Category Archives: Leonard Cohen

The Future

Give me back my broken night
My mirrored room, my secret life
It’s lonely here
There’s no one left to torture

Give me absolute control
Over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby
That’s an order

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

Things are gonna slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned the order of the soul

When they said repent
I wonder what they meant

You don’t know me from the wind
You never will, you never did
I’m the little Jew who wrote the Bible

I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
But love’s the only engine of survival

Your servant here, he has been told
To say it clear, to say it cold
It’s over, it ain’t going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop
You feel the devil’s riding crop

Get ready for the future
It is murder

Things are going to slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold
And it’s overturned the order of the soul

When they said repent
I wonder what they meant

There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms, there’ll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing

You’ll see a woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets coming round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and Saint Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima

Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder

When they said repent
I wonder what they meant

That’s my real story

“By the time I finished my tour in 1993, I was in some condition of anguish that deepened and deepened. Prozac didn’t work. Paxil didn’t work. Zoloft didn’t work. Wellbutrin didn’t work. In fact, the only comic element in the whole thing was when I was taking Prozac, I came to believe that I had overcome my [sexual] desires. I didn’t know that it has that side effect. I thought it was a spiritual achievement.”

The daily regimen of life at the Zen center was sometimes preoccupation enough. “Think of a Boy Scout camp,” Cohen said. “There are a lot of small cabins, a mess hall and some kind of recreation hall that had been converted into a Zen meditation hall. Just maintenance took the whole day just to keep the thing going. Pipes would burst in the winter. You get up at 2:30 or 3 in the morning, depending on your duties. I ended up as one of Roshi’s personal assistants, and I was cooking for him.” After a year, Cohen was ordained as a Buddhist monk. “None of this represented the solution to a crisis of faith,” Cohen told me. “I looked at it as a demonstration of solidarity with the community. I was never looking for a new religion. I was perfectly satisfied with my old religion.”

Other times, the Zen life wasn’t enough. “I was sitting in the meditation hall one afternoon,” said Cohen, “and I thought, ‘This sucks. This whole scene sucks.’ And I moved from that into cataloging the various negative feelings I had for the mother of my children. I found myself descending into a bonfire of hatred, you know – that bitch, what she’d done to me, what she left me with, how she wrecked the whole fucking scene. I was in there, I was in my robes, and the furthest thing from my mind was spiritual advancement. The furthest. I mean, I was consumed with rage.”

That day, Cohen’s rage gave way to a moment of unexpected grace, a kind of temporary epiphany. “There was sunlight on the floor of the cabin, where we were waiting to go see Roshi,” he said. “There were leaves outside and the shadow of these leaves was on the floor. The wind moved, something moved, and I disappeared into this movement. . . .  The whole scene blew up. A dog started barking, and I was barking. And everything that arose was the content of my being. Everything that moved was me. . . .  In certain blessed moments, we experience ourselves as the reality that is manifesting as everything. There’s no ‘I am one with the universe,’ which is the cheapest mystical slogan.” Cohen paused. “There is that moment,” he continued, “and it decides that life is worth living. I was barking with the dog, but there really was no dog.”

But dread still arose, and it could obliterate the self. After several years at the camp, Cohen had decided it was time to leave. He was driving to the airport, and, he said, “the bottom dropped out. This floor that was supposed to be there wasn’t there. It was dreadful. I pulled my car over to the side of the road. I reached back and I got my shaving kit, and I took out all the medication and threw it out the window and I said, ‘Fuck this. If I’m going to go down, I want to go down clear-eyed.’ So, I went back to the camp and I did those next few weeks, which were pure hell, and during that time, I picked up a book by an Indian writer by the name of Balsekar.”

Ramesh Balsekar was a Hindu mentor who lived in Mumbai and wrote about a concept called “non-dualism,” developed in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In 1999, Cohen departed Mount Baldy and headed to Mumbai. He spent a year studying with Balsekar. “The model I finally understood,” he recalled, “suggested that there really is no fixed self. The conventional therapeutic wisdom today encourages the sufferer to get in touch with his inner feelings – as if there were an inner self, a true self, the real self that we have glimmerings of in dreams and insights. . . . There is no real inner self to command your loyalty and the tyranny of your investigation. What happened to me was not that I got any answers, but that the questions dissolved. As one of Balsekar’s students said, ‘I believe in cause and effect, but I don’t know which is which.’”

Slowly, the depression eased. “By imperceptible degrees, something happened, and it lifted,” Cohen continued. “It lifted, and it hasn’t come back for two and a half years. That’s my real story. I don’t feel like saying, ‘I’ve been saved,’ throwing my crutches up in the air. But I have been. Since that depression has lifted – and I don’t know whether it’s permanent or temporary – I still have the same appetite to write.” Ten New Songs was perhaps the loveliest and most gracious album Cohen had made. “The Future came out of suffering,” he said. “This came out of celebration.”

Interview with Leonard Cohen

The third act

A: Nothing’s over till it’s over, but I find myself in a graceful moment. More or less relaxed.

Q: So you can really experience a big difference in how you tackle things now compared to earlier?

A: I read somewhere that as you get older the brain cells associated with anxiety begin to die. I think if that’s true – in my case it seems to be true – you can take it all a little more lightly.

Q: So the depressions that you had in your earlier days?

A: They’ve lifted. They’ve lifted completely.

Q: So ageing is quite nice?

A: In my case it’s been a great blessing.

Q: But there must be some hard part of it?

A: I think the collapse of the body is an aspect of it. And I’m not in old age, you know. I think I’m in that good period before the onset of the diseases that eventually kill you. I think it was Tennessee Williams said, ‘Life is a fairly well written play, except for the third act’. It’s a very bad third act.

Q: But for you it’s the best so far?

A: Beginning the third act is fine. I don’t know how the third act will unfold, but it doesn’t unfold very well for anybody. So I’m probably in the most graceful period that I’ve ever experienced, before the onset of this unpleasant destruction of the body, which is inevitable.

— Leonard Cohen, interview


Q: When people speak about your poems and when you read them, it can seem like they contain a certain portion of depression, paranoia, pessimism. But you seem to have decided to be happy over the years. Is that true?

A: I don’t know what happened. I wish I could tell you. It just got to feel better after a while. But I think that what we call seriousness is sometimes confused with depression. So much of this popular culture is devoted to pretending that nobody has any deep feelings and nobody sweats and nobody is in trouble. And the truth is that we’re all in trouble. Every single person is in trouble, with themselves, with their loves, with their work. So I think it’s a great privilege to be serious. I think it’s a great gift to be serious sometimes, and to be deeply serious about ourselves, about our lives, about our friends. That seriousness is often confused with depression. But to tell you the truth I’ve often felt bad. I was depressed, I wasn’t just serious.

Q: When did you last have a breakdown?

A: I tend to break down when I make a record. And I think you have to. If you’re going to destroy the versions of yourself that provide too easy a solution. So you know, someone comes along in yourself and he has a slogan, he has a view on love, he has a position on the world. Those kinds of persons that arise make very boring songs, so you have to annihilate them. You have to murder them. And to murder all those false persons that arise and try to tell you what the song is, to get to that place where you can defend every word, that takes a slaughter. And you really gotta break down.

Q: You write to murder. Or you murder by writing?

A: I write to murder the selves that whisper untruths to me.

Interview with Leonard Cohen

You work with what you’ve got

There are people who work out of a sense of great abundance. I’d love to be one of them but I’m not. You just work with what you’ve got.


When I speak of depression I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. I’m happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life. I read somewhere that as you grow older certain brain cells die that are associated with anxiety so it doesn’t really matter how much you apply yourself to the disciplines. You’re going to start feeling a lot better or a lot worse depending on the condition of your neurons.


Well, you know, we’re talking in a world where guys go down into the mines, chewing coca and spending all day in backbreaking labour. We’re in a world where there’s famine and hunger and people are dodging bullets and having their nails pulled out in dungeons so it’s very hard for me to place any high value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard but compared to what?

— Leonard Cohen, interview

I’m reluctant to call [my work] poetry. I like your idea of footnotes, or notes or some other kind of activity, because I think there is an enterprise called poetry today and I don’t really feel part of it […] I don’t have that mind that seems to be valued today. I can’t understand a lot of the stuff that’s written.

Leonard Cohen, via here

The Window

A blond boy wearing thick glasses just looked in my window, or rather at my window, for he used it as a mirror in which he confirmed his coiffure and his expression. I was afraid he might catch sight of me behind his reflection but he quit his work unaware of the self-centred host of this sunken room, and I did not have to confront him in the midst of his vanity.

— Leonard Cohen, ‘The Window’

A certain sweetness

There was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself. I remember sitting in the corner of my kitchen, which has a window overlooking the street. I saw the sunlight shining on the chrome fenders of the cars, and thought, ‘Gee, that’s pretty’. I said to myself, ‘Wow, this must be like everybody feels’. Life became not easier but simpler. The backdrop of self-analysis I had lived with disappeared. It’s like that joke: ‘When you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, it feels good when it stops’. When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you. It happened to me by imperceptible degrees and I could not really believe it; I could not really claim it for some time. I thought there must be something wrong. It’s like taking a drink of cold water when you are thirsty. Every tastebud on your tongue, every molecule in your body says thank you.

Leonard Cohen

Waiting for the Miracle

I don’t believe you’d like it,
You wouldn’t like it here.
There ain’t no entertainment
and the judgements are severe.
The Maestro says it’s Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Waiting for the miracle
There’s nothing left to do.
I haven’t been this happy
since the end of World War II.

Nothing left to do
when you know that you’ve been taken.
Nothing left to do
when you’re begging for a crumb
Nothing left to do
when you’ve got to go on waiting
waiting for the miracle to come.
When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re doing
of course you’ll say you can’t complain —
If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb:
You just say you’re out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

— Leonard Cohen, from ‘Waiting for the Miracle’

I wouldn’t call myself a religious man. I don’t believe in any version of God that I can come up with. Sometimes a deep appetite for prayer arises, and I pray. Where my prayer is addressed, I would not dare to say. I would not dare to try to describe where my prayer is aimed. Any opinion about this matter that I’ve ever come up with I have very little respect for. I have little respect for most of my opinions, but this one I have no respect for.

Leonard Cohen