In 1966, Leoanrd Cohen was far from the noted and much-celebrated singer that his legacy would suggest today. The late star was, as most songsmiths in the sixties were, a noted writer before turning his hand to songwriting, Cohen gaining notoriety for his novels and poetry.
That notoriety only grew as Cohen’s artistic character became ever more enticing. The clever and capricious Cohen was a charming mix of searing intellect and poetic adventure. Spending much of the last six years of his life on the Greek island of Hydra, the poet had returned to his native Canada for a special discussion a year before his music career would begin.
The discussion between Cohen and his interviewer (who for modern audiences looks at the camera way too much) takes place on a CBC segment known as “considering the poetic mind,” after he has read some of his poetry, admitting he missed a verse. Cohen discusses the ability to convey the poem’s message through performance and suggests that the same feeling from a poem could be achieved from reading instructions of how to polish your shoes.
“What’s the point of writing poetry then?” the fiery interviewer shoots back. Cohen responds, “If you want people to have shiny shoes, you write those very good instructions. And it if you want to polish other parts of yourself, you write poetry.” The knowing smile at the end of his answer a sign of the showman inside.
When faced with the moniker of being a “diverse” man, Cohen keenly defends himself, saying “I’m all in one place,” and suggests limiting oneself to any particular art form was a dangerous thing. “Completely meaningless. They don’t mean anything to me. It’s just a matter of what your hand falls on,” said the mercurial Cohen. Concluding, “If someone offered me a building to design now, I’d take it up. If someone offered me a small country to govern, I’d take it. Anything going, I’d like to try.”
After tackling Cohen on the possibility of his house and government falling to ruin the artist tells of a Montreal mural that self-destructs and suggests that building obsolescence into art is a needed thing. Even poetry? “I well, er, I think that history and time pretty well builds obsolescence into poetry and let’s it’s really the great stuff.”
“I’m not interested in posterity. Which somebody said is a kind of paultry form of eternity.” With a wry smile and an engaged eye, Cohen continues, “I’d like the stuff I do to have that kind of horizontal immediacy rather than be something that’s going to be around for a long time. I’m not interested in an insurance plan for my work.” It’s a notion that would allow Cohen to feel able to works across the spectrum of
The young ‘Suzanne’ singer then goes on to explore the opportunity as a writer of musicals as well as the freedom one needs to write. As well as acknowledging the “cooperation” one can have with LSD and alcohol Cohen also admits that “cynicism is a high” and proves an ample match for his once-persistent interviewer.
It makes for some incredible viewing as the agile and astute Cohen deflects his tag of the wild man living on the Greek Island and is instead a charming and confident pop star in waiting.