Always
Days may not be fair, always
That's when I'll be there, always
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day.
Not for just a year, but always.

Always
by Irving Berlin (1925)
The Future





The following article and photo appeared in
New Musical Express, January 9, 1993.
The photograph is by A.J. Barratt.


Photo by A.J. Barratt
HELLO!

I MUST BE

COHEN


By Gavin Martin



The splendid lunchtime repast lies before us, Leonard Cohen is gobsmacked by plenitude, overcome by abundance.

Plate in hand, eyes on stalks, he prowls the buffet table, keen that we should eat heartily, joyfully and shamelessly. Leonard is well aware this could well be our last meal together. Ever.

"Want something to eat? You're probably hungry, man, it's...look at the time! You must be starving. Let's take some of the food. Man, this is great. Ham, eh? This is beautiful. We should take some more, they're going to take it away. What's that you've got there? Fish -- wonderful! Look at this! They've thought of everything. We really should take some of this dessert.

"Get some more of it, man, before they take it away. Whooah, look at that cream, man! Here, have some more cream."

Seated at the table, the man in the neat suit with the graying army issue haircut and weathered visage considers his legacy. Apocalyptic wrath, decaying cultures, disintegrating infrastructures, a world wracked with pain, buckling under the turmoil. With French dressing on the side and cream on top. Around him refined jetsetters fiddle with their profiteroles. Leonard, a sprightly 58, chews on a stalk of asparagus vinaigrette and ponders Our Fate.

"I've been writing about this for a long time. In a song I wrote in 1979 I said these are the final days, these are the final hours, this is the darkness, this is the flood. Y'know -- don't wait for the apocalypse, IT'S ALREADY HAPPENED. It's already come down on us, we are in it right now. It's not something that's going to happen outside, this one is inside and it's raging.

"I don't feel like being a wild-eyed prophet on the streets shouting, 'Repent, repent' but we do live in several different worlds. We live in a world that's mundane, a world that's apocalyptic, a world of order and a world that knows no order. We're continually juggling these worlds, entering them and leaving them. I've always had the sense that this apocalyptic reality is with us, it's not something that's coming.

"A lot of my work is about what is appropriate behavior in the face of the flood, in the torrent. Is it appropriate to talk about European union? What is the appropriate conversation, the deep conversation. How do you extend fraternal greetings under these conditions? At a time when you can't be sure if the guy is coming to embrace you or hit you with a baseball bat."

Tricky one.

"You have to develop an alertness that enables you to discern things."

Laughing Len, the king of hippy-era bedsit angst, Prince Of Darkness, has released a new record; the long-awaited and expectation-surpassing The Future. Taking the cue from his supreme political manifesto "First We Take Manhattan," The Future spins on the axis of two withering epics, the title track and "Democracy." The latter, set to a funeral-cum-militaristic beat, drips typically potent hilarious lyrical pearls like:

"From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA."

It has taken four years for The Future to come along, many of the gems it contains have been polished and perfected over twice that period. Between it and predecessor I'm Your Man there has been the tribute album I'm Your Fan which served to keep Cohen's name topical with cover versions of his songs from the likes of The Jesus And Mary Chain, REM, The House Of Love and Fatima Mansions.

But there is no substitute for his own labours. Novelist, poet, one-time speed freak, Leonard is a man apart, pursing his own solitary but drily perceptive course. Hunched over his food, eloquently and thoughtfully choosing his words, you can almost see him sprout a beard and take on the demeanour of an ancient prophet. Indeed on "The Future" he takes a bow, describing himself as "the little Jew who wrote the Bible."

"I don't exactly know where that line comes from. I knew it was a good line when it came and it didn't come to me casually, I really sweated over it. I know somehow that I'm in a tribe, not necessarily a Jewish tribe, but a human tribe through which deep perceptions are manifested. I'm not trying to get a job on that basis, get a religion or even promote myself on that basis, I just know that the things I feel are true."

His Godfather Of Gloom tag tells only part of the story. With age his songs get finer and funnier. Strange that 16 years on from the dispossessed scourges of punk, the inflamed howls into the whirlwind now come not from the youth but from this ageing foot soldier -- wits are sharp as steel, irreverence intrinsic to his armoury.

"Give me crack and anal sex
Take the Only tree that's left
And stuff it up the hole
In your culture
Give me back the Berlin Wall
Give me Stalin and Saint Paul
I've seen the future brother: it is murder."
                                                                             ("The Future")

"Of course I affirm the people that are trying to save the forest and the environment but to me those are symptoms of something else. It's an alibi to think you're getting anywhere by doing that sort of thing. The self-righteousness and self-congratulations that go with it seems to suggest that you can't write a song about the BOREDOM of the rainforest, the BOREDOM of the ozone, the BOREDOM of recycling. Yeah, we've got to do all those things but let's not ignore the fact that something is going down here. It's like trying to tidy up on the Titanic.

"I wrote that song soon after the Wall came down -- it had to be written. When the centre erodes and people can no longer find a centre they will seize on the most easily available form of identification. The most easily available identification is racial. We see that happening, there's no way you can sit down and reason in that situation, reasoning depends on some sort of order. When it's every man for himself the identification of race arises. I think those are very dangerous times. And that is the time we are in."

Did you ever harbour hopes for the way the world would progress, that things might get better, more dignified, that we were looking to a brighter and better tomorrow?

"When you're on the frontline in the battle for your own survival there are times when the fighting subsides and you can come up with some reflections one way or the other. But then the snipers start and the grenades are launched and you wonder how you're going to acquit yourself honourably of the responsibilities that you're engaged.

"That's the difference between the philosopher, the priest and the politician and what I do. I don't have to win a vote, I don't have to establish a system that doesn't contradict itself, I don't have to have a clear vision, I don't even have to have a vision. All I have to do is report things as accurately as I can from moment to moment."

Leonard has learned to live with the truth. He says as he gets older "those anxiety cells -- anxiety about getting the job, the girl, the song you want" simply fall away. What's left is The Future, a record free of hang-ups about being rude, funny, scathing, sacrilegious, a record delivered right from the midst of an ever-present apocalyptic upheaval.

"Well there are still some things I'm shy about but none of them are on that record. I couldn't mention them. But the subjects that are on the record, it's a pretty broad range. I've won the right to be clear and forthright. That's a right that you win, it's a struggle. Whatever survives on the new record has right to be there."

How do you go about winning that right?

"Everybody has a different way. Mine is heavy labour. There's a saying - 'Only when you've bathed in sweat can you see the palace of pearls in a blade of grass. Only from the point of view of real expenditure can you see value.'"

Does the labour involve enforced discipline?

"It's beyond discipline, it's called discipline in the beginning: to get yourself into the harness. Then you find you're sleeping in the harness. It's just the way it is."

In the beginning when he left his career in poetry to go into pop he was already established as an older, wiser voice. Now he's able to treat himself with complete seriousness and complete derision, often in the same line. Has he ever felt like an outsider in a young man's game?

"I never looked at it that way, I always thought I was in for the long haul. I understood the different kinds of expression appropriate to different ages -- lyrical for a young man, meditative for the middle ages, reflective for old age. There's probably some truth to those designations, but not really. You can feel even more passionate about things as you get older. As you drop the restraining and inhibiting braces of your thoughts and allow your feelings to become manifest a certain kind of energy is liberated."

It wasn't always this way. After his early acoustic records Cohen feels he lost his way. Epitomised by what he considers his weakest record -- the 1977 liaison with childhood hero/pop svengali Phil Spector, Death of a Ladies' Man -- he spent a long period when he felt his voice and his music weren't gelling.

"Well what can you do about it? You either shut up or keep on and hope it will get better. I never worked on it because with my voice I never thought I had too much to work on. There are days, weeks, months, sometimes decades when nothing you can do has the right feel. You can get up on the wrong side of a decade, ten years go by and you don't like the sound of the stuff, you don't like the feel of it, you don't want to be in the same room as it. It's the best you can do at the time but even while you're doing it you feel you're not getting it, you're not nailing it."

But you feel in contact with it now?

"Yeah, but how long that will last one can never be sure. It's something you might want to celebrate but never take for granted."

In stark contrast to the portents of "The Future" and "Democracy," "Light As The Breeze" shows Leonard drawing his sustenance from womankind.

"It emphasizes the temporary, fleeting comfort that this congress brings," he explains. "Nevertheless, when you've had a moment of comfort you return to the struggle with the residue of the experience. It enables you to shoulder things better."

Have you ever had a gay relationship?

"No."

Do you regret that?

"No, because I have had intimate relationships with men all my life and I still do have. I've seen men as beautiful, I've felt sexual stirrings towards men so I don't think I've missed out. Maybe I have, maybe it's time to look into it. Maybe not, maybe I've left it too late. Maybe I'll not be able to get anybody."

That's hard to imagine. Never far from one, often two, beautiful women Leonard has a reputation as a Lothario. The latest in a long line of lithe lovelies keeping his company is none other than The Hand that Rocks the Cradle star Rebecca De Mornay, credited as one of five co-producers on his album. Favourably compared to bedroom maestro Barry White, Cohen seems to have more than a golden throat in common with Mister Big.

"My friends will find it amusing, because most of my life has been spent alone. The notion that I'm a man about town experiencing the favours of many women involves the type of life that I simply haven't led," he says tactfully, if not entirely convincingly.

Leonard has spent his life "being tossed around like a cork." He has lived at various times in Greece, Scandinavia, his native Canada, New York and Nashville. In recent years he's relocated to Los Angeles, the perfect vantage point from which to shape The Future, the ultimate modern urban horrorscape, the imploding city at the end of the world.

"Los Angeles is a great city -- it's falling apart on every level. Geologically it's falling apart, politically it's falling apart, the physical realm is also in deep fragmentation...a very suitable landscape for my dismal expression."

As if on cue, in the middle of recording the album, came the LA riots.

"A lot of things happened during the recording of this album. My son had a very serious car smash and I spent four months beside him in the hospital. That upset the process. A child being hurt like that is the parent's nightmare. It calls on resources you never knew you had. He was badly hurt and when he perceived how badly hurt he was it represented a real assault on his morale. You're ready to deal with your own disasters but not someone else's. When I saw his courage that's where I drew my courage from."

The album refers to many holes and cracks. On "Anthem" he sings:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

"There is a position that embraces all the worlds we live in. That position is one of reconciliation, that's our real appetite. Our real appetite is not for the victory of the white race. Our real victory isn't Judaism over Islam, not conservatism over liberalism. There is another appetite that doesn't involve victory but involves a reconciliation and that's where we really long to be. Sometimes in the midst of a song you find yourself in that moment."

His influences remain outside the brief of modern culture - The Bible, WB Yeats, the Prophet Elijah, the poet Lorca. Ray Charles is the nearest he can get to naming a current inspiration. He spent two years practically immobile weaning himself off amphetamine and recently kicked nicotine. He still likes a drink, favouring Red Needles, his own special concoction of tequila, fresh fruit and cranberry juice, but the days of excess are behind him, all that's left now is the work. Does he never feel tempted by new, interesting drugs?

"What's around? Ecstasy? There's an aspirin for children called St. Joseph's aspirin. I don't know if they have it over here but that's what we used to call Ecstasy -- St. Joseph's acid. It's acid for kids.

"I'm a little too delicate now. I wouldn't take a hit of grass right now. I've spent 20 years in meditation halls trying to get my head straight. I don't know how straight it is, but I don't feel like hitting myself with a sledgehammer in order to find out."

Certainly not. Not now, not when the end is nigh.





The following article appeared in
Toronto's The Financial Post,
Arts & Leisure section, December 12, 1992.


Rebirth of a Ladies' Man

Once-Melancholy Leonard Cohen Finds
Even the Apocalypse Must Have Rhythm

By Brendan Kelly



MONTEAL - Leonard Cohen isn't meant to be this cheery.

The Montreal-born singer, songwriter, novelist and poet is famous for his dark, melancholic ruminations on love, loss and frequently, the end of the world.

His somber image was captured perfectly on those old album jacket photos: staring mournfully at the camera, as if to ensure no one mistook their contents for fluffy, upbeat pop fare.

But, on this exceedingly cold day, the 58-year-old poet-singer is looking downright cheerful as he sips coffee in the kitchen of his spartanly furnished house just off St. Lawrence Boulevard. He talks enthusiastically about The Future: A Record by Leonard Cohen, his first new disc since the highly acclaimed I'm Your Man album in 1988. And he is positively beaming by the time current girlfriend and Hollywood actress Rebecca De Mornay strolls in to fix herself a bagel and cream cheese.

Cohen, who is famous for his painstakingly slow approach to writing and recording, appears relieved to have the album in the can, and that accounts for some of his good humor. Still, the author of "A Singer Must Die" isn't quite ready to come right out and say he's happy.

"I think it would be very incautious to declare yourself a happy man," says Cohen.

"There are a lot of forces that immediately are animated when someone makes that statement and you usually get creamed within seconds. So I'll refrain from that kind of proclamation. But I can't complain. I find the whole thing very workable."

Certainly The Future isn't as relentlessly gloomy as his early work. Cohen uses a quote from the Old Testament to dedicate the album to De Mornay -- "And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder..." -- and there are some almost mushy moments, notably the loose, fun cover of Irving Berlin's "Always." But old fans need not worry: Cohen hasn't gone hopelessly pop.

There is no shortage of tough, downbeat material on The Future (see review), but neither is the tongue-in-cheek, black humor that first surfaced on I'm Your Man much in evidence this time around.

Cohen, of course, claims the humor has always been there. But even he admits he tends to have a fairly dark take on life a lot of the time and he knows that has scared people away.

That grim vision is starting to win more converts in North America. Cohen, who was always more popular in Europe than on his home continent, is finally gaining some respect here. He was inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame last year and I'm Your Man received more enthusiastic critical reaction than anything he'd done in years. Cohen figures perhaps the time is right for his sombre world view.

"When I wrote in 1978 or 1979, 'These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood,' people said this was just apocalyptic dribble. But the eyebrows don't go up quite so high now," he says.

"My relentless rap that we had undergone a kind of interior catastrophe, that the flood had already come, that the heart had already suffered some disaster, this idea can be, if not embraced, at least approached a little more easily now. People do have the sense that something has happened. I would say that my work, even my early work, is more accessible.

"We're in a biblical landscape now. People are inhabiting that landscape, whether they call it biblical or not. There is a sense that there has to be moment-to-moment negotiations with whatever it is that saves you, and somehow we're all involved in these negotiations. I don't pretend to be able to illuminate this process. I just feel that I named it a long time ago and it is one of the backdrops of my songs. It seems like people just acknowledge it a lot more easily now."

Such thoughts are not meant to be depressing. For Cohen -- who has come a long way musically from the folkie, acoustic days of The Songs of Leonard Cohen -- even the apocalypse must have a good rhythm.

"The Future would be pretty grim if I just nailed it up on the church door like Martin Luther. I mean it is a hot little track and you can dance to it. It's gotta have that.

"The last thing we need is something else to bring us down. And I never meant to do that. I always meant to invigorate."

Cohen celebrated the Death of a Ladies' Man on the ill-fated 1977 album of the same name and 10 years later he lamented the fact "I ache in the places where I used to play" in the wryly self-deprecating "Tower of Song."

He still cuts quite a romantic figure, though, and has an effect on female admirers that pop stars half his age can only dream about.

Despite the fact he's going out with a young Hollywood starlet, Cohen insists talk of him being some sort of rock-poet Casanova is more myth than reality.

"I'm getting a little old for that," he says. "I have no idea what it means because my life has been so monkish so much of the time. My friends smile about that image because I've lived alone so much.

"Sometimes these fictions are very bitter. Nobody beats the rap. As your chins develop and your hair greys, it gets to be a very amusing description. It's like calling Joe Louis the champ."

There has been talk for years now of a new Cohen poetry anthology and he says it will eventually see the light of day -- as soon as he finds time to make the selection.

He abandoned the world of literature in the mid-1960s to pursue a career as a country singer in Nashville. He never looked back after Judy Collins helped establish him in the folk scene with her version of "Suzanne."

He has published three collection of poetry and two novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. He continues to write poetry, but it takes a back seat to his music.

"I keep scratching away and things emerge," says Cohen. "It's a swifter, more impressionistic kind of work. The song is based on the stanza and uses a very intricate verse form. Whereas writing so-called poetry when you don't have to come to the end of the line is a freer kind of activity.

"The regimen these songs demand is very much like the novel -- they demand a daily application. There's no way you can do this on the run. I wish there were. But, chez moi, I've got to get down to it every day."

It can take Cohen years, literally, to write one song. He wrote 80 verses for the new song "Democracy" before settling on the six that appear on the album.

"I'd like to be one of these guys who write great tunes in the back of taxi cabs, and there are many. Maybe all the good stuff is written that way. I'd love to churn it out. If I knew where songs came from, I'd go there more often."

Cohen told a friend, director Robert Altman, he was writing a song about democracy in America after the fall of the Berlin Wall; Altman said that sounded like a three-act play. Cohen figures it would've been easier to write the play. He then recites one of the verses that ended up on the cutting-room floor:

It ain't coming to us European style
Concentration camp behind the smile.
It ain't coming from the east
With its temporary feast
As Count Dracula comes strolling down the aisle

Apparently this was too gloomy.

"I alone among people saw (the collapse of the Berlin Wall) as a sinister event. I thought: 'This is going to bring a lot of suffering with it.' It's just my gloomy and grim nature coming through."





The following article appeared in the
London's Daily Mail, Friday's People section,
December 11, 1992.


Cohen Heads Back to The Future


By Spencer Bright



The dapper, well preserved gentleman in front of me doesn't quite marry with the myth of the miserable, tormented poet.

Leonard Cohen is wearing an expensively cut suit, sunglasses hang out of his breast pocket, a copper bracelet is on his wrist. He's tanned and trim and looks nothing like his 58 years. His face is creased, but only because he is forever giving wry smiles. That smooth bass voice, which always spoke more than sang, has ripened with age.

When he groaned "Suzanne", or "So Long Marianne," or "Hey! That's No Way To Say Goodbye," he voiced romantic and spiritual angst so accurately that it became a cliché to say he composed music to commit suicide to.

A deeper reading of his work reveals there is far more humour than is immediately apparent and I am not surprised to find myself laughing at his self-deprecating humour and playful conversational twists.

He's not a man to accept received wisdoms and challenges sacred cows like feminism, race and nationality, psychoanalysis and guilt.

He's particularly fond of guilt, that specialty of Jews and Catholics. "I think guilt is an excellent indication of the fact that you're doing something wrong, or that you have done something wrong, it's an essential component of the human psyche," he says.

"I think that to do violence to guilt is a great mistake, to establish a medicine based on dissolving guilt is folly. On the contrary, I think guilt should be studied and embraced and understood and blessed."

Cohen was brought up in a well-to-do orthodox Jewish family in Montreal. His character was moulded by the death of his father when he was nine. Whatever his predicament as a result of that, Cohen makes sure he is always there for his own children, Adam, 20, and Lorca, 18.

Their mother Marianne, (not the one in the song) [true, not the one in the song, but her name is Suzanne], has long since parted from their father. Cohen refuses to talk about his current lover except to say he is in a long-term relationship. "I could never be frank, I'm extremely frivolous and deceptive about it."

[Sorry, a short line is missing here] be so on his new album The Future, the reason for his arrival in London yesterday on a promotional visit.

Age appears not to have dimmed his sexual appetite. "Sexual thoughts are supposed to come regularly once every six seconds. Whatever the statistic was, I wasn't exempt from it, and am still not. I find a broadening of desire, if anything, as you get older."

I suggest he is still very attractive to women. "There is some impression of one being over the hill, but there's a lot of compassionate, imaginative women around, too."

He admits he may have had trouble being faithful to lovers, but he pooh-poohs any idea that he was, or still is, a lothario.

"I don't know whether it's the general epidemic condition that makes philandering less attractive, or whether the heart has matured, but no, I don't feel driven by variety."

But what about the stories that he once lived with two women? "People who know me smile about these things because I've probably spent more time alone than most people." Solitude is important to Cohen. He tries to get away for two months in the year to Buddhist retreats in the mountains near Los Angeles or New Mexico. He refuses to get holier than thou on this. "It's an opportunity to make yourself truly miserable, you don't have any distractions. You get a chance to test yourself in a certain way."

He's flirted with many beliefs, but still clings to Judaism. "I'm not interested in acquiring another religion. This one's fine."

As he approaches his sixties Cohen believes his best work is yet to come. "I just feel I'm on the edge of creating a form for my feelings and thoughts, that can truly deliver a song."





The following article appeared in the
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4, 1993.
A slightly modified version appeared in the
Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1992,
under the title "Words Don't Come Easy" and
The Ottawa Citizen, December 13, 1992,
under the title "Cohen Labors Over
Creative Assignments."


Painstaking Effort Pays Off
in Leonard Cohen's 'Future'


By Tom Moon



NEW YORK --- The wordsmiths of current pop live by the doctrine of "first thought, best thought."

It's the flash of inspiration that happens in the shower. It's the hit song written in a taxicab, on a cocktail napkin. It's writing without revision. It's what the poet Robert Browning called "the first fine careless rapture."

And Leonard Cohen doesn't want to hear about it.

Cohen dwells on his songs a bit longer than most. Years longer than most. He pines over words, debates hidden meanings, and doesn't consider a song finished, he says in his amiable grumble, until he can defend every line--which isn't necessarily a guarantee he knows what it all means.

With the discipline of a detective and a reporter's eye for detail, he peels away the facile images and the clichés that cripple most songwriting, until he arrives at a final kernal of truth.

He considers this exacting work "his assignment," and admits the process he's used to construct his acutely perceptive songs over the past two decades is tedious, as well as emotionally draining. He acknowledges that people could consider his method obsessive. Some songs on his new album The Future--which arrived in stores last week and is his first new music since 1988's I'm Your Man--have been written and revised over a period of five years. Five years.

"Before I can discard an idea," Cohen explains in a recent interview in his suite on the 39th floor of a midtown Manhattan hotel, "I have to write it. Completely. In all its terms, in all its loyalties to rhyme and rhythm and stanza. I can't eliminate the half-written verse, because it is in keeping with the rhythm and the rhyme scheme that the idea manifests itself."

Cohen says some of the new songs have lived through several incarnations. One, "Anthem," has been prepared and recorded (and paid for out of his production budget, Cohen adds ruefully) for each of the last three records. This was the first time Cohen felt satisfied with it.

So this 58-year-old Canadian poet writes. And gets to where he's semi-happy with the results. And then discovers that he can't "get my voice around the words" because something does not ring true. Then he goes back to square one and rewrites.

Though only six verses are recorded, "Democracy," one of the new songs, contains some 80 verses in all--it's an epic meditation on the democratic experiment, and according to Cohen, he had to work through every one, just to make sure he wasn't missing anything.

"I've only learned one thing writing songs," Cohen says, radiating the patience of a master craftsman. "And that is, if you stay with it long enough, the song will yield."

"But," he continues, "'long enough' is beyond any reasonable length of what long enough might suggest to you. You might think it's a few months--it might be a year or two... The work of it seems to be involved with rejecting every version of the song that is too easy.

"And then you read it, and it is kind of a surprise, because it's a position you couldn't have come to through any other process. It doesn't involve a slogan, you even transcend your own politics. You burn away those versions of yourself, your courage and your modesty until you get something irreducible, that lowest guy on the food chain shouting 'they're gonna hear from me.'"

The rewards of this painstaking work are evident on The Future, which just might turn out to be the crowning achievement of a career that includes not only a pile of artful records but the 1966 novel Beautiful Losers and assorted works of poetry and fiction.

The Future represents a sophisticated, novelistic approach to confessional songwriting. Listeners are not led through the expected sequences of love found and betrayal endured; they're dropped, unsuspecting, into the middle of long-festering situations.

There is drama in this, and (of course) pain. Cohen's cranky characters might be engaged in grim prophecy or a lusty last play of romance before the bar closes, but beneath their immediate plight lies evidence of deeper, less easily named troubles. The faith has been shaken. With society's attention focused on externals, the men and women of Cohen's world stroll with their brave faces on, all the while baffled by a gnawing inner torment.

"The Future", a song about an increasingly violent, increasingly unpredictable tomorrow, sums up Cohen's perspective:

"Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
"Won't be nothing
"Nothing you can meausure anymore
"The blizzard of the world
"Has crossed the threshold
"And it has overturned the order of the soul"

Cohen delights in this turmoil. His songs might chronicle the breakdown of outer systems, but he's really talking about a shattering of the inner landscape. It's a familiar theme, one he articulated on "Gypsy Wife," from the 1979 LP Recent Songs, and has returned to often.

"On 'Gypsy Wife' I was saying these are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood. I know, from talking to my friends and my own feelings, that something has happened, that the milestones are gone, that the lights have gone out, and that people are floundering in a profound way. What I'm dealing with is post-apocalypse. There's a tremendous gulf between public utterance and private understanding."

Cohen says that over the past few albums, he's sharpened his focus on this recurring theme. Thus "Closing Time," with lines such as "Looks like freedom but it feels like death, it's something in between I guess," becomes an extended metaphor for the seemingly inevitable apocalypse. As does "Waiting For The Miracle," a tango that illustrates lives of quiet resignation -- waiting for the miracle with the knowledge that there is none forthcoming. And while sex is celebrated in "Light As The Breeze," it's not what you'd expect: with Cohen, sex is a regenerative force, the last refuge in a world gone awry.

Sales-wise, Cohen says he's not expecting much for The Future. But as he's watched the new regime at Columbia Records cranking into promotion gear, he is cautiously optimistic. He believes that ever since Jennifer Warnes' 1986 album of his songs, Famous Blue Raincoat, and the 1991 tribute record I'm Your Fan, there's been a "very agreeable resurgence" of interest in his work.

Columbia advanced The Future by issuing the non-partisan "Democracy" as a single prior to the presidential election--"they said they were going to do it, and they actually did it, which is rare in my"... [text has been cut off]... reactivate his long out-of-print catalog, and a new collection of Cohen's verse is slated to appear next year.

And yet, Cohen doesn't seem particularly cheered, perhaps because he knows that someday he will have to return to the workshop, to labor over more songs.

He says he plans to revisit some of the material that was discarded in the making of The Future -- "I'm not that abundant that I can afford to not recycle things." As much as he professes to loathe the process by which he divines his songs, he seems resigned to it.

"It is my assignment," he says with a vague bitterness. "I wish I had another assignment. I don't like it particularly. But I'm not as occult and arcane about it as I used to be. At the least, I'm making my position more clearly felt than before. So I've got to stay at the post."





The following article appeared in
Maclean's, December 7, 1992.


Life of a Lady's Man

Leonard Cohen sings of love and freedom


By Brian D. Johnson



In the crowded upstairs lounge of an old hotel in Toronto, Leonard Cohen is holding court. A song from his new album, The Future, plays in the background, the baritone ache of his voice ebbing and flowing through the din of the crowd. Cohen stands at the bar, signing autographs and soaking up affection from a cluster of fans. By his side is his companion, Rebecca De Mornay, looking demure and a little out of her element. (When Cohen turned up at the door with the actress on his arm, the bouncer gaped in disbelief--"Is that the girl from The Hand that Rocks the Cradle?"). About half his age and perhaps twice as famous, she is the star, the one drawing stolen glances from across the room. But he is the legend, the one people are lining up to meet. One man offers a shoe to be autographed, explaining that he recently wore it at his wedding. Carefully, Cohen inscribes his name across the white leather with a ballpoint pen, then adds a quotation from his 1966 novel Beautiful Losers: "Magic is afoot."

Combining poetry, romance and wit, the gesture was vintage Cohen. And the occasion was a recent launch party for The Future, his 11th album and his first recording in four years. In 1988, the Canadian poet-singer revived his career with I'm Your Man, an album that won critical acclaim and sold more than a million copies. Since then, a new generation of bands has cited him as a major influence. Singer Jennifer Warnes filled a hit album, Famous Blue Raincoat, with his songs, and last year various artists contributed to a Cohen tribute album titled I'm Your Fan.

At 58, the Montreal-born troubadour remains relentlessly hip. Although he has occasionally faded from the scene, he has never really fallen from fashion. Strangely immune to the shifting sands of sexual politics, Cohen's lyrics still make the worship of wine, women and song a noble art. He is still the sardonic voluptuary, celebrating sex and freedom in the precious hours before an apocalyptic dawn. But on the new album, in a song called "Democracy," he also displays a political prescience that seems keenly in tune with the times.

Meanwhile, in an era of all-consuming celebrity, Cohen has found a comfortable level of fame. Comparing him to Bob Dylan and Norman Mailer, Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje says, "All three rely heavily on their ability to be cynical about their egos or pop sainthood, all the time continuing to build it up." Cohen, who once scorned the word "career," now admits to having one. "I have a very manageable career," he said. "It's always been a very modest audience. But I'm well-paid and I'm happy to be fully employed."

In a recent interview with Maclean's, Cohen was dressed in what has become his habitual uniform, a dark suit and black shirt. The singer, who now divides his time between Los Angeles and Montreal, was in the thick of a 17-country talking tour to promote his new album (a concert tour is planned for next spring). Generous with his words, Cohen seems to treat the interview as a confessional art form. He talked about the slow agony of writing songs and the cherished ritual of performing them. He discussed his love-hate relationship with America, while offering some satirical solutions to Canada's constitutional dilemma. He also talked of sex, drugs, and failed dreams, of his current romance--and of his new album.

With just seven new songs, The Future is less ambitious in scale but more adventurous in style than I'm Your Man. The basic sound remains the same, with female choirs soaring over a cigarette-scarred voice that seems deeper and darker than ever. But the music is less regimented. Cohen lets his musicians stray into the expressive wilds of rhythm and blues. And he acts more like a musician himself--his final composition on the album, "Tacoma Trailer," is an instrumental. "You get to that place," he said, "where you're willing to stretch out, to give things a shot."

Perhaps his greatest stretch is crooning a giddy, eight-minute rendition of the Irving Berlin standard "Always." Cohen fools around with his voice like a drunk in a karaoke bar. The song goes back to growing up in Montreal. "It was very popular with my mother," he recalled. "And I used to play it on clarinet in dance bands." While recording "Always," Cohen plied the musicians with a cocktail that he invented in Needles, Calif., called the Red Needle, consisting of tequila, cranberry juice, Sprite and fresh fruit. "I prepared many pitchers," he said, "and everyone was having such a good time they refused to stop playing. I fell down in the recording booth--I was that happy."

With the exception of the title track's doomsday incantation, on The Future Cohen sounds less cynical than before, and almost unhinged by love and sex. With a dedication quoting the biblical story of Rebecca, the album contains both a marriage proposal, in "Waiting For The Miracle," and an ode to oral sex, in "Light As The Breeze." And in "Closing Time," a bracing country tune about drinking, dancing and stripping, Cohen sings of "my very sweet companion" who is "rubbing half the world against her thigh."

Few singers write about sex as rhapsodically as Cohen, who seems to treat it as a sacrament. The word "naked" appears in four songs on the album. "I don't think a man ever gets over that first sight of the naked woman," he said. "I think that's Eve standing over him, that's the morning and the dew on the skin. And I think that's the major content of every man's imagination. All the sad adventures in pornography and love and song are just steps on the path towards that holy vision."

But the two most arresting tracks on the new album are political visions: "The Future," a descent into fascistic horror, and "Democracy," an anthem of political optimism. "They are the flip side of each other," said Cohen. "I wrote them at the same time, as a reaction to the Berlin Wall coming down." "The Future," a song that sharpens the sadistic tone of "First We Take Manhattan" (1988), invokes a black-humored lust for power: "Give me crack and anal sex / Take the only tree that's left / and stuff it up the hole / in your culture / Give me back the Berlin Wall / give me Stalin and St. Paul / I've seen the future, brother: / it is murder."

By contrast, "Democracy" could almost serve as a musical covenant for Bill Clinton's inauguration. Set to the marching beat of a military snare drum, it is a sweeping, seven-minute epic of a song that ranges from "those nights in Tiannanmen Square" to "the fires of the homeless," with the buoyant refrain, "Democracy is coming to the U.S.A... It's here they got the range / and the machinery for change / and it's here they got the spiritual thirst."

When Cohen talks about democracy, it is with a mysticism that transcends politics. "I think we're on the edge of this great movement," he said. "Democracy is the great religion of the West. It's a faith. And it represents an appetite that has been animated in the heart, an appetite for some inviolable envelope of oxygen where you can breathe your own air, so to speak." Coming from an artist who spends a lot of time in smog-shrouded Los Angeles, the metaphor seems less than arbitrary. "Los Angeles is the apocalyptic landscape, both geologically and socially," added Cohen. "There you find a decay of the Western psyche, of that hierarchy of the soul."

Despite "Democracy's" fervent tone, Cohen still maintains a Canadian distance. He says that in referring to America in the lyrics, he was careful to say "they," not "we." And he spells out his ambivalence with the line, "I love the country but I can't stand the scene." Said Cohen: "We're all America-watchers, Canadians. We're brought up to watch America the way women are brought up to watch men."

Meanwhile, Cohen still keeps up with the Canadian scene. He says that he tried to follow the referendum debate but found it bewildering and arcane. Reviving the flag debate would be a better alternative, he playfully suggests. "I think there should be four flags, one for every season: a very small maple leaf for spring, sort to of yellowish green, a big green leaf for summer, a red one for fall, and just a white outline of a leaf for winter." He added: "Family rituals could be built around changing the flag."

As for Quebec, Cohen said that he favors separation, "but geographically--if all the provinces were separated by water, tension would dissolve." Canada, he added, "has an experimental side to it. We are free from the blood myth, the soil myth, so we could start over somewhere else. We could purchase a set of uninhabited islands in the Caribbean. Or we could disperse throughout the cosmos and establish a mental Canada in which we communicate through fax machines."

In a more serious vein, Cohen expresses a loyal affection for Montreal, where he still owns the house in Westmount in which he grew up. His father, Nathan Cohen, who owned a clothing business, died when Leonard was 9. Leonard and his sister, Esther, were raised by his mother, Masha Klonitzki Cohen, a nurse from a Russian family, who died in 1978.

Cohen published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), while still an undergraduate at McGill University. And he won international acclaim for his second, The Spice-Box of Earth (1961). Moving to the Greek island of Hydra, he wrote another collection, the controversial Flowers for Hitler (1964), and two novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). Then he returned to North America to pursue music, and was discovered by legendary Columbia Records executive John Hammond, who had also recruited Bob Dylan. The first album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which included such gems as "Suzanne" and "Sisters of Mercy," was a hit. And although he continued to publish poetry and fiction, music took precedence.

Now, he says that he rarely reads poetry. "After a certain point," he recalled, "I found it very difficult to expose myself to those whisperings, the myriad of private desires and dreams--I just couldn't accommodate all this data of the heart." Asked if he writes poetry himself any more, he says, "I still blacken pages, and some of the lines don't come to the end of the page. But I always thought that poetry was a verdict rather than an intention."

Cohen, who has spent the past four years struggling to compose half a dozen songs, describes writing as an ordeal. "I have always had the sense of being bone-dry," he said. "I never experienced the torrent of creative force that other people have spoken about--the ground doesn't move." Instead, he relies on discipline. "You shatter versions of the self," he explained, "until you get down to a line, a word, that you can defend, that you can wrap your voice around without choking."

For Cohen, the final year of composing an album becomes all-consuming. "There's nothing else going on," he said, "and you can see your life breaking down. Layers of friendship fall away, and you know that you're in it when you're not doing anything else but trying to find the rhyme for 'orange.' It doesn't exist. Some people say it's door hinge, but that's not right."

Cohen has tried shortcuts through what he calls "the sedentary toil" of his profession, but with little success. "I try the various anti-depressants on the market," he said, "and they never seem to work." He has meanwhile, sworn off more adventurous substances. "I spent many years in the meditation hall establishing some kind of balance in what is left of my soul, and I don't like to threaten that," Cohen said. "Occasionally, out of sheer compassion for the company, I will take a puff of a joint--and inhale it. But it throws me for a loop. Maybe, like sex, it's the sport of the young."

Still, Cohen is involved with the proverbial younger woman. He is reluctant to talk about De Mornay, 31, except to say, "She's a very old friend of mine, and much more. We have known each other for many years. I have an exclusive and highly conventional relationship." He added that he would like to live with her, but work has kept them apart. Cohen now shares a house with his daughter, Lorca, 18, who works nights answering calls on a distress phone line. His son, Adam, 20, he added, is a student at Syracuse University-"He couldn't get into McGill." (Their mother, who he never married, is Suzanne Elrod, now living in Paris.)

As Cohen faces his own future, he says that he does not mind the idea of getting old. "I think it's one of the most compassionate ways of saying goodbye that the cosmos could devise," he said. "I think it's perfect. It's an impeccable way to get off centre stage, and everything that happens to you seems so appropriate."

But there is a sadness to his sense of reconciliation. Recalling that he once wanted to be a forest ranger, he said that growing up means realizing "I am this. I'm not even a novelist. I'm not even a poet. I'm a songwriter." Eventually, he added, "you realize you're not going to be doing anything else. You're not going to be leading the social movement. You're not going to be the light of your generation. You're not going to be many of the things you thought you might be. You're this guy sitting in front of the table in the good parts of the day, and crawling around on the carpet in the bad parts. That's what you're doing. You're writing songs for the popular market." Then, he added, with the modesty of a seasoned romantic, "Maybe you have a dream that they last for a while."



For their kind and generous support,
many thanks to Kelley Lynch, Mr. Leonard Cohen
and Dick "The Hummingbird" Straub.


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