Leonard Co­hen’s funny. No joke

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

FRONT ROW: LEONARD CO­HEN Ra­dio 4, May 26

IT IS STRANGE that Leonard Co­hen has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing mis­er­able when, as this in­ter­view with Mark Law­son clearly demon­strated, he is a very funny guy. Any­one who is familiar with the work of the leg­endary Cana­dian poet/singer/artist will also know that he is also gifted and enor­mously in­ter­est­ing.

De­spite be­ing born Jewish, Co­hen lived for five years as a Bud­dhist monk in the 1990s hav­ing en­dured a break­down, dur­ing which time his stage fright caused him to con­sume two or three bot­tles of wine ev­ery evening.

He was, he said, “a use­less monk. If you end up in one of the those places it means you can’t deal with the world.” He ex­plained that the monastery he at­tended was a bit like “a spir­i­tual re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre”.

Law­son won­dered whether, if you were a fail­ure to en­ter such a place, to leave made you an even big­ger one. Co­hen agreed, laugh­ing. Yet we should all be such fail­ures. His body of work has been used and ref­er­enced ev­ery­where from Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous to Shrek; he has been cov­ered by some of the world’s great­est per­form­ers in­clud­ing fel­low Jew Bob Dylan.

In fact Co­hen told of an af­ter­noon he spent with His Bob­ness in a café in Paris. “He asked me how long it had taken to write Hal­lelu­jah, a song which he had cov­ered. I said it took two years al­though ac­tu­ally it took slightly longer.” Dylan re­torted that some of his songs had taken just 15 min­utes to write. Oh to have been the waiter serv­ing the café au lait to that par­tic­u­lar ta­ble.

De­spite the fact that Co­hen claims “never to have met a re­li­gion I didn’t like”, he still main­tains his links with Ju­daism. “I have al­ways felt a part of that tra­di­tion. I prac­tise that and my chil­dren prac­tise it,” he told Law­son.

In fact, he claims that his in­ves­ti­ga­tions into other “spir­i­tual sys­tems” as he calls them, has ac­tu­ally en­hanced his un­der­stand­ing of Ju­daism. The other great event of Co­hen’s re­cent life oc­curred when, af­ter five years, he emerged from his life as a Bud­dhist monk to find that his for­mer man­ager, Kelley Lynch, had mis­ap­pro­pri­ated more than $5 mil­lion of his money. Said Co­hen: “It’s enough to put a dent in your mood” — see what I mean? He re­ally is a funny guy.

For­tu­nately, Co­hen seemed to ap- ply the lessons of Zen Bud­dhism to his predica­ment. His re­ac­tion was truly philo­soph­i­cal. “Ev­ery­body gets taken,” he said. His pri­mary emo­tion was bore­dom at the te­dious round of meet­ings which re­sulted from the crime. He found him­self in end­less dis­cus­sion with lawyers and foren­sic ac­coun­tants — the Bud­dhist part of him must have be­gan to won­der with he had done some­thing re­ally bad in a past life.

His ded­i­ca­tion to writ­ing is un­ques­tion­able, with a huge num­ber of pub­lished po­ems and songs, many of them funny, many more in­tensely pro­found. How­ever, he was not averse to seek­ing help when at­tempt­ing to find a good rhyme, which he de­light­fully re­ferred to as “sonic co­in­ci­dences”. To that end he con­fessed to flick­ing through a rhyming dic­tionary, al­low­ing the rhymes to as­so­ci­ate, read­ing it much like one would fiction. “Th­ese are des­per­ate cir­cum­stances,” he laughed.

Yes, he re­ally was Laugh­ing Len.

PHOTO: MICHAEL DON­ALD

LeonardCo­hen­said­he­wasa“use­less­monk”when­hewasaBud­dhist

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