Leonard Cohen As Role Model For Madonna

Like A Virgin Meets Old Ideas

In one of those eerie cosmic events known as “a coincidence” or,  alternatively,  “another example of the law of large numbers,” yesterday’s Heck Of A Guy post, The Leonard Cohen – Madonna Comparison Chart, was not the only article published that focused on the similarities and differences of Leonard Cohen and Madonna.

Its title notwithstanding, Why the ageing Madonna could do with going Zen like Len by John McKie (Caledonian Mercury, February 20, 201) actually touches on the strategies employed by several aging musicians to sustain or revive, successfully or unsuccessfully, the AARP phases of their careers as it builds toward the punch line, i.e., Madonna should act her age.

Leonard Cohen fans, however, are most likely to find the comparison-contrast of the Material Girl and the Grocer Of Despair contained in this excerpt of most interest:

On the face of it, the pair have little in common. Before his first record, Cohen had published four volumes of his poetry and two novels. Madonna’s most famous published work was a book featuring photographs of her in her undergarments with Vanilla Ice.

The Madonna–Laughing Len Venn diagram actually has a little more overlap than you might assume. The records of both are drenched in sex and religious imagery, and the two are known for their particularly spiritual outlooks: Cohen swears by the hours of meditation at the Buddhist retreat of his 105-year-old guru, Roshi. Madonna has raised thousands for the Kabbalah movement, for whom she built a school in Malawi.

Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote Like A Prayer and Cherish, has co-written three tracks on Old Ideas, including the stand-out, Show Me The Place. And both MC and LC, in pop terms, are getting on a bit. She is 53, he is 77.

The difference is that Madonna’s capacity for reinvention has been her strength. His artistic constancy, through the different cycles of his life – broken business and personal relationships, bankruptcy, on-and-off touring and record company rows – has been reassuring. He has never once sentenced his audience to 20 years of boredom.

Every Leonard Cohen album has the same echoes of wit, wryness, maturity, romanticism, his poetic gifts, an ability to laugh at himself – and strong tunes. The strength of Old Ideas is that it does not sound that different from the 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen. The rapturous reception afforded to this record is of gratitude that Cohen is still around to make it. 

DrHGuy Note: While I am, as ongoing readers may have sleuthed out, an ardent admirer of Leonard Cohen, and while I, for the most part, buy into Mr McKie’s Leonard-leaning comparisons, it seems only fair to point out that Madonna has been a tad more successful than Cohen in the commercial arena.

That 1984 “Like A Virgin” album I chose for the graphic atop this post, for example, sold 21,000,000 units.1  It was her second-best selling studio album (“True Blue” moved 25,000,000 units world-wide and “The Immaculate Collection” compilation sold 30,000,000 copies2 ).

Leonard Cohen’s 1988 “I’m Your Man” album, thought to be one of is best selling records, was awarded the Columbia Records Crystal Globe Award from CBS for selling more than five million copies of an album in foreign territories (where it was strongest).3 Sales of many Cohen albums would be little more than a rounding error on Madonna’s balance sheet.

Maybe Madge and the Poet Of Existential Despair could trade tips.

  1. Wikipedia []
  2. Ibid []
  3. Wikipedia []

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