Leonard Cohen Overrated As Pessimist?

The Leonard Cohen Corrections Agency

The Leonard Cohen Corrections Agency is a privately-funded organization dedicated to the rectification of inaccuracies promulgated by Leonard Cohen, no small task given the Canadian singer-songwriter’s admission that “I don’t want to let the facts get in the way of the truth.”1

Has Leonard Cohen Earned The Glass-Is-Half-Empty Badge?


Leonard Cohen has long been accounted a major league pessimist.  He has, in fact, been awarded a number of titles such as “Godfather Of Gloom,” “The Poet Laureate Of Pessimism,” “The Grocer Of Despair,” “The Godfather Of Gloom,” And “The Prince Of Bummers.” But does he deserve those accolades?

Perhaps the most frequently referenced quote used to indicate Cohen’s sense of desolation is the statement he made during a 1992 French TV interview:

I don’t consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked.

Now, there is a certain charm in Cohen’s clever claim that he doesn’t qualify as a common pessimist because his negativity is more profound than that of your everyday doubting Thomas or Gloomy Gus who only fears the worst will happen; Cohen, in contrast, maintains he is certain the worst has already taken place.

But let’s see how Mr Cohen’s declaration of morbidity measures up to the annunciation propounded by Arthur Schopenhauer in Parerga und Paralipomena (1851):2

We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness…. It may be said of it: ‘It is bad today and every day it will get worse, until the worst of all happens.’

Now, that’s pessimism. Comparing Cohen to Schopenhauer, one begins to understand why the London Evening Standard called the Canadian singer-songwriter “God’s Dearest Sunbeam.”3

In 1994, Cohen relegated himself to the rank of minor poet:4

If you’re going to think of yourself in this game, or in this tradition, and you start getting a swelled head about it, then you’ve really got to think about who you’re talking about. You’re not just talking about Randy Newman, who’s fine, or Bob Dylan, who’s sublime, you’re talking about King David, Homer, Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, you’re talking about the embodiment of our highest possibility. So I don’t think it’s particularly modest or virtuous to think of oneself as a minor poet.

Similarly, I submit that, compared with the professional pessimists, Leonard Cohen is only a minor prophet of doom.

Credit Due Department
: The Glass-Is-Half-Empty Badge was found at Pessimism for Your Small Business

  1. See Leonard Cohen Tells Sexologist About His Dog, His Mother, His Impermanence, Seduction, Men As Cocker Spaniels, and Rules Between Men & Women

    Cases already completed have ranged from cleaning up simple verbal typos such as Cohen’s misidentification of the decade in which he met the young Spaniard who taught him guitar lessons (it was the 50s, not the 60s – Leonard Cohen: The Prince Of Asturias Awards Speech With Annotations & Commentary) to setting right mistaken references such as the name of the fast food chain that ran the 1984 “Where’s The Beef?” advertising campaign (it was a promotion for Wendy’s not Burger King or McDonald’s as Mr. Cohen stated – Rarely Viewed Video – Leonard Cohen On His Atrocious Voice, Dylan, Lead Belly, Ice-T, Songwriting, Love, & Where’s The Beef) to spotlighting inconsistencies such as Mr. Cohen taking both sides in a debate about the relationship of his songs and his poems:

    … I regard everything I write as being set to music, almost as if I hear a giant guitar accompanying me! (Leonard Cohen Seventeen. March 1968)

    I never did set poetry to music. … I got stuck with that. It was a bum rap. I never set a poem to music. I’m not that hopeless. I know the difference between a poem and a song! (“Porridge? Lozenge? Syringe?” by Adrian Deevoy, Q Magazine, 1991) []

  2. This English translation was found in The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims by Arthur Schopenhauer. T. Bailey Saunders, translator: 1995. []
  3. London Evening Standard, 13 May 2011. []
  4. Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen’s head? by Tim de Lisle. The Guardian: Sept 16, 2004 []

One response to “Leonard Cohen Overrated As Pessimist?

  1. Many are not aware of his wicked sense of humour either.