Le Cercle de Minuit
[The Midnight Circle]
(a transcript of a television program)
(Michel Field of France 2 television interviews Leonard Cohen along
with Graeme Allwright, who has recorded many of Leonard's songs, and Geoffrey
Oryema who performs "Suzanne" on the I'm Your Fan tribute album.
The interview begins with the playing of Leonard's "The
Michel Field: Graeme Allwright, what do you think of this song?
Graeme Allwright: Oh, I've already heard it. I found the text very
interesting, not merry at all, but you know, it's his style. (laughs)
Field: Leonard Cohen, do you laugh sometimes?
Leonard Cohen: Always.
Field: Why do you hide it so well?
Leonard: Not at all, I don't hide it. My songs, my friend Graeme is wrong,
are very happy, really! (laughs) Basically, my songs are jokes.
Field: At their beginning they may be, but since it took you three or
four years to write them, the result is that we don't find this last song,
for example, a joke.
Leonard: Oh yes, and I am very happy when they are completed.
Field: Is it hard?
Leonard: It's hard like work, it's working. It's not especially distressing
nor does it cause suffering, it's just work. Everybody knows working is usually
Field: You have said Dylan once told you, "I wrote this song in half an
hour", and you were uneasy with this?
Leonard: Yes, I would like to belong to that tribe. Unfortunately, I'm
from the other tribe.
Field: You said, "This last album began as a butterfly; it ended like
Leonard: Oh yes, that's true. It's a tank that could trespass on all terrains
and maybe it's going to last 30 years like my Volvo. My songs last 30 years
like a Volvo. (laughs)
Field: Why do you have this special link with prophecy? Is it because
of your Jewish heritage?
Leonard: (silence) It's my job. (laughs)
Field: But why?
Leonard: It's in my blood. I can't do anything else. There are very few
things I am able to do. I can wash the dishes. I am also good at housekeeping
and...in prophecy. (laughs) And it's always catastrophe. It's very easy for
a prophet these days, it's all catastrophe.
Leonard: Everywhere! And it's true! In Europe, everyone resists this idea.
But you have a war [Yugoslavia] a few miles away, a famine a few miles away.
In America when I say "the future is murder", nobody resist this idea. But
here, in the middle of a catastrophe, a slaughter, nobody wants to hear that
the future is murder. But the future is actually now, it's the present.
Field: And how do you explain this European resistance?
Leonard: Europeans are great dreamers, great artists!
Field: Do you have the feeling you can shock people with such a song as
Leonard: No, I have never tried to shock, never had that appetite. If
I have an appetite, it's for saying things I can live with while maintaining
my self-respect. It's as simple as that.
Field: So, about this pessimistic view of mankind, of humanity, you said
once that it began in the late 70's. What did you mean?
Leonard: A pessimist is somebody who is waiting for the rain. Me, I'm
already wet. I don't wait for the rain to fall. We are in the catastrophe.
There's no point in waiting for the catastrophe. Everybody knows it. You
know it's the flood. I mean it's not "when I'm gone, I don't care what happens",
it's "the deluge is here and I care what happens."
Field: You said once, "There is no more internal life, no more outside
life and I, myself, stand at this broken point, this edge." What is this
Leonard: There is only light, although people don't look at the light.
Light is the basis of everything and we all are drowned by the light, but
wearing sunglasses. It's always light. It's only light. Men invent the idea
of shadow, of darkness.
Field: Do you believe in sin?
Leonard: Yes, but God sins along with me. (laughs)
Field: You said that guilt is rarely felt now. It's a thing that's never
mentioned. Do you favor a return of guilt?
Leonard: Guilt is a very good mechanism for knowing what is good and what
is not. If a thing to do is good or not.
Field: Then it's even better. (LC laughs)
Field: You write songs, novels, poetry. Why this diversity?
Leonard: For me, it's just a long song. I don't separate the different
aspects of my work.
Field: But when you write something, you have to decide if you will put
it to music or not?
Leonard: No, lyrics and music are born together. There is a technical
difference between lyrics and poems, but this is very boring to explain.
Field: You said once that you forgot who you were because it was not
interesting and that you preferred knowing what you aren't.
Leonard: I said that?
Field: Yeah, I swear you did! (laughs) You see, I've been reading your
work and about you all week.
Leonard: Oh, that's very nice.
Field: And I'm desperate now. (laughs)
Leonard: You know, I'm very unattached to my opinions, especially those
Field: Geoffrey Oryema, how did you become acquainted with Leonard Cohen's
work and why did you agree to participate in this tribute [I'm Your
Geoffrey Oryema: Leonard Cohen represents a generation, an era, or to
say it a better way, a whole, a whole that can't go out of fashion. He spoke
about the Volvo cars, that's exactly my thoughts.
Field: We're going to have an argument with the Bureau of Advertising
Geoffrey: ...a whole that lasts.
Field: More elegant, but that's a personal opinion about cars.
Geoffrey: Oh yes, quite! (laughing) You see, my childhood was filled with
songs of Leonard Cohen and that is the reason I agreed to participate in
this tribute. My answer was obvious and it came from this space he's created
all these years. It is not old fashioned.
Leonard: Thank you so much, that's very kind.
Field: Leonard, is it important to you that you are being recognized by
a new generation of musicians as a father in spirit?
Leonard: I'm very happy to be a link in a chain connecting generations.
I received much from the previous generation. It's very pleasing to give
the next generation something.
Field: Are you aware of new styles of music, of the youth's tastes?
Leonard: Yes, because the music from my daughter's bedroom flows along
the walls and I can't help but hear it.
Field: How old is she?
Field: And does she have Leonard Cohen material in her record stock?
Leonard: Yes, she has my records.
Field: And you didn't put them there secretly?
Leonard: No! (laughs)
Field: You were in "Miami Vice"?
Leonard: Yes, it is one of my sins.
Field: With guilt?
Leonard: No, without. I was invited to make a cameo. I refused many times
but my kids learned about it and they accused me of inhibiting their social
life, so I finally accepted. (laughs) But it really was a great part. After
I said a couple of words, they gave the part to someone else and that ended
Field: Well, alas...or gratefully. Grame Allwright, let me thank you first
because you have been very important to people like me who discovered Leonard
Cohen through you. Why did you have this desire to translate Leonard's songs
for the French public and to be his messenger?
Graeme: Something strange happened when I first heard Leonard Cohen's
songs [it was in 1967, just after Leonard's first album was released]. I
had the impression that I wrote those songs. And then it was more than desire,
it was a deep need to make him known to a French audience because I found
what he said to be very passionate.
Field: Leonard Cohen, was it important for you to have your songs translated
into French and did it better allow you to communicate with French fans about
Leonard: First, I want to say that Graeme is my friend and I admire him
very much. I never heard before what he has just said, that feeling of having
written my songs. I'm very touched by this, very touched. But, I'm sorry,
I didn't answer your question.
Field: That's okay, the point is to have you talk with us.
[Graeme sings "The Stranger Song"]
Field: Leonard Cohen, do you resist the idea that poetry is included in
Leonard: I don't think there's a conflict. In my opinion, it's very good
that songs in general take much energy, while poetry stands there, pure poetry.
It's a very good thing that poetry is not popular. It's marvelous to renew
language with secret work, not popular work. It's very important to keep
that difference between songs and poetry. Songs are wonderful, there is poetry
in them. Poetry contains the song's spirit. But the working, the practical
aspects of poetry occur in a secret room behind a veil. It's the real furnace
[Geoffrey sings "Suzanne" and afterwards, Michel Field gives Leonard a
warm thank you.]