Leonard Cohen – All Smiles: The Video

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 And here’s a man still working with his smile

His reputation as the Godfather of Gloom1 notwithstanding, Leonard Cohen possesses a repertoire of quite effective smiles. In support of this premise, I recently published Leonard Cohen – All Smiles: 21 Photos, a post comprising – well, 21 photos of Leonard Cohen smiling. The enthusiasm with which this collection was received has led to the production of Leonard Cohen – All Smiles: The Video, featuring – well, four minutes of Leonard Cohen smiling, the viewing of which turns out to be a delightfully restorative experience.

Leonard Cohen – All Smiles
Video by Allan Showalter

  1. Also High Priest Of Pathos, Prophet of Despair, Poet Laureate Of Pessimism, Troubadour Of Travail, and many similar titles. See Leonard Cohen, AKA … – The Nicknames []

Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: #3. Artistic Design – Resonance

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Note: This post is the final entry in a series of essays considering the question, “What makes a song a Leonard Cohen song?” An introduction and links to all published posts in the series can be found at Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: Summary Page.

The Ultimate Goal: Resonance

As discussed previously, Leonard Cohen takes great stock in the transformative properties of the art of songwriting:

A cry of pain in itself is just that. It can affect you or you can turn away from it. But a piece of work that treats the experience that produced the cry of pain is a different matter altogether. The cry is transformed, alchemised, by the work by a certain objectivity which doesn’t surrender the emotion but gives it form. That’s the difference between life and art.1

The question then arises, “What is the purpose of this transformation?” The raison d’etre of Cohen’s songwriting and his performance style, the goal of this transformation wrought by the craftsmanship and tradition of art is resonance with both the listener and the songwriter. Without resonance, songs are no more than catchy slogans.

It’s just how they resonate [that makes a lyric good]. You know they resonate with a truth that is hard to locate but which is operating with some force in your life. I often feel that about a Dylan song or a song even with Edith Piaf…the words are going too fast for me to really understand them in French but you feel that they are talking about something that is true, that you can’t locate by yourself and someone has located it for you and you just feel like you’ve put in the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle for that moment. That a moment has been clarified. The moment that you’re in at the moment that you’re listening to it. Yeah, the pieces fit…Isn’t that wonderful when all the pieces fit?2

It’s hard to make a commentary [on A Thousand Kisses deep], because you’ve worked so long establishing exactly the right resonance for every single line, the commentaries are more spontaneous and ill-thought.3

“I don’t have to develop an articulated position on politics, Canadian or universal. I am already embraced by the Almighty. I am already embraced by cultures, many cultures. My work is to stay alive and raw to the kinds of voices that are speaking to me continually and to turn them into a voice that I can understand, that I can cling to, and that I can stand behind.4

Cohen, in fact, views syllogistic arguments as counterproductive:

I think you work out something. I wouldn’t call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don’t really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are and as wholesome as the ideas they promote are, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart. I never set out to write a didactic song. It’s just my experience. All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience.5

The most obvious examples of this sort of transformation are songs such as “The Future” that conjoin seemingly disparate lyrics and melodies in a manner that captures the listener’s attention and promotes intuitive understanding to produce resonance:

I mean, if I’d just nailed this lyric ["The Future"] to the Church door, like Martin Luther, it might be a cause for some trembling and menace; but, the fact is, it’s married to a hot little dance track. So, you’re going to dance your way through “The Future.” You’re going to dance your way through the whole record because the groove is honoured.6,7

The Power Of Resonance

Because resonance trumps ideas in Leonard Cohen’s songs, his music escapes temporal, intellectual, and political restrictions:

Songs are quite hospitable to different interpretations … You can bring a certain kind of nobility to a depressed lyric, or you can deliver a very affirmative statement like a lamentation … There’s a certain emptiness to my songs that allows for a lot of interpretations. ((Conversations from a Room By Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Retrieved 05 February 2014  from Speaking Cohen))

I don’t have to have a song called ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ I could write a song about conflict and, if I sang it in a peaceful way, then it would have the same message. I don’t like these slogan writers.((Cohen Regrets by Alastair Pirrie. Beat Patrol: December 30, 2008. ][Originally written for the New Musical Express: March 10, 1973.]  Retrieved 05 February 2014  from Speaking Cohen.))

Resonance As End Point

Leonard Cohen uses his skills and the tools of his art to craft songs that are in a harmonic relationship with his audience such that individuals respond with similar sensations, creating feeling of deep empathy, understanding, and comfort.

And that’s what makes a song a Leonard Cohen song.

This concludes the series: Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song

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  1. Suffering For Fan And Profit – The Return Of Leonard Cohen by Mick Brown. Sounds: July 3 1976, Accessed 26 April 2014 at LeonardCohenFiles. Bolding mine. []
  2. Aurora Online With Leonard Cohen by Marco Adria. Aurora: July, 1990. []
  3. Our Poet of the Apocalypse by Brian D. Johnson. Maclean’s: Oct 15, 2001. Bolding mine] []
  4. Leonard Cohen: A Portrait in First Person. Interviewer: Moses Znaimer. CBC, 1988. Accessed 30 April 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  5. Leonard Cohen: ‘All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience’ by Dorian Lynskey. The Guardian: Jan 19, 2010. []
  6. Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz. Transcript from a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. The transcript was prepared by Judith Fitzgerald. Accessed 21 May 2014 at Speaking Cohen. []
  7. Similarly, in “Everybody Knows,” Cohen lists the horrid facts of contemporary life, i.e., the dice are loaded, the good guys lost … all set in jaunty quatrains []

Bob Dylan’s 1988 Covers Of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

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Bob Dylan – 1988

Leonard Cohen Sings “Hallelujah” To Bob Dylan

It’s [Hallelujah is] a rather joyous song. I like very much the last verse. I remember singing it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse “And even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah”
- Leonard Cohen, from 1985 interview published in Paroles et Musiques

Dylan went on to be one of the first artists to cover “Hallelujah,” performing it twice in his 1988 concert tour.

Of course, no post about Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and “Hallelujah” would be complete without the anecdote, a classic in Cohen’s repertoire, about the contrast in the time required by Dylan and Cohen to compose a song. The story appears in several Cohen interviews. The following iteration is from Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles 1992, a section of “Songwriters On Songwriting” by Paul Zollo:

That ["Hallelujah"] was a song that took me [Leonard Cohen] a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praise a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Forum de Montréal, Montréal: July 8, 1988
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen Cover) by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Greek Theatre, Los Angeles: August 4, 1988
Hallelujah by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Note: I first posted about Bob Dylan’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on . Various recordings of this cover have appeared online only to be disappear again. Alerted by Juanma Lopez Andreu to a YouTube version1 that has survived online since Jan 2014, I am re-posting the material along with the audio recordings of Dylan’s two 1988 covers.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Ken Friedman

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  1. The YouTube version is the audio track from the July 8, 1988 Montreal rendition attached to a single still photo of Dylan and thus offers no advantages over the audio tracks embedded on this post []

Van Morrison’s “Veedon Fleece” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

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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 Heck Of A Guy 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 Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

Veedon Fleece

Unsurprisingly, Leonard Cohen is a fan of Van Morrison.1 When asked to name those he admired on the “contemporary music scene today [1975],” the Canadian singer-songwriter’s responded

I also like Van Morrison very much, including his superb ‘Veedon Fleece’ effort.2

Recorded shortly after Van Morrison’s sudden divorce from wife Janet Rigsbee, Veedon Fleece was released in October, 1974, only a month after his acclaimed double live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now. Perhaps as a result of the timing, Veedon Fleece is typically included in the “lost masterpiece” category. This album marks a return to the style of songwriting found in Van Morrison Astral Weeks.

Since Leonard Cohen’s accolade covers the entire album, I’ve take the prerogative of selecting as a representative track my own favorite song from Veedon Fleece:3 Streets of Arklow.

Van Morrison – Streets of Arklow

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  1. See Into The Mystic Leonard Cohen – Van Morrison Connection []
  2. Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik & Justin Pierce (Melody Maker, March 1, 1975) []
  3. The entire album is on a single YouTube playlist: Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece []

The (Big) Guns Of Leonard Cohen

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The Guns Of Leonard Cohen Supplement

When I came across these photos of a very young Leonard Cohen and his sister Esther posing with military artillery, I immediately realized they were an essential augmentation to the collection of posts about Leonard Cohen & Guns.

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And, the association of the Canadian singer-songwriter with this sort of weapon called to mind this newspaper cartoon, labeled “Tanks For The Memory,” portraying Leonard Cohen during the Yom Kippur War.

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The text accompanying the cartoon follows:

Cohen Into Action
A cable from Uri Alony, editor of a top Israeli pop mag, claims that top international artists and singers have arrived in Israel to perform for soldiers involved in fighting – at the fronts. Among them are … Leonard Cohen – who has written a new song about the war which he sings wherever he performs.1

Also note the eye patch a la Moshe Dayan

Credit Due Department: A special thank you to Maarten Massa for access to the images of Leonard Cohen & the cannons. The “Tanks For The Memory” cartoon and text were retrieved from Jem Treadwell’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook. The name and date of the newspaper publishing the cartoon are not available.
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  1. To comparison, read the real story of Leonard Cohen’s involvement in the Yom Kippur War at Photo Of Leonard Cohen & Ariel Sharon During 1973 Yom Kippur War Plus Leonard Cohen On War and Leonard Cohen On War: 2 Videos About Leonard Cohen & The 1973 Yom Kippur War []

34 Years Ago – Julie & I Married

An Outrageously Happy Marriage Begins

Julie1 and I married on July 20, 1980. Although that was 34 years ago and although Julie died 14 years ago, I still remember her reciting, as the conclusion to her wedding vows, the final two verses of  Anthony Hecht’s “Going The Rounds: A Sort Of Love Poem:”

But candor is not enough,
Nor is it enough to say that I don’t deserve
Your gentle, dazzling love, or to be in love.
That goddess is remorseless, watching us rise
In all our ignorant nerve,
And when we have reached the top, putting us wise.

My dear, in spite of this,
And the moralized landscape down there below,
Neither of which might seem the ground for bliss,
Know that I love you, know that you are most dear
To one who seeks to know
How, for your sake, to confront his pride and fear.

Baby, Let’s Get Married

It seems as though it should have been more complicated.

After we had lived together for a couple of years, Julie thought we should be married. I was not convinced that being legally wed was a necessary step for us, and Julie made it clear that she was not issuing an ultimatum.

But, I never told Julie “No.”

And once again, it turned out that Julie was right.

Next month, the Duchess and I will celebrate the third anniversary of our own wedding, an event that enhances – and is enhanced by – our memories of our marriages to lovers who have left this life but not our hearts.

More Photos

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The younger lady in these photos is Rachel, Julie’s daughter, much loved by both of us, by her first marriage.

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  1. Julie was my much-beloved, fiercely smart, extraordinarily sexy wife, who died in 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a prize-winning writer. This blog includes many other posts about her and the unlikely but true story of our romance as well as several of her short stories and other pieces. For the location of the various content about or by Julie, see Julie FAQ. []