Hundred Mountain, US
Fall 2001

A Great New Album by a Zen Priest:
That Is to Say, um, Leonard Cohen

by Michael Shannon Friedman

Contributed by Kelley Lynch, Stranger Management and Friends

Close Window to Return to Menu

Arguably pop music's finest published poet (not the Jewel-style fluff; he is included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry) and easily its best novelist (Beautiful Losers), Leonard Cohen is also one of the most enigmatic, brilliant songwriters of the modern era.

Striking a delicate balance between surging eroticism and spiritual longing, Cohen's mid- and late-60's songs ("Suzanne," "Bird On A Wire," "Famous Blue Raincoat") combined sophisticated poetic images and catchy, folk-pop songcraft as well as anyone but Bob Dylan.

In recent years, Cohen's writing has becoming increasingly terse and epigrammatic, reflecting his interest in Buddhism (he has become an ordained Zen Monk, appropriately dubbed "Jikan," meaning "silent one.")

Never a particularly a pretty, choir-boy type singer, Cohen always relied on the implicit passion beneath his hoarse rasp. On Ten New Songs he scales back even further, at times offering scarcely more than a whisper, set against a subtle, expressive late-night jazz groove. This style doesn't always work, but when it does, as on the hypnotic "In My Secret Life" and the sweetly anthemic "Land Of Plenty," it is as enthralling and soul-searching as anything he's ever done, which is to say any popular music in the last 40 years.

Like Van Morrison, Cohen has never really been able to distinguish between the carnal and the sacred, nor has he ever really tried; the more he investigates the source of creativity, the more mysterious it seems, and the richer his description of his pilgrimage:

and I don't really know who sent me
to raise my voice and say:
may the lights of the land of plenty
shine on the truth some day

for the innermost decision
we cannot but obey
for what's left of our religion
I lift my voice and pray:
may the lights of the land of plenty
shine on the truth some day

(from "The Land Of Plenty")

Close Window to Return to Menu