“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”—Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen, the iconic Canadian singer, poet and novelist, is regarded by many as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and rightly so. His collection of songs were, and still are, some of the most personal and visceral pieces of pop the music world has ever seen. Having pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s, Cohen turned to music at the age of 33 and did so with prolific effect bringing his love for the written word to a new medium. Having released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, Cohen didn’t look back and churned out brilliant hit after hit right up until his death in 2016.
Even at the age of 82 and struggling with a series of health issues, Cohen worked alongside his son, Adam, to write, record and release his fourteenth studio album You Want It Darker to critical acclaim. Released 19 days before Cohen’s death, the material was symbolic of the mood and situation the pioneering musician had found himself in. It spoke of an artist unwavering even in the final gusts of his life.
In the days before his passing, Cohen had welcomed New Yorker journalist David Remnick into his Los Angeles home over a period of days to run what was to be considered his last major interview feature. Remnick, who recorded the discussion, would go on to say that Cohen was “in an ebullient mood for a man… who knew exactly where he was going, and he was headed there in a hurry. And at the same time, he was incredibly gracious. The most gracious host this side of my mother.”
During the interview, the then 82-year-old said: “I am ready to die,” in reference to his growing number of health problems and his ongoing battle against leukaemia. “At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order.”
Cohen added: “It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.” It’s a remarkably domestic viewpoint from the wandering poet. One that suggests he had made his bed some time ago and now was just putting on his pyjamas.
The conversation would go on to cause quite a stir, Cohen’s fans growing understandably upset by his impending death. Despite not planning any further press, Cohen decided to follow up his interview with Remnick to address his health, the role of religion in his life, his most recent album, and much more in conversation with KCRW’s Chris Douridas.
“I may have exaggerated,” he tells Douridas in buoyant mood. “One is given to self-dramatization from time to time.” Then he joked, “I intend to live forever.” It’s a poignant moment and one of the signifiers of Cohen’s timeless appeal.
Stream both interviews, below.