Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

The Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech Experience

As noted in the preceding post, Leonard Cohen & Commencement, educational institutions today face a commencement crisis – finding speakers for graduation ceremonies who will prove

  1. Acceptable to students and faculty who enthusiastically survey the records of scheduled speakers in hopes of finding evidence of political misdeeds and
  2. Important, famous, powerful, or, preferably, legendary enough to serve as indicators of the power and prestige of the inviting university.

(It’s considered a nice bonus if the speaker is capable of delivering a sentient talk.) Happily, DrHGuy offers a solution: The Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech Experience.

Now, as previously discussed, convincing Leonard Cohen to give a live speech is a daunting task and, frankly, were we that persuasive in dealing with the Canadian singer-songwriter, we would be talking about Mr Cohen warbling tunes in our backyard rather than chatting to a group of folks wearing robes and mortarboards. Consequently, the living, breathing icon that is Leonard Cohen is presented symbolically by what we like to call …

The Leonard Cohen Figure Of Speech

The Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech Agency has contracted with Dominique BOILE, owner of the reasonable facsimile of Leonard Cohen shown atop this post, to rent the figure to speaker-challenged colleges for display during the commencement address. (We anticipate the availability of Leonard Cohen holograms for the 2015 graduation season.)  The use of the cardboard representation not only offers availability (including simultaneous appearances at multiple commencements) but also generates a considerable decrease in expenses (e.g., the cost of a FedEx Overnight Package Vs the cost of a United Airlines First Class Seat).

Of course, an implicit requirement for The Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech Experience is a speech. To wit, …

The Leonard Cohen Prefigured Speech

DrHGuy has constructed, from quotations by Mr Cohen, a suitable speech, chock-full of advice set forth in the eloquent yet pithy style favored on such occasions to be read by a dulcet-voiced narrator standing behind the representation of Cohen. The basic outline, with subject headings added but sans segues, follows:


I didn’t come to [insert name of institution] to fool ya.1

On Education & Culture

What our training, what our culture, our religious institutions, our educational and cultural institutions should be about is preparing the heart for that journey outside of the cage of the ribs. You know, I think we’re doing pretty well. I mean, it’s not the worst culture that I’ve ever heard about. We’re not, you know, dumping people in volcanoes.2

On Work

This is one’s work. Everything else is kind of shipwrecked, bankrupt. So all you have left is your work – and that’s what you’re doing most of the time. That’s the only area which you can somehow govern or clarify. All other things remain somewhat mysterious and messy.3

If a man doesn’t have a standard of excellence his work becomes meaningless.4


There are some people who come to me for some illumination on their problems, I guess they feel I’m writing about some of the things they themselves are going through. But I don’t usually have much help to give – there isn’t much you can say to someone in the midst of their own crises.5

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day6

My advice is to learn a trade.7

Hang in there kid. [Advice the Leonard Cohen who created Ten New Songs would give the Leonard Cohen who created Songs of Leonard Cohen] 8

Never make a decision when you need to pee.9

[The best advice I ever received:] The older you get, the lonelier you become and the deeper the love you need – It’s something I can validate.10

My advice is highly valued. For instance, don’t piss on a large pine cone. It may not be a pine cone. If you are not clear about which spiders are poisonous, kill them all. The daddy long legs is not a true spider, it actually belongs to the Seratonio crime family. Although insects value their lives, and even though their relentless industry is an example for all of us, they rarely have a thought about death, and when they do it is not accompanied by strong emotions, as it is with you and me. They hardly discriminate between life and death. In this sense they are much like mystics, and like mystics, many are poisonous. It would be difficult to make love to an insect, especially if you are well endowed. As for my own experience, not one single insect has ever complained. If you are not sure which mystics are poisonous, it is best to kill the one you come across with a blow to the head using a hammer, or a show, or a large old vegetable, such as a petrified beet.11

I don’t like taking advice. It’s not that I don’t like it, it seems that I somehow can’t assimilate it when I get it. I never know when I’m getting advice whether it’s good or bad advice.12

This is the real human predicament. This universe is only to be tolerated, it’s not to be solved.13

The Future

First of all nothing will happen
And a little later
Nothing will happen again14

You may believe you have some control over [your] decisions, but certainly not the consequences. But you live your life as if it’s real … as if you’re directing it, but with the intuitive understanding that it’s unfolding as it should and you are not running the show.15

The dismal situation and the future – there’s no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards your self and your job and your love. Ring the bells that still can ring.16

People ask “What’s your advice on the future?” – and I say, “Duck!”17


This is not the place where you make things perfect. Neither your marriage nor your work nor anything. Nor your love of G-d nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect, and, worse: There is a crack in everything that you can put together — physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But, that’s where the light gets in; and, that’s where the resurrection is…that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation with the broken-ness of the thing.18


And I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn’t worth a dime19

I guess that’s it friends. I had so much to tell you but it’s closing time. I hope you have the blessings of love, surrounded by family and friends throughout your life. But, if this is not your life, may the blessings find you in your solitude20

  1. From stage version of “Hallelujah” []
  2. From Leonard Cohen Interviewed by Anjelica Huston. Interview magazine: November, 1995. Accessed 11 May 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  3. Leonard Cohen quoted in marketing material for Tower Of Song tribute album (1995) []
  4. From The Sounds Interview 1971 by Billy Walker. Sounds: October 23, 1971 []
  5. Suffering For Fan And Profit – The Return Of Leonard Cohen by Mick Brown. Sounds: July 3 1976, Accessed 26 April 2014 at LeonardCohenFiles []
  6. From Good Advice For Someone Like Me by Leonard Cohen []
  7. From “Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two” by James L. Harmon. See Leonard Cohen’s Advice To Youth. []
  8. Online chat with fans in October 2001 []
  9. From Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen []
  10. Q Magazine, September 1994 []
  11. From Book Of Longing By Leonard Cohen []
  12. From An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel: Winter 1969. Found at Speaking Cohen. []
  13. From Interview / Leonard Cohen By Alan Twigg. Essay Date: 1979, 1984, 1985. ABC Bookworld []
  14. From Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen []
  15. From Look Who’s Back at 67: Gentle Leonard Cohen by Frank DiGiacomo. New York Observer: Oct 15, 2001. []
  16. 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. Found at the boundless Speaking Cohen. []
  17. From Maverick Spirit: Leonard Cohen by Jim O’Brien. B-Side Magazine: August/September 1993. Found at Speaking Cohen []
  18. 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. Found at the boundless Speaking Cohen. []
  19. From Closing Time by Leonard Cohen []
  20. Final blessing at Oct 31, 2012 Leonard Cohen concert in Austin []

Leonard Cohen & Commencement


Leonard Cohen As Student

While Leonard Cohen’s own record as a student is, strictly speaking, tangential to commencement speakers & speeches, the primary topic of this post, it seems worthwhile to use this opportunity to summarize Cohen’s academic career.

Westmount High School

Not only did Leonard Cohen attend Westmount High School in Montreal, but he and the rest of his 1951 graduating class were memorialized in the school yearbook, Vox Ducum. And, thanks to the efforts to peddle this publication via the Internet (asking price: USD $3500), one can view the senior photo and review the condensed high school biography of Leonard Norman Cohen, class of 1951.

The blurb beneath Leonard Cohen’s photo reads


“We cannot conquer fear yet we can yield to it in such a manner as to be greater than it.”

“Quin” says: “Sir, can I make an announcement?” Pet Avers.: The coke machine, Pastime: Leading sing-songs at intermissions. Ambition: World famous orator. Prob. Dest.: McGill Cheerleader. Prototype: The little man who is always there. Hobby: Photography.

Activities: Students’ Council President, Menorah Club, Art Club, Vox Ducum, Current Events Club, Y.M.H.A;. Cheerleader.

In addition, the sales pitch notes that the School Theatrical Production entries

… show “Len” Cohen in the cast “Comes The Revolution” – as Julius Caesar in “Death of Julius Caesar” & as the producer for “God Save The King”… as Chairman of the Students Production Committee for “You Can’t Take It With You” [and] as Ticket Sales Manager for the play.

So, we learn that the pre-iconic Leonard Cohen was President of the Students’ Council, enjoyed photography and leading sing-songs, and was heavily involved in the school’s theater program. We – or at least those who share DrHGuy’s perspective – are unsurprised to have found that young Len entertained an ambition to become a “world famous orator” but are unsure how he came to harbor an aversion to the coke machine. That the accuracy of the yearbook staff’s prognostic capacity, vis-à-vis Cohen becoming a McGill cheerleader, has proven faulty seems somehow reassuring.

McGill University

At 17, Leonard Cohen entered McGill University.  While not an excellent student with respect to his coursework, Cohen was considered a star in the English Department on the basis of his writing. He was also president of the debating union and the ZBT fraternity.


Leonard Cohen’s McGill Yearbook Entry

This excerpt from Poet Writer Singer Lover Cohen by Paul Grescoe1 is helpful:


Columbia University

After leaving McGill Cohen  enrolled in the Master’s level General Studies Program at Columbia University from 1956 to 1957. Cohen himself describes entering Columbia as “something of a lark, since I had finished McGill only by supplemental examinations and getting bare passes.”2 At Columbia, he wrote poetry, started a short-lived literary magazine called The Phoenix, began and ended at least three different romances (a fellow student, a care worker at a nearby children’s summer camp, and the same camp’s nurse), and, a year later, dropped out.

Honorary Degree

Cohen received an honorary LLD from Dalhousie University in University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Commencement Speaker As Endangered Species

College commencement speaker has become a high risk profession. The most recent examples of prominent victims of student and faculty protests are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, and Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, all of whom have backed out of graduation gigs at prestige universities. Adding to the confusion, students, especially those at elite institutions, express loud disappointment if the speakers don’t reek of status. This instance, excerpted from Elite college students protest their elite commencement speakers by Amanda Hess (Slate: May 14, 2014) [bolding mine], outlines the problem:

When Smith announced that former president Ruth Simmons would be replacing Lagarde as commencement speaker, some students claimed that the choice of Simmons was equally offensive (when she was president of Smith College in the run up to the financial crisis, Simmons also served on the board of Goldman Sachs). But others expressed disappointment that their commencement had been downgraded to “forgettable.”

DrHGuy, whose college commencement speaker was Dennis Weaver, best known for his roles as Chester Goode, Matt Dillon’s trusty aide in Gunsmoke, and as the titular star of McCloud,3 is not unsympathetic to the plight of these silver-spooned graduates-to-be and has devised a solution that will confer upon any commencement ceremony the required dignity, elegance, erudition, apolitical appeal, and prestige: The Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech.

How The Light Gets In

Now, as Mr Cohen himself recommends, one should forget a perfect offering – i.e., convincing Leonard Cohen to give any speech of substance, let alone a commencement speech, turns out to be quite the task. When he won, along with Chuck Berry, the first PEN New England Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award, his acceptance of the prize from Salman Rushdie, including the smooch with Rushdie and a speech consisting of a joke about his age, a thank-you, and two Chuck Berry compliments, took less than 2.5 minutes to deliver.4 His acceptance speech into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (March 10, 2008) was primarily a recitation of the lyrics of Tower of Song.5. Think an honorary degree will do the trick? Cohen turned down a proffered honorary doctorate from the University of Ghent.6 He did show up to accept the 2012 Glenn Gould Prize with its $50,000 check – then he donated the money to the Canada Council for the Arts and gave a four minute speech, most of which was an anecdote about his inability to write up his 1963 interview of Glenn Gould followed by his assurance to those about to perform in his tribute concert that 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.”7

Happily, DrHGuy has a solution that will be revealed in the next post:

The Leonard Cohen Commencement Speech

Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen receiving honorary degree posted May 22, 2014 by Dalhousie News via Twitter

  1. Poet Writer Singer Lover Cohen by Paul Grescoe. Canadian Magazine: February 10, 1968. Accessed at Speaking Cohen []
  2. Ten or More Questions I Should Have Asked Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel []
  3. Dennis Weaver is arguably the most famous alumnus of Joplin Junior College. Joplin Junior College became, some time after Weaver graduated, Missouri Southern College, which, by an incredible coincidence of Thomas Hardy proportions, is DrHGuy’s own alma mater. []
  4. See Video: Salman Rushdie Presents Leonard Cohen PEN Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award []
  5. See Video: Lou Reed Introduces Leonard Cohen At Cohen’s 2008 Induction Into Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame []
  6. See Leonard Cohen Turns Down Offer Of Honorary Doctorate From University Of Ghent []
  7. See Leonard Cohen Wins Hearts As Well As Glenn Gould Prize With Gracious Donation & Speech []

Leonard Cohen’s Feb 26, 1964 Letter To Redmond Wallis: “Victimized By 50 Poems,” “Quebec Revolution Continues,” “Goodby Forever”

This is another letter from the correspondence between Leonard Cohen to Redmond Wallis, a writer from New Zealand, who was Cohen’s friend as well as his fellow resident on Hydra. At the time this letter was written, Leonard Cohen was living in Montreal, and Wallis was at his home on Hydra. Other posts about the Cohen-Wallis correspondence are listed at the end of this entry and can also be found by clicking on Correspondence.

In addition to the text of the letter, the stationery used is also of interest. The letterhead is that of Orion Films, located in Montreal. Ongoing readers may recall that Leonard Cohen’s Dec 11, 1963 Letter To Wallis mentioned a position as  assistant director for a film to begin Spring 1964 – which may or may not have something to do with this stationery.

Click on the image to enlarge.


Other posts featuring the Cohen-Wallis correspondence:

Credit Due Department: This letter is archived at the National Library of New Zealand – Wellington

Coldplay Borrows Lyrics From Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” For “True Love”


And I wish you could have let me know
What’s really going on below
From “True Love” by Coldplay1

While the following article, An Uncoupling, but the Band Plays On by Jon Caramanica (New York Times: May 6, 2014), doesn’t note the derivation of these lines, it appears clear that the words “And I wish you could have let me know / What’s really going on below” from Coldplay’s “True Love” originated in the live version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as “There was a time you let me know / What’s really going on below.”

Supporting this notion, Coldplay previously acknowledged using the first lines from Anthem by Leonard Cohen2 to begin “Up With The Birds,” the last track on their Mylo Xyloto album by formally listing Cohen as one of the co-writers – along with Berryman, Buckland, Champion, Martin, and Eno. (See Lines From Leonard Cohen’s Anthem Open Coldplay’s New Song Up With The Birds)

Last month, word of the impending dissolution of the marriage of Chris Martin, frontman of Coldplay, and Gwyneth Paltrow arrived with an emphatic thud on her website, “It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” the brief statement began. The post was credited to “Gwyneth & Chris,” but it did not have the feel of a shared reveal. It ended with a plea: “We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

That’s not how privacy works, exactly. And while Ms. Paltrow may have benefited from first-mover advantage, doubtless she had an idea of what was coming: “Ghost Stories” (Parlophone/Atlantic), the sixth studio album by Coldplay and the one on which Mr. Martin quite nakedly wrestles with the crumbling of his marriage, and in so doing, forcibly steers his band into new territory — a man, and by extension a band, deflated. …

What happens when those parts are shoved to the fore is evident on several songs from “Ghost Stories” and was also clear Monday night at the Beacon Theater, where Coldplay performed its only scheduled New York concert of the year,  playing several of the new songs, one for the first time anywhere.

That was “True Love,” which Mr. Martin described as the band’s favorite song it had ever written. He asked that everyone put their camera phones away and not record it, so that it didn’t leak to YouTube, and so that it could be just a moment shared between artist and fan.

He did not request a vow of silence from music critics, though, so here goes: “True Love” is eerie and uncomfortable, a literal begging. “I wish you could have let me know/What’s really going on below/I’ve lost you now, you let me go.”

The entire article is available at the link.

Coldplay – True Love
From Ghost Stories


  1. Complete lyrics:

    For a second, I was in control
    I had it once, I lost it though
    And all along the fire below would rise

    And I wish you could have let me know
    What’s really going on below
    I’ve lost you now, you let met go but one last time

    Tell me you love me, if you don’t then lie to me lie to me

    Remember once upon a time, when I was yours and you were blind
    The fire would sparkle in your eyes and mine

    so tell me you love me and if you don’t then lie to me, lie to me
    just tell me you love, if you don’t then lie to me, lie to me
    if you don’t then lie to me, lie to me
    And call it true, call it true love
    Call it true, call it true love[bolding mine] []

  2. From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

    The birds they sang
    at the break of day
    Start again
    I heard them say []

Graham Lock’s NME Review Of 1979 Leonard Cohen Hammersmith Odeon Show Now Online

Leonard Cohen at Hammersmith Odeon 1979 (Photo by by Terry Lott)

Leonard Cohen at Hammersmith Odeon 1979 (Photo by by Terry Lott)

“The Buster Keaton Of Despair?”

Leonard Cohen played the Hammersmith Odeon in London on Dec 4, 5, and 6, 1979. Graham Lock’s NME review of the Dec 4, 1979 concert has not, as far as I can determine, been available online until now.

Note: The photo of Leonard Cohen atop this post and the shot of the theater were not part of the NME article. Click on images to enlarge.

Hammersmith Odeon, London – 1979

Hammersmith Odeon, London – 1979

Leonard Cohen – Hammersmith Odeon
by Graham Lock
New Musical Express: Dec 12, 1979


Credit Due Department: The image of the review is an edited version of a photo by Steve found at Flickr. The photo of the Hammersmith Odeon was found at the Sting web site.

“My Way” By Sid Vicious 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.

My Way – The Sid Vicious Way


I never liked this song ["My Way"] except when Sid Vicious did it. Sung straight, it somehow deprives the appetite of a certain taste we’d like to have on our lips. When Sid Vicious did it, he provided that other side to the song; the certainty, the self- congratulation, the daily heroism of Sinatra’s version is completely exploded by this desperate, mad, humorous voice. I can’t go round in a raincoat and fedora looking over my life saying I did it my way — well, for 10 minutes in some American bar over a gin and tonic you might be able to get away with it. But Sid Vicious’s rendition takes in everybody; everybody is messed up like that, everybody is the mad hero of his own drama. It explodes the whole culture this self-presentation can take place in, so it completes the song for me.  – Leonard Cohen1

Sid Vicious – My Way
Video from SexPistolsArchives

  1. Cohen’s Way by Mat Snow. The Guardian: February 1988. Found at the indispensable resource known as Speaking Cohen. []