Leonard Cohen In The News: A Taste For The Eroticism Of Betrayal And The Big Moment

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After rather too long a period of the periodicals offering little about Leonard Cohen beyond (1)  columns filled with Hallelujah histrionics and (2) reruns of the Standard 2008 Leonard Cohen Concert Review that differ little from one another except in the names of the venues and the dates, two interesting offerings spring forth this morning to enliven the post-Christmas doldrums of Cohen fans.

Few Can Do Love And Loss Like The Old Testament – Except Leonard Cohen

Howard Jacobson in the Independent has written a provocative, personal,  well-reasoned take  on Cohen’s Hallelujah that is also  a rollicking read with all manner of wordplay and complex but but not complicated syntax  that amply reward its perusal.

As it turns out, I believe Jacobson may be off-target on a couple of points, but even if he were somehow proven wrong on every specific issue, I would still heartily recommend the piece.  It may well be impossible for anyone who has heard Cohen’s Hallelujah to read this essay without learning something – either because of a specific proposition promoted by the author or through ones own thinking being triggered by a phrase or or an idea from the article.

Enjoy these excerpts (the sections below represent severe editing on my part; my original excerpts included 90% of the article):

“Hallelujah” has too much wit and deviant sex in it to be sung by anyone the dumb side of 45, least of all the belt-it-out-while-holding-back-the-tears sort of diva the sight of whom is a profound religious experience to the judges of The X Factor.

… But there you are: after a life of high-principled cultural austerity I have succumbed, like everyone else, to the craze for Cohen. I am hoping it is just an end of year thing that will be gone by Twelfth Night, along with the holly and the mistletoe. Otherwise… Well, otherwise expect to see me auditioning next year for The X Factor myself. They have not yet, I think, had anyone singing “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” the way it should be sung.

… The story of its vexed, unsatisfactory creation only adds, of course – talking of mystery – to the fascination of “Hallelujah”. We love lost chords and songs that never finish and words we cannot ever get to the bottom of. We are all exegetes and hermeneutists at heart. Hence the enduring appeal of religion. We are suckers for the numinous. Something atheists and rationalists never seem able to grasp: that not everybody wants to understand the world completely.

… The passage from the Book of Judges which prompts the lines “She tied you / To a kitchen chair / She broke your throne and she cut your hair” goes as follows – “And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.” Hot or what? And she began to afflict him. Oof! Gimme that old-time religion. If it’s sex you’re after, there’s no beating the Old Testament. Now can you see where Leonard Cohen got his taste for the eroticism of exhaustion and betrayal?

Pretty slick, eh? The complete article can be found at

Few Can Do Love And Loss Like The Old Testament
Except Leonard Cohen.

Arts Person Of The Year: Leonard Cohen

In today’s Globe and Mail, Guy Dixon takes a look at Cohen’s ascension to adoration beginning with

… the release of Book of Longing, his [Cohen’s] volume of poetry and drawings. Then his induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame early in this year got the momentum turning, while being named a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec in June added notch on his bedpost of official honours.1

… and climaxing now at the end of 2008, when

two different cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song Hallelujah are topping the singles chart in the U.K., capping an exalted 2008 for the downbeat troubadour.

Dixon goes on to note

The 74-year-old singer-songwriter has not only overcome his financial troubles of recent years, he was also able to revert public attention back to his artistry. No longer did we hear about millions in retirement money gone astray and financial battles bringing him out of seclusion. Now it was all about adoration.

While I believe the idea that Cohen has focused attention on his artistry has merit, the last bit about “No longer did we hear about millions in retirement money gone astray and financial battles bringing him out of seclusion” is at odds with my own experience.  It seems to me that most articles about Cohen, especially those dealing with the Hallelujah Hootenanny Britain is hosting these days, continue to includes he obligatory paragraph about Cohen being forced to tour after his manager ripped off his savings, … .

Perhaps Mr. Dixon has not been reading the newspapers lately.  For example, here is an excerpt from a paper called, let’s see, here it is, The Globe And Mail, coincidentally the same paper in which Mr. Dixon’s piece appears. The article from which this quote is taken,  Hallelujah! Cohen takes Europe by Brad Wheeler, is, to be fair, almost two weeks old (dated December 16, 2008).

The royalties from Burke’s hit version, performed on X Factor, Britain’s answer to American Idol, will help fill the coffers gutted by Cohen’s former manager, who was successfully sued for misappropriating the 74-year-old icon’s multimillion-dollar retirement fund.

The value of Dixon’s piece is his succinct summary of the elements of luck, shrewd management, and, of course, complicated, nefarious business schemes by sinister forces that were major forces in the success of Leonard Cohen’s World Tour.  My hyperbolic description of those points notwithstanding, the timetable and the facts presented are impressive.

I am not certain, however, about the implications.  Consider this excerpt:

… [Cohen] obviously knew the timing was right. He embarked on much-lauded tours of Eastern Canada and Europe, somehow deflecting numerous standing ovations, while simultaneously basking in them. Despite that typical onstage humility, it’s clear Cohen was out for the Big Moment. These were shows determined to play up the icon quotient, taking on such major stages as the Glastonbury Festival and London’s 02 Arena, but on his terms.

This section seems to be specifically accusing Cohen of manipulating his audiences. It appears, in fact, to be an effort to debunk any romantic notions that the success of Leonard Cohen’s World Tour is due to what we would call back home “a lot of people being willing to buy high priced tickets and travel long distances to attend Leonard Cohen concerts.”

From the many reports from those attending the concerts I’ve read and from the video footage of those performances I’ve seen, Cohen seems, at worst, to play out the ritual of the star reluctant to perform an encore who then, of course, acquiesces to do so. Most of the time, it seems that the encores were handled with a minimum of fuss and with little delay. I’m unclear how Mr. Dixon would prefer a musician respond to standing ovations. Refuse to give encores? Plead to do encores?

Dixon also unearths the hitherto well-kept secret that Cohen has played some “major stages.”  Well, this is Leonard’s own fault. I told him he wouldn’t get away with playing for several thousand people at once without someone noticing that those concerts were not being held at the Diamond, Missouri American Legion Hall but were instead taking place at major venues. But does he listen to me? Nooooooo. And now, he’s been found out for the rapscallion he is. That’s what you get when you schedule some of your concerts at major stages, especially if you then fill the house with fans who give you standing ovations and demand encores.

During this tour, Cohen has also played some theaters with a few hundred seats, many of which were outstanding settings for equally outstanding concerts, but none of which would be mistaken for a “major stage.”

In any case, it is difficult for understand why Cohen performing at a major venue is “play[ing] up the icon quotient.” Perhaps the pertinent point here is that, as far as Cohen’s audience is concerned, Leonard Cohen became an icon many years ago.2 You know, Leonard Cohen has a cult following and all that.  It was in a lot of the papers.

Finally, the incriminating tone of  “Despite that typical onstage humility, it’s clear Cohen was out for the Big Moment,” is – well, regrettable is the only nice word that comes to mind is. Cohen behaves, by all accounts, with humility when he performs onstage, rehearses with his band, gives  interview, and  goes about his everyday life. If it’s an act, it is one he has perfected such that he can execute it flawlessly and perpetuate it over the course of years.

Besides, who says humble folks (such as, for example, a writer for a major Canadian newspaper or your basic unassuming blogger from northern Illinois) don’t channel legitimate aspirations to “the Big Moment” into motivation for ever better efforts? A hot-shot shrink might even point out that such a desire may well be necessary for transcendent artistic performances.

There is more, but you get the idea. Maybe I’m missing the connection between the facts of this article and the inferences drawn from those facts.  Read the piece yourselves before you decide.

The complete article can be found at

Arts Person Of The Year: Leonard Cohen

Cohenmania?: Mr. Dixon’s piece is also problematic in that he calls the ongoing apotheosis of St. Leonard “Cohenmania,” when I was finally coming to grips with Lennymania. But it’s good to know the name of this phenomenon is still undecided because I have a thought or two about that. But, that’s a matter for another post.

  1. I’m not sure why “being named a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec” was a “notch on his bedpost of official honours” since bedpost  notching, as far as I know, is a means of keeping track of sexual conquests. Maybe this is one of those “Who do I have to lay to become a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec” sort of things. []
  2. This has been another Heck Of A Guy public service announcement. []

0 Responses to Leonard Cohen In The News: A Taste For The Eroticism Of Betrayal And The Big Moment

  1. Lennymania is far more fun a term for the craze currently sweeping the world.

    Agreed – the piece by Guy Dixon is most curiously worded. Looking at the cup as half-full, I’m happiest to see that Leonard Cohen is receiving love more than not in our national (Canadian) press.