A Gift from Leonard Cohen on His 80th Birthday!

Happy 80th Birthday to Leonard Cohen! If you click here today, you’ll be able to preview some songs from his new album, Popular Problems, due out Sept. 23. One of my favorites is the last track: “You Got Me Singing.” And if you buy the album through this NPR site, you’ll benefit NPR as well.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Cohen says,

“A lot of young writers ask me for advice – mistakenly, because my methods are obscure and not to be replicated,” he explained. “The only thing I can say is, a song will yield if you stick with it long enough. But long enough is way beyond any reasonable duration. Sometimes a song [like “Born in Chains”] has to hang around for a decade or two before it finds its expression.”

“By contrast, the songs “You Got Me Singing” and “Did I Ever Love You” were written “very quickly,” he said. . . . .

“Some of them came together with shockingly alarming speed,” said Cohen, who recorded many of the songs at his home studio. “Usually, I take a long, long time – partly because of an addiction to perfection, partly just sheer laziness.”

In today’s New York Times Review section, Jason Karlawish, professor of medical ethics, in his article “Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry,” discusses Cohen’s announcement that he will resume smoking at age 80, which Cohen says is “the right age to recommence.”  Karlawish says, “Our culture of aging is one of extremes. You are either healthy and executing vigorous efforts to build your health account, or you are dying. And yet, as we start to ‘ache in the places where [we] used to play,’ as one of Mr. Cohen’s songs puts it, we want to focus on the present.” At some point, he implies, though disagreeing with Mr. Cohen’s choice, “you have to start indulging in the pleasures of the present.”

Cohen, whom Steve and I saw here last year in Milwaukee, inspires me with the free gift he offers (see link above) on his 80th birthday. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I am preparing the “gift” of a recital and hopefully a new book on my 70th birthday next year. Hopefully they will all bring pleasure.

And Cohen is correct in that sometimes creative work “hangs around” for years before it “finds its expression.”  Never throw anything out.  Don’t give up on any draft.  And enjoy the rejuvenation.

Speaking of which, here is a just-quickly-revised poem that has been “hanging around” for quite a few years, never published–until now. I never saw the metaphorical connection between the plant in the poem and the draft of a poem until now.


Bringing in a Plant in the Fall


New leaves

for less light

will come.


As you carry your lush

plant inside,

out of the cold,

continue to water it


while it releases

old leaves.


Allow it to be

empty for a while.


Allow it to be

ugly for a while.


Allow it to be sad

for a while.


As the plant’s

leaves wither,

drop, leaving bare

wooden stalks,


do not throw it away.

do not buy another.


New leaves

for less light

will come.

One thought on “A Gift from Leonard Cohen on His 80th Birthday!

  1. What a lovely poem, Kathleen. Such a gift. The refrain of allowing, the acknowledgement of "for a while" — it resonates with deeply engaging with experience without giving in to the impulse to figure it out, to impose. Always a fine line. I've always loved Leonard Cohen's music, too. When I was young ,wildly romantic. With my son when he was very, very young — a little boy and we'd organize his sports cards, and reorganize and reorganize. And listen to Leonard Cohen. Daniel took "First we take Manhattan" rather literally and fell in love with that place. And invited me out to take me to hear Leonard Cohen at Madison Square Garden — a breathtaking experience in so many ways. I hadn't realized you were also a fan, Kathleen. Although not surprised. Looking back over his music I've come to appreciate all the fine lines he doesn't shy away from. Deep romanticism and high skepticism — the genuine emptiness and deep fullness of experience. Thank you so much for this posting. Much enjoyment on this lovely Saturday morning.


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