Patrick Leonard’s Role As Leonard Cohen’s Collaborator

The Leonards: Patrick Leonard (left) and Leonard Cohen at work in the latter’s house.

The Leonards: Patrick Leonard (left) and Leonard Cohen at work in the latter’s house.

 Leonard Cohen Collaborations

Although Leonard Cohen’s professional persona is that of the consummate solo artist, he has a long history of collaboration. Sharon Robinson, for example, co-wrote and produced Ten New Songs as well as singing and playing all the instruments on the album.1 A single sentence from Robert Christgau’s commentary on New Skin for Old Ceremony economically attests to the significance of two of Cohen’s best known producers:

Some of the new songs are less than memorable, but the settings, by John Lissauer, have the bizarre feel of John Simon’s “overproduction” on Cohen’s first album, which I always believed suited his studied vulgarity perfectly.

Similarly, Jennifer Warnes, Bob Johnston, Lewis Furey, Anjani Thomas, and Henry Lewy, among other musicians, songwriters, and producers, have influenced Cohen’s music. And, while the impact of some individuals has been limited to a single instance, e.g., Phil Spector’s work on “Death Of A Ladies’ Man,” several collaborators have left their imprints on a number of projects over a period of years.2

The Two Leonards

Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote three songs on the Old Ideas album and co-wrote eight of the nine songs on Popular Problems, is Cohen’s confederate in the current edition of these musical partnerships. The pair, in fact, are said to have “half of another album in the can.”3 This post offers an introduction to the nature of this collaboration.

Patrick Leonard’s efforts have changed  how Leonard Cohen songs are created. Perhaps the most obvious effect has been the acceleration of Cohen’s notoriously slow, laborious development process:

“Some of them came together with shockingly alarming speed,” said Cohen, who recorded many of the songs at his home studio. “Usually, I take a long, long time – partly because of an addiction to perfection, partly just sheer laziness.”4

More fundamentally, Patrick Leonard has also effected a  qualitative shift in Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre. Even listeners who lack the musicological terminology to articulate the distinction find it easy enough to distinguish between the sound of Popular Problems and that of the albums preceding Old Ideas.5 If you love Popular Problems, hate it, or are intensely ambivalent about it, it is likely that Patrick Leonard’s contribution is a major factor in your assessment.

Cohen describes how he and Patrick Leonard worked together on the album:

“It was a very agreeable collaboration because of an absence of ego and an abundance of musical ideas on Patrick’s part.” … “I would have a rhythm in mind and a position” on tempo and accompaniment, Cohen noted. “I had the function of the veto. Most of the musical ideas were Patrick’s, with a bit of modifications. Whether there were horns or violin, all of those things were decided mutually.”6

The mission statement of their joint effort is suggested in a response by Leonard Cohen to the interviewer’s implicit question, “Patrick said that part of the process of working together was stripping out any excesses or fripperies.”

Yes, both in the music and in the lyric. We were both, I think, quite compassionately savage about our vision. Pat, because he has such an abundance of musical ideas, he’ll sometimes overproduce. But he’s quite aware of that. So sometimes we’ll just say we don’t need a chorus here, we don’t need horns here, you know, we need to break it down here. And same with the lyric: If something’s obscure or just on the wrong side of accessible, then Pat will mention that and I’ll happily redirect.”7

There is contention among critics about the quality of Patrick Leonard’s impact. The Patrick Leonard is a genius school of thought is set forth in the Paste review of Popular Problems:

Patrick Leonard, Cohen’s musical foil, is back in the producer’s seat for Popular Problems and much of the credit for the album’s full sound is likely due to his participation. In the past, Cohen’s albums were often very minimalist affairs with skeletal arrangements played on bizarre or antiquated instruments. (Has an old Cassio keyboard ever sounded more perfectly creepy than it does on “Tower of Song”?) This time around, perhaps influenced by the experience of touring with a large band for the past several years, Cohen’s music is fuller and deeper than it has ever been on previous studio albums. The doom and gloom reflected in the lyrics of songs like “Nevermind” and “Born in Chains” is offset—and somehow strengthened—by the rich musical score that accompanies his voice. The warm organ riffs and swooping Stax-y horns sections that bolster “My Oh My” are similarly uplifting. Musically speaking, Cohen’s never sounded half as good as he does all the way through Popular Problems.8

Representing – oh, let’s go with “an alternative perspective” is this excerpt from Dave Tutin’s post about the same album:

Where the Patrick Leonard songs fall down is a lack of melody. People who say Cohen’s work has always been about droning dirges with little melody have never really listened. From early work like Suzanne, through Hallelujah to Alexandra Leaving, Cohen has been as much about breathtakingly beautiful tunes as he has stunningly crafted lyrics. His melodies were always spot on for the delicately shifting meanings conveyed by his lyrics. There are no such melodies on Popular Problems (although the song released early to prompt the album, Almost Like The Blues, comes the closest – obviously why it was chosen). Sharon Robinson did a far better job of writing Cohen-esque melodies for him starting with tracks on The Future and culminating in the full album collaboration Ten New Songs.

I think Patrick believes the ‘trick’ to a Cohen song is to keep it very simple and to take into account Leonard’s limited and gravelly vocal capabilities. He’s wrong. Even within that rather special vocal approach of his, Mr Cohen has worked magic and still can. Anyone who has seen him perform live in the past few years can attest to that. No, the music here just sounds a little lazier than a monster talent like Cohen deserves. Not as good as Patrick’s contributions to the last album Old Ideas. That does not mean I won’t be playing it constantly for the next few days – simply to enjoy this man’s writing is so meaningful right now with so few artists coming close in terms of eloquence…or even trying! It’s just that when those days are over I’ll probably be playing Ten New Songs or I’m Your Man or The Future a lot more frequently than Popular Problems. Actually, it makes Old Ideas sound new again.9

Evaluating these conflicting analyses is beyond the scope of this post, the goal of which is simply limning Patrick Leonard’s role as Leonard Cohen’s collaborator.

Much of the music on Popular Problems was composed by Patrick Leonard using a Mac laptop and sample libraries running in Logic, and in many cases these virtual instrument tracks survived into the final mixes.

Much of the music on Popular Problems was composed by Patrick Leonard using a Mac laptop and sample libraries running in Logic, and in many cases these virtual instrument tracks survived into the final mixes.

And, no description of that function would be complete without a discussion of Patrick Leonard’s imposing technological contribution. Happily, there is now an article that goes into detail about both the technical and musical role Patrick Leonard played in the making of the album:  Inside Track: Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems by Paul Tingen (Sound On Sound: Dec 20, 2014)

While portions of this piece require a near-professional level of knowledge of current studio mechanics to fully  access, the qualities of the interplay between “The Leonards” are apparent and the shift from live instrumentation to sampling is emphasized.

While I recommend reading this article in full,10 I will close this post with three excerpts in which Pat Leonard talks about working with Leonard Cohen:

We’d accumulate several songs, and Leonard would learn to sing them, and I then went over to his house where we’d sit for an afternoon. He’d do 10 takes of each song, and I’d take them back home, where Jesse and I would comp the vocals for each song. After that we invited the musicians in. Drummer Brian McLeod and bassist Joe Ayoub played on ‘Slow’, and James Harrah even played a guitar part, but we all listened to it, and concluded: ‘You know what, the demo that was done in half an hour sounds and feels better.’ Better is a qualitative judgement of course, because things are always better for a certain purpose. The curtains in this room are red, because that colour works well in this room. That does not mean that red is better than blue! And so my demo backing was a better fit for Leonard’s lyrics and vocals.

When we work together, what we are really doing is trying to distil that experience as best as we can, and be as economical as possible in writing, performing, and production. Leonard comes up with phrases that will go through you like a screaming army. I aspire to that, but I know I don’t have in me what he has. What I can do is distil all my knowledge of music into a single drop, with each note being the right one.

The vocal sample in ‘Nevermind’ is one of those things that I would never have been able to accept in my younger years without first going into a screaming hissy fit,” says Patrick Leonard. “Here is what I have come to, and it may sound crazy, but I am going to stand by it: I’ve come to a place where I don’t care any more whether people think something is a sample, or not. … This is in part the result of something Leonard said to me when working on Old Ideas. I was writing a cello part and playing it with a sample, and I said to Leonard: ‘This will sound great when it is played on a real instrument.’ And Leonard replied, ‘I have news for you, because what you’re playing is real instrument. You push a key, and a sound comes out. That’s an instrument.’ “On this album we had a violinist come in to play on a few songs, and I’m glad we did, because it does sound better than the sampled violin. But Leonard pointed out that my performance in some cases was better, not because it sounded more like an actual violin, but because of the feel. So I now think that musicality is what’s most important, and I am much more focused on that.

Credit Due Department: Both photos in this post were found at Inside Track: Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems by Paul Tingen (Sound On Sound: Dec 20, 2014)

  1. Except Bob Metzger’s guitar work on “In My Secret Life” []
  2. Thanks to Jugurtha Harchaoui (personal communication) for this insight. []
  3. Leonard Cohen on Collaborating with Madonna Collaborator Patrick Leonard for Upcoming ‘Popular Problems’ By Phil Gallo. Billboard: September 11, 2014 []
  4. Leonard Cohen Offers Rare Peek Into His Process at ‘Popular Problems’ Preview by Steve Appleford. Rolling Stone: September 11, 2014 []
  5. That one Leonard Cohen album differs from other Leonard Cohen albums does not, of course, prove the the variation is the result of a collaborator. As will be covered later, there is impressive evidence of the significance of Patrick Leonard’s impact. []
  6. Leonard Cohen on Collaborating with Madonna Collaborator Patrick Leonard for Upcoming ‘Popular Problems’ By Phil Gallo. Billboard: September 11, 2014 []
  7. Leonard Cohen on Longevity, Money, Poetry and Sandwiches by Gavin Edwards. Rolling Stone: September 19, 2014 []
  8. Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems Review by Douglas Heselgrave. Paste: September 23, 2014 []
  9. Popular Problems – Popular But With Problems by Dave Tutin. (Dave Tutin: Sept 26, 2014 []
  10. Note: Only the first portion of the article is available free at this time, but the entire piece can be purchased for a reasonable fee of $0.99. []

Leonard Cohen Heals Hank The Cat


Leonard Cohen, Cat Whisperer

This account of Leonard Cohen’s unconventional diagnosis, treatment, and cure of a pet cat was first published at five years ago and has long been one of this site’s most popular posts.1 The story’s first print iteration was a text-only August 1999 entry at The photos you see here are from a 2010 reenactment of the episode Sean arranged. (No animals or singer-songwriter icons were harmed in this reenactment.)

Sean narrates the tale, which also stars Stuffed Animal Lion in the role of the now deceased Hank, aka Pet Kitty, and Leonard Cohen as Leonard Cohen.2


There Ain’t No Cure For Love –
Hairballs Are A Different Story

[A participant at] But I never had him [Leonard Cohen] figured as an animal person.

[Sleep66:] Oy vey! Is he ever! I guess now is the time for me to share my little cat story. Leonard gave me permission to share it eons ago, and I think I did tell Judith and Marie about it a while back, but not being much of a writer, I never got it together to send to Jarkko for his site.

I had a beautiful orange cat called Hank (after Hank Williams). Leonard liked him, but couldn’t pet him too much because he’s quite allergic to cats. Anyway, years ago when I was living in very tight circumstances in Hollywood, Hank got sick. He retreated under the bed, grew very warm, wouldn’t eat and looked all glassy eyed. I’d never had a sick pet in my grown up life, and was totally distraught. Leonard followed all this over the phone. My trips to the vet, the tests being done, etc. It seems he had something large impacted in his stomach or intestine. They gave the poor thing enemas and poured a Vaseline-like substance down his throat over and over again. He wouldn’t eat at all.

A few days went by and he was no better, so off to the vets again. I packed him up in his box and shlumped out to my old Dodge Dart, which was gone. Little pile of glass, big empty space. This was the third time in two years it had been stolen. I turned on my heels, went back inside to call a taxi, then left a most pathetic message on Leonard’s machine.

“M-m-my c-c-c-car’s gone again, a-a-a-nd i’m g-g-goin’ back to the v-v-v-ets. Sniffle. Whimper. Sigh.”

The vet looked at me very seriously, proclaiming that if Hank did not improve soon, we were looking at invasive surgery, which was way beyond my means. Took the taxi home, called Leonard. Sniffle whimper, sniffle whimper.

“Take a taxi over, darling” he says, “and we’ll go to dinner”. At dinner, reduced in every way, I quietly plea, “when you take me home, will you come in and just *look* at him? I mean, just to see what you think?

“Allright sweetheart”, he says, and off we go to my place.

I gingerly retrieved Hank from under the bed. By this time, he hasn’t groomed in days, and his chest is covered with medicine that he has politely spit out. He smells. I plop him on the bed in front of Leonard. Immediately he proclaims, “Oh this is not a dying animal. No, darling. He’s definitely not dying”.

I listen to him, wide-eyed and hopeful. I manage a weak smile. “Really? Really? He doesn’t look that bad?”

“Oh no”, he says, “I think he could really use a little chanting!” ??!! “You see, it vibrates all the internal organs, it’s extremely healthy”.

“Oh really?”, I say. I’m crestfallen. Leonard is a fucking weirdo, this I know already, but does he truly have faith in this? Do I have to buy this idea, too? “Sure man”, I say, “do it!”

So Leonard puts his hands around Hank’s face, and rests his lips just above his forehead, and begins to chant in his lowest and most resonant style:


and he went on and on! Really, like ten minutes or so! And the funny thing is, Hank sat right there, never moving. Soon Leonard’s allergies were making tears run from his eyes. They were really burning. And then he started to sneeze, but he kept right on going. And then he was done.


“So that’s it darling. That’ll do him some good”. Then he gave me a thousand dollars and told me to go get another car. (My Dart had only cost me $600).

Well, late that night, around 2:00 Am, I heard Hank come out from under the bed and scurry over to his cat box. Lots of sound effects followed. I did not get up to look at the evidence. In the morning, I heard him munching on his kibble in the kitchen, and knew he was cured.

They found my car down by MacArthur Park (yes, *that* MacArthurPark!) A couple of days later, and Leonard wouldn’t take the money back. I used it to get it out of the impound yard, get a new battery, and have the ignition rekeyed, then pay the vet bills. Oh, and I think I got a thing or two for myself! ;)

Hank died last December at the age of thirteen. I try not to feel bad about it, because he was a very loved and spoiled kitty, and he had an excellent life.

The original Hank

Credit Due Department: Special thanks are herewith extended to Dick Straub, who was responsible for Sean bringing her story to


Other Sean Dixon Posts


  1. The story has also since appeared in I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. []
  2. This role marks Mr Cohen’s first foray back into the theatrical world since he was cast as the villainous Francois Zolan in a 1986 episode of Miami Vice. (See ) This critic’s assessment is that Mr Cohen’s confidence and competence as an actor have increased significantly. He is, in fact, altogether convincing in his current role of Leonard Cohen. []