Leonard Cohen As Role Model For Madonna

Like A Virgin Meets Old Ideas

In one of those eerie cosmic events known as “a coincidence” or,  alternatively,  “another example of the law of large numbers,” yesterday’s Heck Of A Guy post, The Leonard Cohen – Madonna Comparison Chart, was not the only article published that focused on the similarities and differences of Leonard Cohen and Madonna.

Its title notwithstanding, Why the ageing Madonna could do with going Zen like Len by John McKie (Caledonian Mercury, February 20, 201) actually touches on the strategies employed by several aging musicians to sustain or revive, successfully or unsuccessfully, the AARP phases of their careers as it builds toward the punch line, i.e., Madonna should act her age.

Leonard Cohen fans, however, are most likely to find the comparison-contrast of the Material Girl and the Grocer Of Despair contained in this excerpt of most interest:

On the face of it, the pair have little in common. Before his first record, Cohen had published four volumes of his poetry and two novels. Madonna’s most famous published work was a book featuring photographs of her in her undergarments with Vanilla Ice.

The Madonna–Laughing Len Venn diagram actually has a little more overlap than you might assume. The records of both are drenched in sex and religious imagery, and the two are known for their particularly spiritual outlooks: Cohen swears by the hours of meditation at the Buddhist retreat of his 105-year-old guru, Roshi. Madonna has raised thousands for the Kabbalah movement, for whom she built a school in Malawi.

Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote Like A Prayer and Cherish, has co-written three tracks on Old Ideas, including the stand-out, Show Me The Place. And both MC and LC, in pop terms, are getting on a bit. She is 53, he is 77.

The difference is that Madonna’s capacity for reinvention has been her strength. His artistic constancy, through the different cycles of his life – broken business and personal relationships, bankruptcy, on-and-off touring and record company rows – has been reassuring. He has never once sentenced his audience to 20 years of boredom.

Every Leonard Cohen album has the same echoes of wit, wryness, maturity, romanticism, his poetic gifts, an ability to laugh at himself – and strong tunes. The strength of Old Ideas is that it does not sound that different from the 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen. The rapturous reception afforded to this record is of gratitude that Cohen is still around to make it. 

DrHGuy Note: While I am, as ongoing readers may have sleuthed out, an ardent admirer of Leonard Cohen, and while I, for the most part, buy into Mr McKie’s Leonard-leaning comparisons, it seems only fair to point out that Madonna has been a tad more successful than Cohen in the commercial arena.

That 1984 “Like A Virgin” album I chose for the graphic atop this post, for example, sold 21,000,000 units.1  It was her second-best selling studio album (“True Blue” moved 25,000,000 units world-wide and “The Immaculate Collection” compilation sold 30,000,000 copies2 ).

Leonard Cohen’s 1988 “I’m Your Man” album, thought to be one of is best selling records, was awarded the Columbia Records Crystal Globe Award from CBS for selling more than five million copies of an album in foreign territories (where it was strongest).3 Sales of many Cohen albums would be little more than a rounding error on Madonna’s balance sheet.

Maybe Madge and the Poet Of Existential Despair could trade tips.

  1. Wikipedia []
  2. Ibid []
  3. Wikipedia []

Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” Is On 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: In interviews through the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a handful of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began playing these tunes for your edification and entertainment on April 4, 2009.

“I’ve got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one”


As part of the promotion of the Old Ideas album, Leonard Cohen was interviewed by Pierre Siankowski for Les Inrockuptibles.

The pertinent excerpt from Leonard Cohen: Éternel Contemporain, published February 8, 2012, follows:

When I mention Tom Waits, Cohen’s eyes light up. “Tom is a friend, a wonderful man. I listen to his records very often they are part of my life. I am glad that my music can evoke his own. “He also quotes his friend poet Irving Layton, died in 2006, as its fundamental inspiration.” I keep reading his books since his disappearance, he is one of the sources of the latter disk. “Cohen does not preclude a subsequent tour.” I must find the necessary fuel. This may be the wine. “

And rap in all this? Jay-Z is it part of the life of Leonard Cohen? He stops, stares at me in the eye and, in his inimitable voice, launches the punchline of the legendary boss of hip-hop world:

I got 99 problems
but a bitch ain’t one

Leonard Cohen is 77. Our brief interview stops on the TKO incredibly soft, it promises a longer, maybe one day: “I’m still young, we have time.” [Google English translation; my emphasis]

Other Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Posts

All posts featured in the Heck Of A Guy Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the end of the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.


Credit Due Department: Hermitage Prisoner alerted me to Leonard Cohen’s quotation of Jay-Z’s lyrics in the Les Inrockuptibles interview. Les Inrockuptibles cover contributed by Dominique BOILE.

Robbie Fulks – Ballad of Leonard Cohen: “Leonard Cohen was the finest poet that ever sang the blues”

Robbie Fulks - Feb 6, 2012 (screen capture)

Lynyrd Cohen –  Leonard Vs Skynyrd

Robbie Fulks, the outstanding Chicago alt-country singer-songwriter1 perhaps best known for “Fuck This Town,” his nuanced musical assessment of the country music industry represented by Nashville, somehow decided to put together  the “Leonard Cohen Vs Lynyrd Skynyrd”2  show, which he performed at The Hideout in Chicago on February 6, 2012. A video of one number, “The Ballad Of Leonard Cohen,” has just appeared in YouTube (2 viewings at time of this posting).

Mr Fulks himself offers this description of the show:

Lynyrd Cohen, a/k/a Leonard vs Skynyrd, as two 1970s icons duke it out via my quintet’s sensitive musical channeling. The kind of clever club programming that bored, frozen Chicagoans thrive on.

Robbie Fulks & his band - Feb 6, 2012 (screen capture)

Now, the content  of any imaginable alt-country music program called “Leonard Cohen Vs Lynyrd Skynyrd” is, by definition, sufficiently outré, arcane, and downright inexplicable to limit its appeal to a tiny elite of fans.

Incredibly enough, it turns out that the group of folks who would be into something labeled “The Lynyrd Cohen Show” have a 0.91 demographic  correlation with Heck Of A Guy readers.3

Consequently, Heck Of A Guy is happy to have booked the off-YouTube internet video premiere of …

Robbie Fulks – Ballad of Leonard Cohen

The video will automatically start at the point the song itself commences. Aficionados of stage banter may wish to adjust their dials back to the beginning of  the video to hear Mr Fulks introduce the show.

  1. According to Peter Applebome of the New York Times, “Mr. Fulks is more than a songwriter. He’s a gifted guitarist who has taught for years at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, he’s a soulful singer with an expressive honky-tonk tenor, and he’s a natural performer. It rings true when he says he’s only truly comfortable when he’s onstage or when he’s totally alone. But what really sets him apart is his songwriting, which is one part artful country, one part artful sendup of country and one part a little of everything else.” []
  2. Sometimes referenced as “Lynyrd Skynyrd vs. Leonard Cohen” []
  3. If Robbie Fulks had gone ménage à trois on us and added Leonard Bernstein to the program, the correlation would have been 0.96. Adding Lenny Kravitz instead of Leonard Bernstein would have pushed it to 0.975, but no one, with the possible exception of his mother, calls Mr Kravitz “Leonard.” []

Who The Heck Is Lana Del Rey?

[Note: This post was originally published Feb 4, 2012 but was vaporized in a server glitch. I’ve reconstituted the post, but the comments are, like the Robinson family and Dr. Zachary Smith, lost in space.]

Lana, Lana, Lana – We Don’t Really Hate You

Here’s the problem, neatly encapsulated by this story by Robin Murray from today’s edition of ClashMusic.com:

Lana Del Rey Heading To Number One With Leonard Cohen In Hot Pursuit

Lana Del Rey is racing to number one on the UK charts with her debut album ‘Born To Die’.

It’s one of the most unlikely chart face offs you can imagine. In one corner, Lana Del Rey: a perfectly sculpted pop princess whose expert control of web based hype turned her into one of 2011′s most high profile newcomers.

In the other corner: Leonard Cohen. The legendary Canadian songwriter returned with his new album ‘Old Ideas’ this week, proving that the seven years since his previous album ‘Dear Heather’ have been well spent.

Widely hailed by fans and critics as yet another milestone in a rightly celebrated career, Leonard Cohen is set to make a big impression on this week’s charts. ‘Old Ideas’ currently sits at number two, with the Official Chart Company placing Lana Del Rey in pole position.

‘Born To Die’ looks set to grab the number one slot, with pre-order sales pushing Lana Del Rey into the lead. If Leonard Cohen were to over-take the singer, ‘Old Ideas’ would become his first UK number one.

iTunes Top Ten Albums - screen capture Feb 2, 2012

So, it’s only natural that Cohen fans are asking …

Who The Heck Is Lana Del Rey?

Lana Del Rey

“Think Nancy Sinatra sans the boots.”

 Rhapsody asks and answers that question:

Who is Lana Del Rey? The ‘net nearly imploded in 2011 with bloggers trying to figure that out. And judging by her debut, even Lana (born Lizzy Grant) seems perplexed. Born to Die attempts to cast her as the sultry seductress, ever lusting after fame and the boy with the “cocaine heart.” But past that pretty-girl pout is nothing but a lost and lovesick ingénue: Think Nancy Sinatra sans the boots. But this juxtaposition works, mostly in the top half [of the Born To Die  album]  (“Born to Die,” “Video Games,” “Blue Jeans”), as she rolls her smoky pipes around symphonic strings and trip-hop beats, like one of Tricky’s sirens.

The biography provided by Last.fm is helpful:

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Grant (born 21 June 1986), better known as Lana Del Rey, is a singer-songwriter from Lake Placid, New York, United States. Del Rey is known for embellishing her songs and music videos with an eerily nostalgic vibe heavy on Americana themes, including images of surfing, Coney Island, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe. She has also listed a large number of her artistic influences, including Allen Ginsberg, Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Antony and the Johnsons, actor and filmmaker John Waters, artists Mark Ryden and Marilyn Minter, and photographers Juergen Teller and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Grant released her first professionally produced body of work in 2010, an EP entitled Kill Kill, as Lizzy Grant via Five Points Records with producer David Kahne. It was available for purchase on iTunes for a brief period before being withdrawn for unknown reasons. Soon after, Del Rey released a self-titled collection of songs, Lana Del Rey, for electronic download. In June 2011, Del Rey was signed with Stranger Records and issued the “Video Games” single, and in October 2011 she signed with Interscope Records. [emphasis mine]

I had planned to focus on the inclusion of Leonard Cohen among Ms Del Rey’s influences, but not only is the above listing extensive enough to dilute the Cohen reference, but when BBC 6 Music asked which musicians have inspired her, the response, according to Snipe, was  “All the great masters of every genre.”

Well, OK then.

Further, this story from Ministry of Gossip, informs us that

Pouty music star1 Lana Del Rey has a coy, indie persona but is owning up to a love for one pop’s iconic princesses — Britney Spears. The “Born To Die” singer says she’s not very taken with many lady artists (which we’re not exactly buying), but Spears has always fascinated her. “I’m not really interested in a ton of female musicians but there is something about Britney that compelled me — the way she sings and just the way she looks,” she told UK radio station Magic 104.5.

Let’s see, Leonard Cohen admires Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Nina Simone, … and Lana Del Rey is fascinated by – Britney Spears.

Perhaps we should move on to …

The Lyrics

I’ve paired a few thematically comparable excerpts from the lyrics of songs performed by Ms Del Rey and Mr Cohen.

National Anthem – Lana Del Rey

Money is the anthem
Of success
So before we go out
What’s your address?

I’m your national anthem
God, you’re so handsome
Take me to the Hamptons
Bugatti Veyron

Chelsea Hotel – Leonard Cohen

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.


Dark Paradise – Lana Del Rey

And there’s no remedy for memory your face is
Like a melody, it won’t leave my head
Your soul is haunting me and telling me
That everything is fine
But I wish I was dead

Ain’t No Cure For Love – Leonard Cohen

I see you in the subway and I see you on the bus
I see you lying down with me, I see you waking up
I see your hand, I see your hair
Your bracelets and your brush
And I call to you, I call to you
But I don’t call soft enough
There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure for love


Lucky Ones – Lana Del Rey

Bugging into my car, got a bad desire
You know that we’ll never leave if we don’t get out now, now, now
You’re a crazy con and you’re a crazy liar
But baby, nobody can compare to the way you get down, down, down

Crazy To Love You – Leonard Cohen

Sometimes I’d head for the highway

I’m old and the mirrors don’t lie 

But crazy has places to hide in 

That are deeper than any goodbye

Lana Del Rey Performs

Born To Die  – Official Video

Note: Album title song

Leonard Cohen Performs

Darkness – Las Vegas November 12, 2009

Note: A different version of “Darkness” appears on the Old Ideas album

DrHGuy Final Assessment

OK, I don’t hate Lana but I’m certainly perplexed and maybe just a tad miffed.


Credit Due Department: Photo of Lana Del Rey by Nicole Nodland

  1. On reviewing the entire list of Leonard Cohen Nicknames  , I can assure readers that Mr. Cohen has never been referenced as “Pouty Music Star.” []

Best Bootlegs: Joni Mitchell Sings Joni Mitchell ’70

Because I may not know music, but I know what you should like

… and where to find it1

Joni Mitchell In Concert – BBC 1970

This is, to my ears, Joni Mitchell at her best – when her voice was exquisite, and she was mature enough to allow herself to feel vulnerable now and again but still  young enough to devote herself primarily  to music. She performs an excellent selection songs from her first three albums and some material that would become part of her 1971 Blue Album.

The concert, played in intimate surroundings before a small audience was recorded September 3, 1970 at BBC Television Center – Shepherd’s Bush, London, England. It was originally broadcast October 9, 1970.

Track List: Joni Mitchell Sings Joni Mitchell

  1. Chelsea Morning
  2. Hunter
  3. Intro to ‘The Gallery’
  4. The Gallery
  5. Cactus Tree
  6. My Old Man
  7. For Free
  8. Intro to ‘Woodstock’
  9. Woodstock
  10. Introduction of dulcimer
  11. All I Want
  12. Intro to ‘California’
  13. California
  14. Intro to ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
  15. Big Yellow Taxi
  16. Both Sides Now

Viewing Information

The concert can be seen viewed on videos embedded at The Sixties Archive2

I’ve included “The Gallery” below as an example. The introduction is as interesting as the song, involving Scientology and the problem of being “a lady to an artist” – especially if the artist has dumped the lady.  The lyrics themselves are – well, let’s go with “bittersweet.”  Viewers experiencing difficulty in identifying the artist/infidel lover may wish  to consult Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell: Just One Of Those Things.

Downloading Information

Soundaboard has ripped the audio from the video files, in Flac, MP3, and M4A (note that audio is 2 channel mono), making them available for download in any of these formats at Joni Mitchell – England 1970.3

  1. This post is part of the Heck Of A Guy Best Bootlegs Series. An explanation of this project is included in the first post in this category: Best Bootlegs: Otis Redding – A Soupçon Of Soul. []
  2. Technical details from the site follow:

    PAL DVD, reconstruction of complete BBC 1970 b/cast in original order (48′ 44” edit here)
    from the best known sources (incl. edited 2007 digital broadcast)

    Video: 720×576, VBR (mixed VBR/CBR, 8500kbps max), interlaced, TFF
    Audio: LPCM (48kHz, 16 bit, 1536kbps, 2 channel mono) []

  3. The actual download is from Hotfiles.com as a single zip file. []