people who came before him. And he was holding it up, and something about the canon of his work that – has always maintained that baton off the ground.

Excerpt from New Collection Showcases Leonard Cohen’s ‘Obsession With Imperfection’. Terry Gross Interviews Adam Cohen (NPR: October 8, 2018)