Discussing Lyrics with Leonard

Friday 24th May

I spent all of last night, right into the early hours discussing lyrics with Leonard.  Yes, that’s right, you heard correctly – Leonard Cohen, the famous Canadian singer and poet.  Leonard spoke slowly in that deep whispery voice, as if mulling his words carefully even here.  He explained that it was frustrating that he had spent months, years sometimes honing a phrase, choosing exactly the right word for a song which now nobody remembers, just an obscure album track; and yet when recording an album and another song would be needed, he would dredge up some old lyrics or a failed earlier attempt and give it one more run-through, and lo and behold it was acclaimed as a classic.  This was certainly true of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ where Leonard repeated that he still felt he had never quite nailed the lyric.

We were joined on and off by a female singer of long-standing fame (whose name escapes me for the moment, though I know I was stunned by her sultry beauty), who was contemplating recording an album of Leonard’s classic songs.  I suggested that rather than go for ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Bird on the Wire’ she should look for more obscure songs like ‘Chelsea Hotel’ or ‘The Smokey Life’, or even, I dared to suggest, ‘God is Alive, Magic is Afoot’, the excerpt from Leonard’s novel ‘Beautiful Losers’ which Buffy recorded back in 1969.

The conversation went back and forth all night, and tired as I was, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity; the opportunity of a lifetime, because great friends that Leonard and I are, he is getting on a bit and he won’t be around for ever.

In the morning I woke bleary-eyed and tired but thankful that Leonard had spared the time to spend the whole night discussing lyrics with me.

Leonard Cohen photographed at the 41st annual Songwriters Hall of Fame at The New York Marriott Marquis on June 17, 2010 in New York City.  Rob Kim / RD / Retna Ltd.