Leonard Cohen For Beginners

First Leonard Cohen Primer Goes To Press

Foreword By The Author

Update: The first installment of Leonard Cohen For Beginners
is online at The 2008 Leonard Cohen Field Guide

A Leonard Cohen Primer: The Not Too Big, Not Too Little Pyritic Book Of Leonard Cohen is a simple, easy to understand introduction to Leonard Cohen for anyone who has recently tuned in to his music.

Currently, those newcomers who attempt to learn something about Cohen, either because they are only now old enough to appreciate his songs or, like me, they somehow overlooked Cohen’s music during early adulthood, tend to be overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of exotica, esoterica, and erotica associated with his more than 40 year career.

Happily, I’ve discovered that this problem can be effectively eliminated by gathering pertinent material, carefully organizing it, and – this is key – invoking a sophisticated compositional methodology known as “leaving out the crap that a new fan will find more confusing than enlightening.”1

At the same time, I’ve tried to include all the core information necessary to not only enhance the enjoyment of listening to this music, but also inoculate the nascent fan to the fundamental axioms and mores of Cohen Nation as a preventive measure against cultural trauma.

“The only book about Leonard Cohen you’ll ever need
– until I write the next one.”

The Target Audience

Although the Leonard Cohen Primer is designed for anyone investigating Cohen for the first time and will be enjoyable to many who have been aficionados of the music but have been rebuffed in their efforts to supplement the aural experience with a cognitive background, it is no coincidence that the timing of this volume’s publication is linked to the imminent start of Leonard Cohen’s 2008 Tour.

While it seems likely that majority of those attending will be familiar with the star and, in fact, a significant portion will have followed his career for decades, it also seems probable that a certain number of boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, buddies, and, God help you, children of the designated Cohen fan will be persuaded, cajoled, threatened, bullied, or otherwise induced to accompany said fan to at least one Cohen concert.

On humanitarian grounds, I urge those of you in this intrepid group of Cohen-virgins planning to attend one or more of the performances on the 2008 World Tour to consider the Leonard Cohen Primer nothing less than your guide to survival.


Don’t get me wrong – fans of Leonard Cohen are not only endowed with impeccable taste, profound spirituality, and insight into the metaphysical workings of the universe but are also morally incorruptible, compassionate to a fault, and, individually, the personifications of sweetness and light – as well as being easy on the eyes.

The problem is – well, have you ever been a visitor to France? (Or, if you happen to be French, have you ever been a visitor to the Ozarks? Or, if you’re a Parisian who expatriated to the backwoods of Arkansas so long ago that you now feel comfortable in both environments, have you ever attended a sporting event without knowing the rules of the game?) It’s kind of like that – we Cohen fans are pretty darn sure (or, if you are French, très confiant) that we know what’s what musically and tend to be a tad dismissive of those who disagree or even those who innocently observe that they “don’t get Leonard Cohen.”

So, unless you desperately require interminable, verbally aggressive, intellectually convoluted debates to fill the void in your life created by the death of William F. Buckley, Jr. or unless you get off on humiliation and contempt (and if so, there are a number of ways to satisfy that need that are significantly more fun – see me after class), please prepare yourself. You do not want to embarrass yourself or the citizen of Cohen Nation to whom you are attached – who will, by the way, be the one supervising the gathering of stones to hurl at you following your comment that Cohen “does an OK Hallelujah,” but you “prefer the original version by Jeff Buckley.”

The First Chapter

The Leonard Cohen Primer will be published as a series of Heck of a Guy free standing posts, each of which will focus on one aspect of becoming conversant in Cohen.

The first of these units will be:

Who? Where? – Recognizing References To Places & People
Fundamental To Contemporary Cohen Cultural Competency

  1. I should note that any maneuver that potentially excludes data is alien to the the operating principles of the Cohen cohort. For example, asking established fans which of Cohen’s recordings would be most appropriate for a novice listener inevitably ends in a vigorous debate between two opposing camps:

      A. Those who insist that the first set of musical selections include all of Cohen’s albums, and
      B. Those who just as adamantly insist that a playlist comprising all of Cohen’s commercially available recordings is hopelessly inadequate and maintain that the tribute albums and a large portion of the individual covers are also essential.


0 responses to “Leonard Cohen For Beginners

  1. Leonard Cohen

    Your book is a g-dsend.
    It comes in the nick of time.
    I have been in a state of high anxiety wondering how to behave generally, and specifically, at one of my concerts.
    Thank you, Doctor.

  2. Now that’s the kind of reader comment you want to hear Dr Heck — I thought Leonard was fully engaged on preparing for the tour… and now see you are helping the effort!