Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: #3. Artistic Design – Resonance


Note: This post is the final entry in a series of essays considering the question, “What makes a song a Leonard Cohen song?” An introduction and links to all published posts in the series can be found at Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song: Summary Page.

The Ultimate Goal: Resonance

As discussed previously, Leonard Cohen takes great stock in the transformative properties of the art of songwriting:

A cry of pain in itself is just that. It can affect you or you can turn away from it. But a piece of work that treats the experience that produced the cry of pain is a different matter altogether. The cry is transformed, alchemised, by the work by a certain objectivity which doesn’t surrender the emotion but gives it form. That’s the difference between life and art.1

The question then arises, “What is the purpose of this transformation?” The raison d’etre of Cohen’s songwriting and his performance style, the goal of this transformation wrought by the craftsmanship and tradition of art is resonance with both the listener and the songwriter. Without resonance, songs are no more than catchy slogans.

It’s just how they resonate [that makes a lyric good]. You know they resonate with a truth that is hard to locate but which is operating with some force in your life. I often feel that about a Dylan song or a song even with Edith Piaf…the words are going too fast for me to really understand them in French but you feel that they are talking about something that is true, that you can’t locate by yourself and someone has located it for you and you just feel like you’ve put in the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle for that moment. That a moment has been clarified. The moment that you’re in at the moment that you’re listening to it. Yeah, the pieces fit…Isn’t that wonderful when all the pieces fit?2

It’s hard to make a commentary [on A Thousand Kisses deep], because you’ve worked so long establishing exactly the right resonance for every single line, the commentaries are more spontaneous and ill-thought.3

“I don’t have to develop an articulated position on politics, Canadian or universal. I am already embraced by the Almighty. I am already embraced by cultures, many cultures. My work is to stay alive and raw to the kinds of voices that are speaking to me continually and to turn them into a voice that I can understand, that I can cling to, and that I can stand behind.4

Cohen, in fact, views syllogistic arguments as counterproductive:

I think you work out something. I wouldn’t call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don’t really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are and as wholesome as the ideas they promote are, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart. I never set out to write a didactic song. It’s just my experience. All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience.5

The most obvious examples of this sort of transformation are songs such as “The Future” that conjoin seemingly disparate lyrics and melodies in a manner that captures the listener’s attention and promotes intuitive understanding to produce resonance:

I mean, if I’d just nailed this lyric ["The Future"] to the Church door, like Martin Luther, it might be a cause for some trembling and menace; but, the fact is, it’s married to a hot little dance track. So, you’re going to dance your way through “The Future.” You’re going to dance your way through the whole record because the groove is honoured.6,7

The Power Of Resonance

Because resonance trumps ideas in Leonard Cohen’s songs, his music escapes temporal, intellectual, and political restrictions:

Songs are quite hospitable to different interpretations … You can bring a certain kind of nobility to a depressed lyric, or you can deliver a very affirmative statement like a lamentation … There’s a certain emptiness to my songs that allows for a lot of interpretations. ((Conversations from a Room By Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Retrieved 05 February 2014  from Speaking Cohen))

I don’t have to have a song called ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ I could write a song about conflict and, if I sang it in a peaceful way, then it would have the same message. I don’t like these slogan writers.((Cohen Regrets by Alastair Pirrie. Beat Patrol: December 30, 2008. ][Originally written for the New Musical Express: March 10, 1973.]  Retrieved 05 February 2014  from Speaking Cohen.))

Resonance As End Point

Leonard Cohen uses his skills and the tools of his art to craft songs that are in a harmonic relationship with his audience such that individuals respond with similar sensations, creating feeling of deep empathy, understanding, and comfort.

And that’s what makes a song a Leonard Cohen song.

This concludes the series: Three Characteristics That Make A Song A Leonard Cohen Song


  1. Suffering For Fan And Profit – The Return Of Leonard Cohen by Mick Brown. Sounds: July 3 1976, Accessed 26 April 2014 at LeonardCohenFiles. Bolding mine. []
  2. Aurora Online With Leonard Cohen by Marco Adria. Aurora: July, 1990. []
  3. Our Poet of the Apocalypse by Brian D. Johnson. Maclean’s: Oct 15, 2001. Bolding mine] []
  4. Leonard Cohen: A Portrait in First Person. Interviewer: Moses Znaimer. CBC, 1988. Accessed 30 April 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  5. Leonard Cohen: ‘All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience’ by Dorian Lynskey. The Guardian: Jan 19, 2010. []
  6. Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz. Transcript from a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. The transcript was prepared by Judith Fitzgerald. Accessed 21 May 2014 at Speaking Cohen. []
  7. Similarly, in “Everybody Knows,” Cohen lists the horrid facts of contemporary life, i.e., the dice are loaded, the good guys lost … all set in jaunty quatrains []

Bob Dylan’s 1988 Covers Of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah


Bob Dylan – 1988

Leonard Cohen Sings “Hallelujah” To Bob Dylan

It’s [Hallelujah is] a rather joyous song. I like very much the last verse. I remember singing it to Bob Dylan after his last concert in Paris. The morning after, I was having coffee with him and we traded lyrics. Dylan especially liked this last verse “And even though it all went wrong, I stand before the Lord of song With nothing on my lips but Hallelujah”
- Leonard Cohen, from 1985 interview published in Paroles et Musiques

Dylan went on to be one of the first artists to cover “Hallelujah,” performing it twice in his 1988 concert tour.

Of course, no post about Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and “Hallelujah” would be complete without the anecdote, a classic in Cohen’s repertoire, about the contrast in the time required by Dylan and Cohen to compose a song. The story appears in several Cohen interviews. The following iteration is from Leonard Cohen, Los Angeles 1992, a section of “Songwriters On Songwriting” by Paul Zollo:

That ["Hallelujah"] was a song that took me [Leonard Cohen] a long time to write. Dylan and I were having coffee the day after his concert in Paris a few years ago and he was doing that song in concert. And he asked me how long it took to write it. And I told him a couple of years. I lied actually. It was more than a couple of years.

Then I praise a song of his, “I and I,” and asked him how long it had taken and he said, “Fifteen minutes.” [Laughter]

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Forum de Montréal, Montréal: July 8, 1988
Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen Cover) by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Bob Dylan – Hallelujah
Greek Theatre, Los Angeles: August 4, 1988
Hallelujah by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

Note: I first posted about Bob Dylan’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on . Various recordings of this cover have appeared online only to be disappear again. Alerted by Juanma Lopez Andreu to a YouTube version1 that has survived online since Jan 2014, I am re-posting the material along with the audio recordings of Dylan’s two 1988 covers.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Ken Friedman


  1. The YouTube version is the audio track from the July 8, 1988 Montreal rendition attached to a single still photo of Dylan and thus offers no advantages over the audio tracks embedded on this post []

Van Morrison’s “Veedon Fleece” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox


Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

- Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece

Veedon Fleece

Unsurprisingly, Leonard Cohen is a fan of Van Morrison.1 When asked to name those he admired on the “contemporary music scene today [1975],” the Canadian singer-songwriter’s responded

I also like Van Morrison very much, including his superb ‘Veedon Fleece’ effort.2

Recorded shortly after Van Morrison’s sudden divorce from wife Janet Rigsbee, Veedon Fleece was released in October, 1974, only a month after his acclaimed double live album, It’s Too Late to Stop Now. Perhaps as a result of the timing, Veedon Fleece is typically included in the “lost masterpiece” category. This album marks a return to the style of songwriting found in Van Morrison Astral Weeks.

Since Leonard Cohen’s accolade covers the entire album, I’ve take the prerogative of selecting as a representative track my own favorite song from Veedon Fleece:3 Streets of Arklow.

Van Morrison – Streets of Arklow


  1. See Into The Mystic Leonard Cohen – Van Morrison Connection []
  2. Cohen’s New Skin by Harvey Kubernik & Justin Pierce (Melody Maker, March 1, 1975) []
  3. The entire album is on a single YouTube playlist: Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece []

The (Big) Guns Of Leonard Cohen


The Guns Of Leonard Cohen Supplement

When I came across these photos of a very young Leonard Cohen and his sister Esther posing with military artillery, I immediately realized they were an essential augmentation to the collection of posts about Leonard Cohen & Guns.


And, the association of the Canadian singer-songwriter with this sort of weapon called to mind this newspaper cartoon, labeled “Tanks For The Memory,” portraying Leonard Cohen during the Yom Kippur War.


The text accompanying the cartoon follows:

Cohen Into Action
A cable from Uri Alony, editor of a top Israeli pop mag, claims that top international artists and singers have arrived in Israel to perform for soldiers involved in fighting – at the fronts. Among them are … Leonard Cohen – who has written a new song about the war which he sings wherever he performs.1

Also note the eye patch a la Moshe Dayan

Credit Due Department: A special thank you to Maarten Massa for access to the images of Leonard Cohen & the cannons. The “Tanks For The Memory” cartoon and text were retrieved from Jem Treadwell’s Leonard Cohen Scrapbook. The name and date of the newspaper publishing the cartoon are not available.

  1. To comparison, read the real story of Leonard Cohen’s involvement in the Yom Kippur War at Photo Of Leonard Cohen & Ariel Sharon During 1973 Yom Kippur War Plus Leonard Cohen On War and Leonard Cohen On War: 2 Videos About Leonard Cohen & The 1973 Yom Kippur War []

The Marianne Variations Supplement: Leonard Cohen’s 4/4 Version of So Long, Marianne


Leonard Cohen’s Recurring Revisions Of So Long, Marianne

This is a Supplement to The Marianne Variations, a series of posts devoted to the major recurring variations of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” that significantly differ from the versions found on the Songs Of Leonard Cohen and Field Commander Cohen albums. An introduction and links to all published posts in this series as well as the inclusion criteria and the original version of “So Long, Marianne” from the Songs Of Leonard Cohen album can be found at The Marianne Variations Summary Page.

As noted in an earlier post, even before the official completion of The Marianne Variations series, Lennard Torbijn of the Netherlands had astutely identified a Leonard Cohen rendition of “So Long, Marianne” that meets criteria as a distinct version although it does not fit the characteristic pattern of the other members of The Marianne Variations collection.

The 2008 So Long, Marianne Time Shift

Leonard Cohen has performed “So Long, Marianne” hundreds of times in 3/4 time. Twice, however, he has played it in 4/4:1 once on May 23, 2008 in Moncton and again on May 26, 2008 in St. John’s.

As Lennard observes, this rendition fulfills the standards for a major variation of “So Long, Marianne;” i.e., the time signature shift is clearly a significant, planned deviation from the original that alters the listening experience. On the other hand, the Moncton-St. John’s version does not feature any changes in the lyrics, the sine qua non of the other Marianne Variations. Consequently, I am arbitrarily ruling that the 4/4 version of “So Long, Marianne” meets my arbitrary criteria as an entry in The Marianne Variations with the qualification that it is a “time signature variant” rather than a “lyrics variant.”2

Leonard Cohen – So Long, Marianne
St. John’s, Newfoundland: May 26, 2008
Video by StacksMaxwell


  1. Leonard Cohen spoke about his process for transforming another song written in 3/4 time into one performed in 4/4: “['Always'] by Irving Berlin was originally in ¾ time, and I turned it into a 4/4 song, and I always loved it. It’s very beautifully constructed as a song, and I think the lyric is very touching. So, I went in there with Steve Lindsey, a producer, and some really excellent musicians, and we prepared a drink that I had invented called the “Red Needle.” It’s basically, Tequila, Cranberry juice, and lime, and some other elements. And after I had distributed this drink, and people had sampled it, we produced this track.” Source: Interview With Leonard Cohen by by Chris Doritos. KCRW, Los Angeles: February 18, 1997. Retrieved 09 July 2014 from LeonardCohenFiles []
  2. Consider it a Roger Maris asterisk []

Marianne, Leonard Cohen, & The Four Seasons


Come On/So Long, Marianne

In researching the just published Marianne Variations posts devoted to the major recurring variations of  Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne,” I reviewed this excerpt from  I’m Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons (Ecco: 2012):

In June 1967, at Columbia’s Studio C – a converted Greek-Armenian Orthodox church on 30th Street where Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue – Leonard recorded four songs with John Hammond. The songs were  Anyone Can See, which he’d formerly called Just Two People, The Sun is my Son, and a song which had the title ‘Come On, Marianne’.  Marianne told me, “I thought it always was ‘Come on, Marianne, it’s time that we began to laugh and cry’‘ but – unless I’m dreaming – there was a group in California, maybe the Beach Boys, who had similar words in a song. When he wrote it, for me it was like, ‘Come on, if we can just keep this boat afloat.’ And then we found out that we could not.”

Of course, “Come On, Marianne” became “So Long, Marianne,” the classic Leonard Cohen song about leaving – not restoring – a relationship.

I was taken with Marianne’s recall of a group from the same era with “similar words in a song.” I couldn’t find any songs by the Beach Boys or other California groups released during that time with words similar to “Come on, Marianne, it’s time that we began to laugh and cry,” but a 19671 hit by an iconic New Jersey group fits that description and may be the song Marianne had in mind.

“C’mon Marianne,” written by L. Russell Brown and Raymond Bloodworth and popularized by The Four Seasons, hit #9 on the charts in June, 1967. 2 The lyrics follow:

Marianne, Marianne, Marianne, Marianne

Whoa-ho-ho here I am on my knees again
I’ll do anything just to make it right
Say you’ll understand, oh I know you can, c’mon Marianne

No matter what people say, it didn’t happen that way
She was a passing fling and not a permanent thing
Say you’ll understand, oh I know you can

C’mon Marianne, c’mon Marianne
C’mon Marianne, say you can understand
My Marianne, Marianne, Marianne, Marianne

Well now your big brown eyes are all full of tears
From the bitterness of my cheatin’ years
So I hang my head, wish that I was dead

C’mon Marianne, c’mon Marianne
C’mon Marianne, say you can understand
My Marianne
C’mon Marianne, c’mon Marianne
Marianne, Marianne, Marianne, Marianne


The Four Seasons – C’mon Marianne


  1. “So Long, Marianne” was a track on the Songs Of Leonard Cohen album released December 27, 1967 []
  2. “C’mon Marianne” was, in fact, the final US Top Ten hit for The Four Seasons in the 1960s. []