Like ages of weightless snow
on tiny oceans filled with light
her eyelids enclose deeply
a shade tree of birthday candles
From “Now of Sleeping” by Leonard Cohen (The Spice Box of Earth)
Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen
In the first Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen birthday post five years ago, I puzzled over how one should celebrate the singer-songwriter-novelist-poet-icon’s natal day, setting forth the rhetorical question,
… are you prepared?
Growing up in the Bible belted-and-suspendered Ozarks, I heard the following question repeatedly proposed from the church pulpit and the Sunday School lectern: “What would you do if Jesus came to your house today?”
Well, the truth is I would have been creeped out, especially if he didn’t call first, but I understood the message underlying this query: we should live our lives in such a Christian manner that we would be prepared if Jesus dropped in for a visit to the point that the only change we would need to make would be frying up an extra pork chop for dinner.
I now find it more pleasant and enlightening to ask myself “What would you do if Leonard Cohen came to your house today?”1
Given that today is his birthday, a host would surely want to acknowledge that with a celebratory ceremony of some sort, but a generic funny hats and gag gift sort of affair just doesn’t seem to fit and, as far as I know, Hallmark doesn’t yet sell a Leonard Cohen birthday pack with paper plates, napkins, cups, and decorations all coordinated in a “Tower of Song” theme.
And, in 2008, I could muster little more than a congratulatory note:
Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a World Tour with every concert sold out and heavily praised, even a set of French and German Rolling Stone covers – it’s been a heck of a year for a kid with a crazy dream, the gift of a golden voice, and a fedora.
In 2009, I published a gift registry for Leonard Cohen, suggesting as the perfect gifts for him the following:
Then came the cinematic era. From 2009-2011, Heck Of A Guy studios produced Video Celebrations Of Leonard Cohen At 75, 76, and 77. While I am proud of these three videos, it seemed time for a change, a thought which led to …
The New & Improved 70 Things About Leonard Cohen At 70
One of the first articles I happened onto when I began reading about Leonard Cohen a few years ago was the now classic Who Held A Gun To Leonard Cohen’s Head? by Tim de Lisle (The Guardian, 16 September 2004) aka Hallelujah: 70 Things About Leonard Cohen At 70, a pageful of interesting information about the Canadian singer-songwriter conveniently but artfully parceled into 70 dissimilar items2
Upon perusing this article recently, I came to the realization that, heck, in the past eight years since it was published, there must have been least eight events that had taken place in the world of Leonard Cohen. It was time for an update.
Rather than merely add eight items to the current list, however, I have chosen to substantially overhaul the original to produce a Heck Of A Guy New & Improved3 78 Things About Leonard Cohen At 78, a decision that will, no doubt, delight both Mssrs. de Lisle and Cohen.
Note: To present this material in a manageable format, the 78 entries will be divided into posts, each of which will contain no more than 10 items.4 All posts in this series can be accessed through 78 Things To Celebrate About Leonard Cohen On His 78th Birthday: The Summary Page.
78 Things To Celebrate About
Leonard Cohen On His 78th Birthday
1. Leonard Cohen’s ownership of the phrase “naked body”
According to Joni Mitchell,
He [Leonard Cohen] owns the phrase “naked body,” for example; it appears in every one of his songs.5
This quote is inexplicably interpreted as a criticism – go figure.
2. Leonard Cohen’s ability to draw naked bodies
3. Leonard Cohen’s spiritual versatility
Leonard Cohen was born into a distinguished Jewish family of priests (Kohen),6 has repeatedly and emphatically identified himself as a Jew, and closed his 2009 Tel Aviv concert with the Priestley Blessing.7
Leonard Cohen – Closing and Blessings (Tel Aviv Sept 24, 2009)
Video by PetSounds69
He nonetheless speaks well of Jesus:
I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek” has got to be a figure of unparallelled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion.8
And, in fact, he is comfortable enough with Jesus to invoke his curse upon a computer that crashed a file as an interview was beginning:
“Jesus! Shit!” Canada’s national poetry prize winner exclaimed by way of a greeting. “What the fuck’s happening?”9
Leonard Cohen has also displayed an affinity for Roman Catholic perspective, which pervaded the culture of his native Montreal, often utilizing its imagery into his work, e.g., the lyrics in Suzanne reference the chapel of the church overlooking the entry to Montreal, Our Lady Of The Harbour.
Note the angels, one of Cohen’s favorite allusions, that are prominent around the pedestal in the photo below.
Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
In addition, Leonard Cohen has been ordained a Zen Buddhist monk and awarded a Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release Scientology certificate.
Now, watch as he morphs into Reverend Leo, the TV evangelist – “Put your hand on the screen … .”
Montreal – 1993
Video by musicloveraustria2
4. His demonstration of equestrian skills: riding a horse onstage at a concert
In fact, Cohen riding the white stallion onstage is far from the whole story. It turns out that the backup singers and the entire band took their horses up the ramp and onstage – after completing a wine-abetted gallop through the French countryside en route to the show. For the rest of the saga, see Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival.
5. His golden voice
6. His prize-winning golden voice
It’s only in a country like this [Canada] that I could I get the male vocalist of the year10
7. Leonard Cohen’s stand-up comedy routine about mental hospitals
8. The laugh-out-loud lines in his songs
… you were Marlon Brando
I was Steve McQueen
You were KY Jelly
I was Vaseline
You were the father of modern medicine
Yeah I was Mr. Clean
You were the Whore & the Beast of Babylon
I was Rin Tin Tin …
From “Is This What You Wanted” by Leonard Cohen
Thanks to Hermitage Prisoner for making this rollicking version of “Is This What You Wanted” available.
9. His assessment of religion as the pinnacle of excitement – with one exception
Religion. Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available to us is within this activity. Nothing touches it…. Except if you’re courtin’. If you’re young, the hormonal thrust has its own excitement.11
10. His five word self description
Asked to “pick five words that describe yourself,” Cohen responded,
Oh, The Seven Deadly Sins12
Items #11-78 to follow in subsequent posts
All posts in this series can be accessed through
78 Things To Celebrate About Leonard Cohen
On His 78th Birthday: The Summary Page
Credit Due Department: Photos of Our Lady Of The Harbour by Sally Hunter. I was alerted to the astounding photo of Leonard Cohen astride a white stallion by Maarten Massa. The photo was first found by Dominique BOILE in “Leonard Cohen” by Jacques Vassal (Albin Michel Rock & Folk, published 1975, revised 1979)._____________________
- Of course, the even more difficult question would be, “What if Leonard Cohen and Jesus came to your house today?” [↩]
- For example, Item #15 is “His middle name is Norman.” Item #32 is “On Anthem (1992), he wrote: ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ Later he said: ‘That’s the closest thing I could describe to a credo. That idea is one of the fundamental positions behind a lot of the songs.’” Do those seem equivalent? No, they do not. But, they are both interesting. Tim de Lisle is a wise and, I suspect, experienced writer who knows how to set up an article. [↩]
- The Heck Of A Guy New & Improved line includes both merchandise such as the Leonard Cohen Indifference Cologne and the Leonard Cohen Bobble Head and intellectual property such as New & Improved Leonard Cohen Lyrics and New & Improved Leonard Cohen Concerts. All posts featuring these goods and services can be found at New & Improved. [↩]
- Yes, that means that these posts will extend over the next week or so, which in turn means the title should be “78 Things To Celebrate About Leonard Cohen On Or Shortly After His 78th Birthday.” But that just doesn’t scan as well. Call it literary license. [↩]
- Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period by Michelle Mercer. Free Press; 1st Edition, April 7, 2009 [↩]
- See The Childhood Of Leonard Cohen [↩]
- See The Legacy Of Leonard Cohen’s Tel Aviv Priestly Blessing [↩]
- Leonard Cohen (1988), from ”Leonard Cohen in His Own Words” by Jim Devlin [↩]
- Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe? by Adrian Deevoy, Q Magazine 1991. [↩]
- 1993 Juno Awards [↩]
- Leonard Cohen quoted in Leonard Cohen: Several Lifetimes Already by Pico Iyer (Shambhala Sun, September, 1998) [↩]
- “Q Questionnaire – Leonard Cohen” (September 1994 Q Magazine) Found at Speaking Cohen. [↩]