Leonard Cohen Reads His Frank, Funny Preface To The Chinese Translation Of Beautiful Losers

More Of A Sunstroke Than A Book

I have long held that the publication of Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers in Chinese translation in 2003 would have been justified if its sole accomplishment were to trigger the author composing the respectful, gracious, self-effacing, laughter-inducing preface to that edition of the book.

“The frenzied thoughts of my youth
expressed in Chinese characters”

This text of this preface has been featured here before, but hearing Cohen’s words that simultaneously warn and entice potential readers of his novel from his own lips is a treat not to be missed.

The Preface To The Chinese Translation Of Beautiful Losers As Precursor To The Prince Of Asturias Award Speech

Moreover, while the Preface is more comic and less dramatic in tone, it is not difficult to discern parallels between this brief recitation and the incredible speech Leonard Cohen gave at the Prince Of Asturias Awards, especially in the way in which he pays respect to another country and culture for their contributions to his own art. To compare the two pieces, watch the reading of the Preface below and the Prince Of Asturias Awards speech at How I Got My Song.

The Video

Happily, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, the 2005 film by Lian Lunson includes a segment featuring Leonard Cohen reading that preface. he video is configured to begin at the pertinent section (33:52 to   36:46).

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man

 Preface To The Chinese Translation Of Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen

Thank you for coming to this book. It is an honor, and a surprise, to have the frenzied thoughts of my youth expressed in Chinese characters. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the translator and the publishers in bringing this curious work to your attention. I hope you will find it useful or amusing. 

When I was young, my friends and I read and admired the old Chinese poets. Our ideas of love and friendship, of wine and distance, of poetry itself, were much affected by those ancient songs. Much later, during the years when I practiced as a Zen monk under the guidance of my teacher Kyozan Joshu Roshi, the thrilling sermons of Lin Chi (Rinzai) were studied every day. So you can understand, Dear Reader, how privileged I feel to be able to graze, even for a moment, and with such meager credentials, on the outskirts of your tradition. 

This is a difficult book, even in English, if it is taken too seriously. May I suggest that you skip over the parts you don’t like? Dip into it here and there. Perhaps there will be a passage, or even a page, that resonates with your curiosity. After a while, if you are sufficiently bored or unemployed, you may want to read it from cover to cover. In any case, I thank you for your interest in this odd collection of jazz riffs, pop-art jokes, religious kitsch and muffled prayer, an interest which indicates, to my thinking, a rather reckless, though very touching, generosity on your part. 

Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book. 

Dear Reader, please forgive me if I have wasted your time.

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