Ten Lesser Known Facts About Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Conversational Items To Indicate That One Is Quite The Knowledgeable Leonard Cohen Aficionado1

1. Leonard Cohen only looks good in almost everything he wears. The above photo is the best argument against the recurrently popular fashion of men wearing beads. If it doesn’t look good on Leonard Cohen, it isn’t going to be pretty when the rest of us try it.

2. His first band was The Buckskin Boys, a country-western trio he formed when he was a 17 year old student at McGill University. (Wikipedia)

3. Leonard Cohen is (or, at least, was) a Mac man. In addition to his Apple computer, he also used, a 1991 interviewer admiringly noted, such electronic gear as a fax machine, a digital synthesizer, and a (separately listed) modem.2

Leonard Cohen working with his Mac

4. Leonard Cohen is not immune to the occasional computer glitch (yes, even on a Mac). During an interview “he had attempted to close the machine down in order to give his full attention to his guests. Unfortunately, the file he was using began to crash.”

“Jesus! Shit!”
Canada’s national poetry prize winner exclaimed by way of a greeting.
“What the fuck’s happening?”3

5. He has taken antidepressants without success, leading to his unilateral discontinuation of those medications,4 as noted in this excerpt:

[Leonard Cohen] “… I was taking things like Prozac for depression, but none of those antidepressants worked.”

[Interviewer] Which have you tried?

[Leonard Cohen] “Oh, let’s see. I was involved in early medication, like Desipramine. And the MAOs [monoamine oxidase inhibitors], and the new generation — Paxil, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. I even tried experimental anti-seizure drugs, ones that had some small successes in treating depression. I was told they all give you a ‘bottom,’ a floor beneath which you are not expected to plunge.”

[Interviewer] And?

[Leonard Cohen] “I plunged. And all were disagreeable, in subtly different ways.”

[Interviewer] How?

[Leonard Cohen] “Well, on Prozac, I thought I had attained some kind of higher plateau because my interest in women had dissolved.” He laughs. “Then I realized it was just a side effect. That stuff crushes your libido.”

[Leonard Cohen] “… So one day, a few years ago, I was in a car, on my way to the airport. I was really, really low, on many medications, and pulled over, I reached behind to my valise, took out the pills, and threw out all the drugs I had. I said, ‘These things really don’t even begin to confront my predicament.” I figured, If I am going to go down I would rather go down with my eyes wide open.”5

6. The most complete list of covers of Leonard Cohen songs I’ve found contains 1234 covers as of the most recent update on March 4, 2007. Suzanne, I’ve read, is the most frequently covered of his songs. These covers do not include tunes about Leonard Cohen, such as Leonard Cohen’s Day Job by the Austin Lounge Lizards, or about songs written by Leonard Cohen, such as The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song by Jeffrey Lewis.

7. Prince Charles recommends Leonard Cohen Songs to his kids, as indicated in this excerpt from an account of his televised interview:

After grumbling about William’s and Harry’s taste in music, Prince Charles raved about his own preferences, including the introspective Cohen.

“I tell you who I also think is wonderful is a chap called Leonard Cohen, do you know him?” he asked.

William, his elder son, responded: “Is he a jazz player?”

Charles waxed on: “He’s remarkable. I mean the orchestration is fantastic and the words, the lyrics and everything. He’s a remarkable man, and he has this incredibly, sort of laid back, gravelly voice. It’s terrific stuff.”

8. Then there was the run-in with Phil Spector (who is currently awaiting trial for murder) of “Wall of Sound” fame described in this excerpt from The Spector Tapes:

Phil Spector: Photo on left taken years ago; photo on right is recent.

Spector’s growing obsession with guns – he once loosed off a round in a recording session with John Lennon – was displayed during his unlikely partnership with Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet whose reputation rested on a body of introspective and highly literary songs, bleak and melancholic meditations on love, sex and mortality, leavened with a dry, fatalistic humour. Cohen and Spector composed 15 numbers, the writing sessions fuelled by copious amounts of wine and liquor, culminating in the 1978 album Death of a Ladies’ Man. Cohen recognised what Spector himself, and few around him, were prepared to acknowledge – that Spector was not simply ”eccentric” but seriously disturbed.

”I was flipped out at the time,” Cohen would reflect later, ”and he certainly was flipped out. For me, the expression was withdrawal and melancholy, and for him, megalomania and insanity and a devotion to armaments that was really intolerable. In the state that he found himself, which was post-Wagnerian, I would say Hitlerian, the atmosphere was one of guns. The music was subsidiary. People were armed to the teeth, all his friends, his bodyguards, and everybody was drunk, or intoxicated on other items, so you were slipping over bullets, and you were biting into revolvers in your hamburger. There were guns everywhere.”

Cohen would later recall how on one occasion in the studio Spector approached him with a bottle of Manischewitz (Jewish ceremonial wine) in one hand and a pistol in the other, placed his arm around Cohen’s shoulder, shoved the gun in his neck and said: ”Leonard, I love you.” Cohen, with admirable aplomb, moved the barrel away, saying: ”I hope you do, Phil.”

Leonard Cohen As Zolan On Miami Vice

Leonard Cohen As Francois Zolan On Miami Vice

9. In 1986, Leonard Cohen, at the urging of his son, Adam, who was a fan of the show, guest-starred on Miami Vice, playing Francois Zolan, a senior executive in the French Secret Service engaged in an illegal operation to blow up Greenpeace boats. He appeared in two very short sections on the end of a telephone, speaking in French.6

In another interview, Cohen explained

In truth, I had a much bigger part. I went down there and did my first scene and the assistant director rang me up and said, You were really great, truly wonderful. And I said, OK, thanks a lot. Then the casting director from New York called me up and said, You were fantastic, truly wonderful! And I said, You mean I’m fired. And he said, “Yeah, we’re cutting all your other scenes and giving them to another guy.

10. In 2005, according to Billboard, among many other sources, Leonard Cohen sued his manager and ex-lover, Kelley Lynch, claiming she had robbed him of his $US5 million retirement fund, an event which he said forced him back to “incessant work.” In 2006, the court ordered the ex-manager to pay $9.5 Million in damages., but it is unlikely that any substantial sums will actually be forthcoming.

Bonus Factoid
11. Leonard Cohen is an early riser, telling an interviewer, “Well, I’m normally up at around five… .”

  1. For another perspective about still less well known Leonard Cohen info, see the companion post, 10 Unbelievable Secrets About Leonard Cohen []
  2. Adrian Deevoy, Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe?, The Q Magazine 1991. Found at http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/qmag.html []
  3. Ibid []
  4. This case of fully justified patient noncompliance will be featured at a later date on The AlignMap Blog []
  5. Mireille Silcott, A Happy Man, Saturday Night, Canada September 15, 2001, found at http://www.webheights.net/10newsongs/press/satnite.htm []
  6. Diamonds in the Mine; Celebrating the film and television recordings of Leonard Cohen []

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