And my very sweet companion
she's the Angel of Compassion
and she's rubbing half the world against her thigh
Every drinker, every dancer
lifts a happy face to thank her
and the fiddler fiddles something so sublime
All the women tear their blouses off
and the men they dance on the polka-dots
and it's partner found and it's partner lost
and it's hell to pay when the fiddler stops
It's closing time

Closing Time
The Future

The fiddler fiddles something so sublime


                                 


The following article appeared in the
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, June 21, 1993.


First, He's a Poet


By Rob Hubbard


Who would think that, after 36 years of composing poetry and 25 years of songwriting, folk icon Leonard Cohen would, at the age of 58, create a masterful album of pop-rock that transcends any of his prior musical adventures. But that's exactly what Cohen has done. The Future is a brilliant piece of work in which the Canadian wordsmith -- who will make his first Twin Cities appearance in almost two decades at the State Theatre Tuesday night -- combines folk, funk, blues, country and gospel with complex lyrics weighted with apocalyptic imagery.

In 1967, Cohen -- who had three collections of poetry and two novels to his credit -- turned to songwriting, an unusual choice for a literary figure.

"Actually, I started off in a country band called the Buckskin Boys when I was about 17," Cohen says from a hotel in Toronto. "I was very interested in music long before I ever thought of writing a book. It was when I started to become touched by the lyrics of folk songs in the early '50s that I decided to write poetry."

Did music offer something that literature lacked?

"I always heard an invisible guitar behind everything I did, whether I was writing a novel or a poem. It never got too far from music, in my own mind."

The music he heard in his mind while composing The Future has some strong elements of gospel, with a chorus of women lending their spirited voices to Cohen's very dark imagery of a society in collapse, lending some sense of hope amid the despair.

"There's something in the music that transcends the irony or menace of all of the songs. If one of those lyrics was pinned to the church wall like Martin Luther's confrontation with the Catholic Church, it might be considered quite a dark document. But it's often married to a hot little dance track."

The album's title song, "The Future," was inspired by the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Rather than joining in the joyous celebration, Cohen reacted differently.

"I did have a sense of some ominous consequence to the overthrow of the communist regimes in the east. Although no one in their right mind could fail to affirm those events, I did have the sense that, with the breakdown of central authority, there would be a great deal of suffering produced... As a friend said to me, all of this culture and civilization is just nail polish. And the polish is now starting to flake and fall off again. And what you're left with is the claw."

Is the upsurge in ethnic violence an example of this menacing image?

"When the center can no longer defend itself, a kind of centrifugal force drives people into extreme positions, which are generally oversimplified. If we can't identify with a visionary position of brotherhood, of commonality, we're flung to the periphery, where we can identify with things like white, black, Jewish, Christian, man, woman. And these ideas can become very seductive, even for people of refined intelligence."

But Cohen's outlook is not always so pessimistic: He finds depth and transcendence in love. While much of his work has dwelt upon the physical act of love, it now seems to bear a profundity that stretches far beyond the youthful fascinations of romance. The conflicting muses of romance and despair that have haunted his work throughout his career seem to forge a truce on The Future.

Cohen's own romantic life involves actress Rebecca De Mornay. The two share a house in Los Angeles, and she is credited with taking part in the producing and arranging of a few songs on the album.

"She brought the song 'Anthem' to fruition. I'd been struggling with the song for a long time, until she finally said, "I think this song is done now. Let's go down to the studio and record it." I said, 'Good. You produce it.' She said, 'I don't know how to produce a record,' and I replied, 'Just be the director.' And that's precisely what she was. She drew that performance out of me."

And Cohen's future? A return to writing? Or more music?

"That's one of the wonderful things about a tour: You're liberated from thinking about anything but that evening's concert. So I'm indulging myself in that liberation."



                                 


The following article appeared in
L.A. Style, February 1993.


La Brea Blues


The Future proves that Leonard Cohen
is as good as he is great


By Steve Pond


Leonard Cohen gets around. Sure, he turns up in locales suited to a singer, songwriter and poet who has spent more than three decades blending obsession and religion, romance and ritual with unmistakable precision, wit and dour eloquence: Montreal, where he grew up; Paris, where he is a big star; a Greek island, where he's kept a place since the early '60s. But the 58-year-old also makes stops in more unexpected settings: a trailer amidst the paper mills of Tacoma, Washington, where he wrote the luminous instrumental that closes his fine new album, The Future, the desert community of Needles, California, where he stopped long enough to invent a cocktail, the Red Needle, which he used to lubricate his band before they recorded Irving Berlin's "Always" for the same album; and a duplex near the corner of Olympic and La Brea.

It may be difficult to picture Cohen strolling through Larchmont Village or dining at the now-defunct Fatburger on La Brea, but he's co-owned the duplex for more than a decade and has spent a great deal of time in the area, particularly in recent years. For nearly all of the time he spent working on his new record, for instance, he was living in the austerely furnished top unit of the modest two-story building he currently shares with his daughter. He is, it seems, a true local these days, and one who might even be tempted to call L.A. home.

"It certainly feels like a home," Cohen says. "I live the same kind of life everywhere, which just involves a chair and a table, but it's very agreeable when the sun comes through the window."

Cohen has been here immersed in an unexpectedly fertile period that began long after many had written him off as an unnecessarily dour, fatalistic chronicler of sex and salvation who'd never sell many records himself. His signature songs--"Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Sisters of Mercy"--may date back to the late '60s, but Cohen's past three albums have been among his most substantial and musical works ever, with The Future a worthy follow-up to Various Positions (1984) and I'm Your Man (1988). "Literate density" is Cohen's own description of the new record; you can add that it's strong, perverse and funny as hell.

"Something changed in the early eighties," he admits. "Some kind of intensity seized me, or some kind of confession that I was this songwriter living in L.A., that I wasn't a forest ranger or a brain surgeon. I'd always worked hard at it, but some kind of fuller involvement in the activity began to seize me at that time, and it's intensified and really driven me around the bend."

Continually reworking, rewriting and rerecording his songs until he feels he can "defend every word, every nuance, every rhythm," Cohen has also found that his newfound compulsion has coincided with his increased veneration; in the past few years he has seen two albums devoted entirely to his songs, Jennifer Warnes's lovely Famous Blue Raincoat and the compilation LP I'm Your Fan, with contributions from the likes of R.E.M. and Nick Cave. Once written off as too mordant and fatalistic in the way he depicted the disintegration of our exterior and interior landscapes, he now seems both wittier and timelier than ever.

"Prophecy is not my business," he insists, "and I don't in any sense think of my work as ideological. But as early as '75, I remember writing lines like 'These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood' -- the implication being that there was no need to wait for a catastrophe, it had already come. There was a catastrophe on the interior level, and the milestones and the landmarks and the lights were gone. So, if you were hanging on to your orange crate and you passed somebody who was hanging on to their broken spar, what was the appropriate greeting, what was the appropriate behavior?" He pauses. "Now, when I used to present this rap to journalists ten or twelve years ago, I'd get a lot of raised eyebrows and a lot of descriptions of grimness and depression and an unnecessary addiction to the apocalyptic position. But, you know, the eyebrows are not raised so high anymore."

Nor are the eyebrows at Cohen's record company, Columbia. He is not a big seller, nor is he ever likely to be (except in Europe), but after I'm Your Man there was a change. "A softening in the offices of power," he calls it, and it makes him think back to the days when the then-head of Columbia Records was frankly baffled by the artist he had under contract. "I remember Walter Yetnikoff once said to me, 'Leonard, we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good'," says Cohen, chuckling. "And now, you know, it might turn out that I was any good, too."



                                 


The following article and photograph appeared in
The Daily Telegraph, April 26, 1993.
The photo is by Barry Marsden.


The Joking Troubadour of Gloom


Leonard Cohen, that master of sexy melancholy,
is giving two sell-out concerts in London next month.
And, he tells Tim Rostron, he is feeling fairly cheerful.


By Tim Rostron


Leonard Cohen has a famous face. He is fond of telling the story of how a fan once stopped him on the street and congratulated him on his performance in Midnight Cowboy. A fan of Dustin Hoffman, that is. The anecdote is old now, and so is the face. At 58, the Canadian songwriter and groaner could be Hoffman's father.

In photographs, the face is a picture of hangdog sadness. In the flesh, he never stops smiling.

It is not a huge surprise. Fans have always found Cohen peculiarly uplifting. For them he is an intellectual bluesman who finds liberation in facing up to the awful mess we're all in. Who finds bleak humour there, too. This aspect of his writing is more conspicuous on his recent records, but for many years he was an underrated purveyor of jokes.

"I'm glad you've introduced that word into the conversation," says Cohen. "I am so often accused of gloominess and melancholy. And I think I'm probably the most cheerful man around. I don't consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin."

The troubadour of gloom continues: "I think those descriptions of me are quite inappropriate to the gravity of the predicament that faces us all. I've always been free from hope. It's never been one of my great solaces. I feel that more and more we're invited to make ourselves strong and cheerful." This graduate of McGill University adds: "I think that it was Ben Jonson who said, I have studied all the theologies and all the philosophies, but cheerfulness keeps breaking through."

The touts will be smiling when Cohen's world tour reaches London next month. Tickets for his only two British dates sold out within hours. After years in the doldrums, "I'm hot again," he beams. His album of 1988, I'm Your Man, was a bigger commercial success than his previous nine put together. Last year's The Future was less successful, but still did respectably in the charts.

He says of his material: "I said in 1975, these are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood. There has been some kind of interior catastrophe. People no longer feel situated in any recognisable landscape. The landmarks are down, the lights are out. And we find ourselves in some kind of flood, holding on to pieces of orange crate and flag staffs. What is the appropriate salutation in this kind of situation?"

The musical arrangements, though, promise to be upbeat in concert. He is bringing over a band to reproduce the ironically rocking sound of his two latest albums and to remove some of the earlier songs from their stark, nylon-stringed guitar settings. "We have a joke in the band: Orbisonising. That's is, to take Roy Orbison's approach to the old tunes."

With an electric group behind him he will also be able to indulge in another under-celebrated aspect of his work, its sexiness. It is because so many of hyis lyrics come across like chat-up lines, rather than suicide notes, that he became big in bedsits. Lately, this tendency has blossomed in his work. No one growls the word "baby" quite like Cohen.

Cohen, a life-long bachelor and father of two grown-ups, has lately been living in what a press officer calls "an exclusive dating situation" with Rebecca De Mornay, who played the delectable psycho in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Dating has always been an important source of comfort in his art.

The money he is now making must be a consolation, too. He gave up a promising early career as a poet and novelist when he found that he could not make a living even as a bestseller. But there were lean times for him as a rock cult, too: the mid-1970s to mid-1982, for example, when his muse became unreliable and the public came to think of Cohen as his own best joke.

"Well, I have always been able to satisfy the dictum that I set myself, which was not to work for pay but to be paid for my work," he says. "So I have always been able to make a modest living and send my kids to school and take care of the things that need taking care of. Also it's protected me from the bitterness that poverty might have engendered.

"As one's family grows and one's sense of responsibility grows, yes, you need more money, but I've always been drawn by the voluptuousness of austerity. I would say that the sole extravagance that I indulge myself in is caviare. Unfortunately I have developed I won't say a need, but a taste for caviare.

When not making a rare tour, Cohen spends his days writing. He takes a novelist's approach to lyrics, producing Wagnerian stacks of verses which then must be pruned down to a performing time of around five minutes. "The verses I discard, I work on as hard as the ones I keep. It's a curious method and I don't recommend it to any songwriters."

Are the records a substitute for the novels he would rather be bringing out? He claims not. He loves songs, he says -- the way their meanings "move swiftly from heart to heart". And come to that, he loves sitting at a desk. "What I liked about the novel was the regime, that foreknowledge of the day, the commitment to the desk."

He doesn't love songs enough to buy records, but then he doesn't need to. "My children (a son, 20, and daughter, 18) buy enormous amounts of them. I do know quite a bit about what's going on. Some of it's through watching MTV. A lot of it comes through the walls from my daughter's room."

When he is left in complete peace, Cohen bolsters his hopeless contentment by practicing something called Za-Zen. "I made the acquaintance of an old Japanese gentleman many years ago, and we've become fast friends, mostly drinking companions of late. And he taught me Za-Zen. It's sitting without a goal. All the versions of yourself arise if you sit long enough. You tire of them. And when they finally vacate the consciousness, free from answer and free from question, you experience peace. And peace is the embrace of the absolute." A newcomer to Los Angeles, he is beginning to sound like a native Californian. But he adds reassuringly, "Of course, you can't stay in that state too long, because you have to eat and you have to go to the washroom."

And you have to smoke a cigarette. Except that Cohen whose vocal chords have become increasingly kippered over the years, has not touched one throughout the interview. Can he have given up? "Yeah, two years now. And of course, when you give up smoking you give up drinking a great deal too. The pleasures of the bar diminish considerably." How is he coping? "It's hell," he says, deadpan.



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


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