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)
Ten More Things About Leonard Cohen
On Leonard Cohen’s 78th birthday, 21 September 2012, I began a list of, coincidentally enough, “78 Things To Celebrate About Leonard Cohen,” the Updated, New & Improved version of Tim de Lisle’s classic Who Held A Gun To Leonard Cohen’s Head? aka Hallelujah: 70 Things About Leonard Cohen At 70.1
Today’s post is the seventh sublisting, comprising items #51- 60. (To present this material in a manageable format, the 78 entries have been divided into several posts, each of which contains no more than 10 items.) All posts in this series can be accessed through 78 Things To Celebrate About Leonard Cohen On His 78th Birthday: The Summary Page.
51. Leonard Cohen is the only singer-songwriter-poet-novelist-icon whose stage exit involves skipping
This example, Cohen’s departure from the stage in Belfast, is a clear contender for the Best World Tour Skipping title and a fine example for those young, aspiring singer-songwriter-poet-novelist-icon-skippers watching at home.
First, note how, at 5:50 (the point at which the video is cued to start), Cohen pauses to make the transition from prayerfully saluting the audience to preparing himself for the floor exercise.
He strikes the classic starting position with his left arm held across his midsection for balance and then simultaneously lifts his right arm above his head and his right knee to waist height for power. After holding that posture for an instant, he kicks down, attaining excellent velocity and elevation on his initial thrust, all the while maintaining near-perfect form.
Cohen is especially impressive in the turn near raised platform where the keyboards are located, adding a half-twist not seen before in this competition. Finally, he continues to accelerate past his exit through the curtain, correcting his tendency in past concerts to slow his pace a step or two before reaching the curtained area.
The routine is exemplary, displaying challenging, even daring moves, exquisite style, and an unexpected degree of athleticism, given the competitor’s recent summer cold.
This is a spectacular performance sure to be mentioned in future years wherever fans gather to talk about skipping.
Leonard Cohen – Closing Time (Belfast, 2009)
Video by albertnoonan
The Venice 2009 show spotlighted an even more dramatic execution of the skipping exit. His wind-up prior to the onset of skipping is spectacular and the entire skipping sequence is impressive. (As a bonus, at the very end of the video, watch Roscoe Beck’s demonstration of fancy hat twirling.)
Leonard Cohen – Closing Time – Venice 2009
Video by AintNoCureForLove
52. Leonard Cohen is lovable
Need proof? Check out this video constructed for Mr Cohen’s 77th birthday; it wouldn’t be on the internet if it weren’t true.
53. Leonard Cohen never met a cover of his own songs he didn’t like
Leonard Cohen has observed on several occasions that his critical facilities are suspended when he hears others cover his songs but I especially like his phrasing he used to assuage the anxieties of those about to perform in his tribute concert at the May 14, 2012 Glenn Gould Prize Gala, informing them they need not worry about singing his songs in front of him because
I go into an immediate, childish ecstasy and paroxysms of gratitude … whenever anyone covers one of my songs.
And, that’s a good thing, because …
54. There are over 2000 cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s songs from all over the world
As of June 30, 2012, the LeonardCohenFiles list of commercially released covers numbered 2276.
55. The Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man Cover Has A Peel
And there is a story behind that cover art. In Various Positions, his biography of Cohen, Ira Nadel describes the scene:
At a Los Angles warehouse to watch the filming of the [Jennifer] Warnes’ video, “First We Take Manhattan,” Cohen was photographed by publicist Sharon Weisz in his dark glasses, charcoal gray pin-striped suit, and white T-shirt, eating a banana. For him, the image was precise and revealing:
Sharon showed it to me later and it seemed to sum up perfectly. “Here’s this guy looking cool,” I thought, “in shades and nice suit. He seems to have a grip on things, an idea of himself.
The only thing wrong, of course, is that he was caught holding a half eaten banana.
And it suddenly occurred to me that’s everyone’s dilemma: At the times we think we’re coolest, what everyone else sees is a guy with his mouth full of banana…”
He admired the photo so much that it became the signature image for his 1988 hit album I’m Your Man, and the poster image of his 1988 world tour.2
56. Leonard Cohen was escorted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame by Judy Collins & KD Lang
On June 18, 2010, Leonard Cohen was admitted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Cohen’s acceptance speech was preceded by Judy Collins performance of Cohen’s “Suzanne” and K.D. Lang’s version of “Hallelujah,” both of which earned standing ovations.
Songwriters Hall of Fame 2010 Induction
Video from AssociatedPress
57. While there Ain’t No Cure For Love, depression does sometimes spontaneously remit
“My depression, so bleak and anguished, was just crucial, and I couldn’t shake it; it wouldn’t go away,” he says, looking back at that time from his suite in the Vogue. “I didn’t know what it was. I was ashamed of it, because it would be there even when things were good, and I would be saying to myself, ‘Really, what have you got to complain about?’ But for people who suffer from acute clinical depression, it is quite irrelevant what the circumstances of your life are.”
“Well, for me personally, depression has been an issue with me for the whole of my life and I’ve tried, like everybody else, various ways of dealing with that depression. You know, drugs, women, art, religion… you try everything … . Well, you know, there’s depression and depression. What I mean by depression in my own case is that depression isn’t just the blues. It’s not just like I’ve a hangover for the weekend… the girl didn’t show up or something like that, it isn’t that. I’m trying to describe clinically like an acute depression. It’s not really depression, it’s a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next. You lose something somewhere and suddenly you’re gripped by a kind of angst of the heart and of the spirit.”
Like many who have suffered from severe depression, Cohen has been critical of the too common error of re-labeling transient unhappiness as clinical depression:
The term clinical depression finds its way into too many conversations these days. One has a sense that a catastrophe has occurred in the psychic landscape.7
I should note that one reason for my interest in Cohen’s medical treatment for his depression and his reaction to that therapy is my professional interest in treatment adherence, especially for psychiatric disorders. I previously posted the following at Leonard Cohen and Noncompliance With Antidepressants on AlignMap, my professional blog:
In this interview,8 he [Leonard Cohen] discusses, with characteristic candor and dark humor, his course of treatment and his decision to unilaterally discontinue these medications:
[Leonard Cohen] “… I was taking things like Prozac for depression, but none of those antidepressants worked.”
[Interviewer] “Which have you tried?”
[Leonard Cohen] “Oh, let’s see. I was involved in early medication, like Desipramine. And the MAOs [monoamine oxidase inhibitors], and the new generation — Paxil, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin. I even tried experimental anti-seizure drugs, ones that had some small successes in treating depression. I was told they all give you a ‘bottom,’ a floor beneath which you are not expected to plunge.”
[Leonard Cohen] “I plunged. And all were disagreeable, in subtly different ways.”
[Leonard Cohen] “Well, on Prozac, I thought I had attained some kind of higher plateau because my interest in women had dissolved.” He laughs. “Then I realized it was just a side effect. That stuff crushes your libido.”
[Leonard Cohen] “… So one day, a few years ago, I was in a car, on my way to the airport. I was really, really low, on many medications, and pulled over, I reached behind to my valise, took out the pills, and threw out all the drugs I had. I said, ‘These things really don’t even begin to confront my predicament.” I figured, If I am going to go down I would rather go down with my eyes wide open.”
Leonard Cohen’s Depression Ends
Cohen’s depression lifted spontaneously in the 1999. This description of the dissipation of his clinical syndrome from a 2001 Observer interview with Nick Paton Walsh9 is compelling and also congruent with reports I’ve received from many patients whose depressions have subsided:
But two years ago , for no apparent reason, the veil of depression lifted. For the first time in his life, Cohen sighed, looked out on the world and felt at peace with it.
‘There was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself. I remember sitting in the corner of my kitchen, which has a window overlooking the street. I saw the sunlight that shines on the chrome fenders of the cars, and thought, “Gee, that’s pretty.”
‘I said to myself, “Wow, this must be like everybody feels.” Life became not easier but simpler. The backdrop of self-analysis I had lived with disappeared. It’s like that joke: “When you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, it feels good when it stops”.’
It was a remarkably late epiphany. Cohen had spent the past 50 years ploughing his way through drugs, drink, countless women and several religions in an attempt to find release from this ‘backdrop’ of self-doubt. But the cure was more simple – he learned to ignore himself.
‘When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you. It happened to me by imperceptible degrees and I could not really believe it; I could not really claim it for some time. I thought there must be something wrong. It’s like taking a drink of cold water when you are thirsty. Every tastebud on your tongue, every molecule in your body says thank you.’
50 Years Of Depression – 13 Years Of Common Unhappiness10
So, that’s the story – Leonard Cohen endured a devastating clinical depression that persisted 40-50 years, proving resistant to a wide variety of appropriate medications, and that spontaneously remitted 10 years ago.
During the 2008-2010 World Tour, a portion of Cohen’s spiel that goes something like this:
I was 60 years old—just a kid with a crazy dream. Since then I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Ritalin, … I’ve also studied the religions and philosophies, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.
The opening moments of this video from the Geneva concert is representative:
On considering his history, one would be hard pressed to argue against the proposition that he’s earned the right to tell that I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Ritalin, … joke as often as he likes.
58. I love to speak with Leonard. He’s a sport
Not every entertainer or musical genius is tolerant of jokes made at his or her expense. Thankfully, Leonard Cohen is not just any old entertainer/musical genius. Let me tell you how I know.
In November 2009, I met Leonard Cohen. I should point out that Leonard Cohen was then and continues to be today a performer whom I sincerely admire but one whom I also, on occasion – well, used as a means to a cheap laugh.
In 10 Unbelievable Secrets About Leonard Cohen, for example, I may have implied that
The inspiration for the Leonard Cohen song, “Suzanne,” was actually Dolly Parton. Her service as Cohen’s muse was kept secret because of her personal respect for and professional dependence on her partner at that time, Porter Wagoner. Also, the line from “Suzanne” that reads “And she feeds you tea and oranges” was originally “And her breasts are big as melons.”
And, I did publish several posts featuring exchanges between Anjani, Leonard Cohen’s romantic partner, and me suggesting she join me in a proposed three-way or four-way (this, and the selection of the other female participants, were issues being negotiated) rather than stay with him.11
According to Leonard Cohen Finds Love – Quiescently Frozen On A Stick, a post I wrote, the original words to “Everybody Knows” were Popsicle-inspired and went something like this:
Everybody licks raspberry ‘sicles
Everybody licks lime and pistachio
Everybody licks blueberry and chocolate
Even with a mustachio.
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many flavors you just had to eat
You must come quick,
I’ll give you one more lick.
Everybody licks, everybody licks
When it drips it sticks
So everybody licks
Everybody licks, everybody licks
To get their kicks
With impeccable timing, I proposed an International Showdown – Title Match For Goofiest Leonard Cohen Music Video in an early morning post the same day the title of a later entry read Report Of Leonard Cohen Collapsing On Stage In Valencia.
It goes on. While others applauded Cohen’s entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I chose to focus on the difficulty he and the other candidates had finding the route to the stage for the induction ceremony.12 I’ve offered to fix his problematic lyrics, improve his poorly staged concerts, and salvage his incompetently managed merchandising, the solution to which included the creation of The Leonard Cohen Bobble Head.
I also claimed that “Take This Waltz” was originally an embittered bit of doggerel called “Take This Waltz and Shove It” that Cohen wrote in response to taunts about his difficulty in learning to dance,13 suggested that an ideal 75th birthday gift for him would be significant helpings of crack and anal sex, 14 and for good measure, confessed that “Leonard Cohen”was only a hoax I dreamed up as a lark:15
I am the first to admit that it never occurred to me that anyone would fall for a story about a Canadian folk singer in his 70s whose concerts all over the world routinely sell out with tickets going for $100-500 (and multiples of that once the scalpers come into play), who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and who has had and continues to have a reputation as a ladies’ man.
In any case, some folks don’t take well to such joshing.
Yet, when I am introduced to Leonard Cohen, he – and there is no other word that fits – beams,16 appears genuinely excited, as though there is nothing else he would rather be doing than meeting me, and reaches out to shake my hand.
Like I said, I love to speak with Leonard. He’s a sport.
58. As the lads from ZZ Top would put it, Leonard Cohen is “a sharp-dressed man”
As evidence for this contention, I submit, in addition to a couple of self-evident photos, these quotes from the press on Cohen’s appearance during the 2008-2010 Tour:
… he cut a striking figure in his dark suit and charcoal-colored fedora.17
… meticulously dressed in a tailored suit and hat …18
Dressed to the nines in a dark suit with bolo tie and fedora…19
… spiffily attired in a dark suit and hat that made him look like a film noir detective …20
… dressed in a sharp suit befitting a gangster …21
With his trim dark suit and a fedora pulled low over his eyes, Leonard Cohen looked less like a poet and singer-songwriter Monday night and more like a veteran song-and-dance man working the boards.22
Cohen made a dapper mystic. Nattily attired in a dark suit …23
Dressed in a snazzy suit and dress hat, an outfit that looked borrowed from Cary Grant’s closet … 24
But for a rock star, which is in effect his new job, he was as physically reticent as the dark tailored suits he always wears …25
My two personal favorite descriptions of Cohen’s concert apparel follow:
The first standing ovation was for strolling on stage and looking so good in a dark suit and fedora …26
Leonard Cohen. The “God in the black suit” ["Gott im schwarzen Anzug"], as he was called by the Swiss press …27
Those Swiss know how to turn a phrase.
60. Leonard Cohen’s famous blue Sharpie
As the astute Leonard Cohen observer Avi Elkoni notes in Leonard Cohen, Mel, Tom, LNRDCOHN, & The Bolo Tie Slide – Footnote #2:
I have witnessed two items emerge from the outer pocket of Leonard’s guitar case: A sharpie, for those fans that desire an autograph but are hopelessly unprepared for it, and (get this): a white magic marker (one of those paint-type markers) for those autograph-seeking fans who want their autograph on the dark blue cover of the “Live in London” CD/DVD set. After seeing that, I added to the list of things I thought I knew about LC “well prepared”.
This photo of Leonard Cohen, taken December 2010 in Las Vegas by Judy Green of Sweet Cottage Charm, displays an impressive depth of detail (e.g., the stitching and texture of Cohen’s coat and hat are evident as are the wrinkles on his face) despite being shot with an iPhone. It also captures an interesting perspective on Leonard Cohen as he reaches out to accommodate an autograph request.
In addition, DrHGuy can supply further informational detail to this depiction of Leonard Cohen during his two nights in the wilderness of Las Vegas in the form of what he likes to call …
The Parable Of The Sacrificial Sharpie Surrender
The Sharpie in the photo belonged, at the moment the image was created, to Mandy MacLeod, who carried it and her treasured softback UK edition of Leonard Cohen’s Book Of Longing “in [her] bag at all times, on the off chance [she] would bump into LC and ask him to sign it” – which is, of course, exactly what happened.
Then, as Mandy reports,
I made the ultimate sacrifice with that pen – I let my friend Gwen Langford keep it after LC had signed our books, photos, iPhone covers, [censored] – oops, that last bit is wishful thinking.
So, boys and girls, what have we learned from this tale? Well, we learned that if one is a devout fan perpetually prepared for a chance encounter with Leonard Cohen – especially if one enhances the odds of such a random meeting by traveling across the Atlantic and most of the US to attend the final World Tour concerts – providence can indeed grant such a petition. And, if one is also pure of spirit, albeit a tad salacious of mind, that Sharpie-relic can bond a friendship.
Even when the Canadian singer-songwriter is enjoying a casual, solitary lunch, he has a Sharpie in his pocket.
For the story of another St Leonard Sharpie sanctification, see The Leonard Cohen Encounter, A Fable By S Elkoni.
The final photo of a postprandial Cohen is from Aleim Magazine
- Who Held A Gun To Leonard Cohen’s Head? by Tim de Lisle. The Guardian, 16 September 2004 [↩]
- Nadel, Ira. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. Pantheon; 1st edition (October 8, 1996) 245-6 [↩]
- Other sources argue, less convincingly, that Cohen’s depression was in evidence since age nine, apparently confusing a possible contributing cause of depression, the death of Cohen’s father that year, with the onset of the disorder itself. [↩]
- Nadel, Ira Bruce. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. University of Texas Press, 2007. p 48 [↩]
- A Happy Man by Mireille Silcott Saturday Night, Canada. September 15, 2001 [↩]
- Synergie With Jean-Luc Esse And Leonard Cohen, France- Inter, October 6, 1997. Translated From French By Nick Halliwell, UK [↩]
- International Herald Tribune. Paris, 4 November 1968 [↩]
- A Happy Man by Mireille Silcott, Saturday Night, Canada. September 15, 2001 [↩]
- I Never Discuss My Mistresses Or My Tailors by Nick Paton Walsh. The Observer, October 14, 2001 [↩]
- OK, I slipped in a psychiatric reference; Freud saw the replacement of “neurotic suffering” by “common unhappiness” as the sign of a successful psychoanalytic treatment [↩]
- See Anjani And DrHGuy [↩]
- See Inductees Enter Wrong Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall [↩]
- See 10 Unbelievable Secrets About Leonard Cohen [↩]
- See Leonard Cohen Birthday Gift Registry #1. Crack and Anal Sex [↩]
- See After The Leonard Cohen Thing, Heck Of A Guy To Lie Low On April Fool’s Day [↩]
- I once knew a woman who could, with a glance, make any man feel as though he was the only person in the universe of significance to her. My assumption is that she and Leonard Cohen never met. If they did, they would be perpetually locked in each others traction beams. [↩]
- He’s Better Late Than Ever By James Reed. Boston Globe, June 29, 2008 [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Performs In Israel Despite Political Controversy by Ian Deitch. Billboard, Sept 24, 2009 [↩]
- Concert Review: Leonard Cohen at the Beacon Theatre by Donald Gibson. Blogcritics, Feb 24, 2009 [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Beacon Theatre, NYC (Show Review) by Jim Allen. Prefix Magazine. Feb 20, 2009 [↩]
- Leonard Cohen Calls Down Angels In The Palace Of Caesar by Michael Mishak. Las Vegas Sun, Nov 13, 2009 [↩]
- Sold-Out Tampa Crowd Sees Leonard Cohen Command Stage by Curtis Ross The Tampa Tribune, October 20, 2009 [↩]
- In A Rare Appearance, Leonard Cohen Sings Of All Kinds Of Love During A Marathon Concert At The Allen Theatre John Soeder, The Plain Dealer October 26, 2009 [↩]
- Leonard Cohen in San Jose, CA by Jim Harrington. Live Review, Nov 16, 2009 [↩]
- The Successful Poet by Lionel Tiger. Forbes, May 20, 2009 [↩]
- Cohen Cooler Than Ever By James Reaney. London Free Press, May 25, 2009 [↩]
- Concert at The Montreux Jazz Festival Montreux, Switzerland, July 8, 2008 by Christof Graf. Leonard Cohen Files. 2008 [↩]