Leonard Cohen On Singing His Own Songs – 1988: “There are some songs I just can’t get behind” 2009: “I’m feeling much friendlier to my earliest work”

1988: “There are some songs I just can’t get behind.”

Do you always know what your songs are about?

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There’s a lot of songs that lose their meaning, you forget. I’m finding that out now, rehearsing the band. There are some songs I just can’t get behind. Some are surprising me, songs I really thought I could sing, like ‘Bird On a Wire.’ I’m not sure it’s necessary to say, ‘I swear by this song and by all I’ve done wrong that I will make it all up to thee.’ Either I’ve done that, or there’s no point in making that promise again if I haven’t. It’s very hard to get behind certain lines. The new songs I’m not having any trouble with.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

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

 

2009: “I’m feeling much friendlier to my earliest work than I ever did.”

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I find I’m feeling much friendlier to my earliest work than I ever did. There was a certain time when I knew that the audience wanted to hear ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,’ but I didn’t want to play [them]. Now I really do.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen reborn in the U.S.A. by Geoff Boucher at Pop & Hiss, the L.A. Times music blog: February 27, 2009.

“There’s the Sailors’ Church, that’s a Montreal feeling, a Montreal landscape, and when I got the fact that it was [Suzanne] who brought me down there, I was able to find a spine for the song.” Leonard Cohen

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Much of the song [Suzanne] had been written, but the focus was missing until Suzanne brought me to this warehouse where she was living, then a lot of the imagery came together. I found a focus for it because I love that part of the city. There’s the Sailors’ Church, that’s a Montreal feeling, a Montreal landscape, and when I got the fact that it was she who brought me down there, I was able to find a spine for the song. Then the second verse — ‘Jesus was a sailor’ — people feel Montreal is the Jerusalem of the north. People who were brought up there have this sense of a holy city, a city that means a lot to us. So, I was able to find a place for that second verse between those two verses about Suzanne and to give it that religious quality that the song has, which is the quality of Montreal.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From The Stranger Music of Leonard Cohen by William Ruhlmann. Goldmine: Feb 19, 1993.

Credit Due Department: Photo of the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, known as the Sailors’ Church, by Sally Hunter.

“The deeper understanding is that you don’t run the show, but live your life ‘a thousand kisses deep,’ and by that phrase I mean, that you have to accept the mystery and surrender to the mystery.” Leonard Cohen

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[My] other favorite line is: ‘And summoned now to deal / With your invincible defeat, / You live your life as if it’s real, / A Thousand Kisses Deep.’ Everybody realizes at a certain time that they aren’t leading the life they want to. Life feels like a defeat. If you are lucky, you will realize later on that no one leads the life they want to. You realize that you cannot control your life, because if you could, you would have lead a different life. The awareness that you don’t control anything is the first reminder of the defeat. After that, you have to understand that you have to live on as if your life is real, as if you are the director and as if your choices have got consequences that are predictable. Life is to choose and therefore we have to carry on making these choices as if they are real choices that we can control. But the deeper understanding is that you don’t run the show, but live your life ‘a thousand kisses deep,’ and by that phrase I mean, that you have to accept the mystery and surrender to the mystery. Not even that is under your control. You can pray that it happens and try to arrange it, as if it was something that could be achieved through that path. You can also imagine that you are aware of what it’s all about. But before you actually experience the surrender, you don’t even know the shape of it. Something relaxes inside you. Everybody wants to be relaxed, but relaxing is another activity that you cannot control. For me it was very much about getting older. I read somewhere that when you get older the brain cells that are connected with fear start to die. I know a lot of older people who are very worried and bitter, but luckily it hasn’t happened in my case. At some point my angst started to ease. I think it was the understanding of not mastering an understanding of what the old master was trying to tell me. I couldn’t break through. I didn’t really understand it. And maybe I wasn’t meant to understand. Maybe it just had to sink into my heart and make it more relaxing to be alive. But I am both uncertain and unconscious of the process, and therefore I cannot give you a good description of it. But something eased inside mequotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Leonard Cohen Gave Me 200 Franc by Martin Oestergaard (Euroman, Denmark September 2001). Photo by Chris Buck Website Instagram

Note: Originally posted Mar 14, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

A Leonard Cohen Koan: The Sound Of Two Zen Monks Hearing Ten New Songs

How do you feel your experience of Buddhism has influenced you and why is your experience of meditation not reflected more in your songs?

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A while ago I played the record [Ten New Songs] for two Zen monks. When it was finished they were silent for some time. Then one of them said, ‘That was as good as two weeks of session’ (an intensive meditation retreat). The other monk kept his eyes closed and only opened them when I filled his glass. Then we kept on drinking.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Online Web Chat October 16, 2001

“‘I don’t trust my inner feelings / Inner feelings come and go’… I think that is my favorite line” Leonard Cohen On The Benefit Of Surrender

What’s a special day like in the monastery?

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There are no special days. The whole idea is that nothing and everything is special at the same time. There is only the routine to which you surrender. If you can’t do that, you become very unhappy. Everything is arranged to happen by the sound of bells or clapping. If you feel defiance every time you hear these signals, which mark that you have to do something particular, you become very unhappy after a while. That happens to some people and therefore they leave… You have to surrender in order to stay there. You follow the routine no matter how you feel, and this has the advantage that you stop being dependent on how you feel. As it says in one of the songs: ‘I don’t trust my inner feelings / Inner feelings come and go.’… I think that is my favorite line.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Leonard Cohen Gave Me 200 Franc by Martin Oestergaard (Euroman, Denmark September 2001).

Note: The referenced lyrics, “I don’t trust my inner feelings / Inner feelings come and go,” are from That Don’t Make It Junk.

“Poetry is a verdict, not an intention” Leonard Cohen “But I wouldn’t take the matter too seriously”

Lizzie: As a writer of poetry, I come across a lot of people who ‘write poems’ and call themselves ‘poets’. I have always subscribed to something you wrote along the lines of “the title of poet is something that is bestowed by others and not something bestowed on oneself” and so have refused to call myself ‘poet’ and await, and await the bestowing!!

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Dear Lizzie, I once said ‘poetry is a verdict, not an intention’ but I wouldn’t take the matter too seriously. We can call ourselves whatever we want.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Oct 16, 2001 Online Chat

“It can be tricky working in original genres.” Leonard Cohen


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It can be tricky working in original genres. There aren’t really any other songs like this [Democracy]. You’re creating forms and it’s hard to know where to take them. So you say to the guitarist, Play it so it sounds like . . . what? There’s no real precedent. It’s hard for yourself too. You end up thinking, Is there really a song here? Does it actually exist? You’re constantly dealing with these doubts.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen: Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe? by Adrian Deevoy. Q, 1991.

“Women! Any woman acquaintance is worth a poem.” Leonard Cohen On What Most Inspires Him

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[Leonard Cohen] is a warm personality who is not afraid to comment on what inspires him most.

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Women! Any woman acquaintance is worth a poem. Think about it: you find a girl, think she is exciting, but can’t seem to express yourself properly … The easiest way is to write your feelings down on paper.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Bård Oses intervju med Leonard Cohen by Linn Gjerstad [via Google Translate] (BA: March 26, 2012). From May 4, 1988 interview. Thanks to Dominique BOILE for the dancers logo (atop this post) which anchors the Leonard Cohen’s dedication of the I’m Your Man album to his romantic liaison, Dominique Issermann.