Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are so deeply steeped in the literary mind of their creator that Cohen’s jump from author and poet to songsmith must not have been a very large one. The singer’s career on record may be what we’re most familiar with these days but for a time, Cohen was most certainly a writer above all else.
It was a moniker he wore well too. Astute and eloquent Cohen’s work would soon find him favour with his peers and even acquired him a grant to explore the world and write for a living. It would be a path that would lead him to London, Hydra and halfway around the world until eventually landing as an icon of music. Wherever he travelled though, Cohen always came back to Montreal.
It seems fitting then that Montreal should be the setting of his first novel The Favourite Game. At a time when writing a book was rarely self-financed and the written word was held in the highest esteem, most books weren’t set in rather normal cities like Montreal. Paris, London, New York, but not very often Montreal. It would be a testament to Cohen’s belief in the beauty of normality.
In the clip below Leonard Cohen is invited to CBC’s Youth Special with Paddy Springate and Stuart Smith, to discuss his new book in more detail. What we find in the footage is whether he is a novelist, a poet or indeed a singer, Cohen has always possessed one thing that stood him out from the crowd, a sumptuous wit.
The footage, rather oddly by today’s standards, sees Cohen welcomed to the studio only for his book to be openly critiqued as our host reads from a typed yup literary review. Not shy about taking the odd swipe at Cohen’s diaristic style, or indeed the idea that the book may only be appealing to fellow Montrealers, the ‘Suzanne’ singer steadies himself for a charming if not slightly barbed riposte.
After refuting one aspect of the critique, that Cohen had to get the novel off his chest to be a more complete poet he continues, “It’s really a third novel disguised as a first novel and all the reviewers, as to be expected, fell for it. In Canada, they really can’t accept the fact that anything good comes out of their neighbour’s house.”
“I’m not saying that this [his novel] is good, I think it’s good,” Cohen continues. “The attitude of the reviewers is a kind of head-patting review,” he muses as he reflects on his relative fame in Canada. Whereas in the United States “They don’t know who I am. They don’t know it’s my first novel,” Cohens goes on, “the reviews have been much more objective and much less patronising.”
After again insisting the novel is a “third novel not a first,” he explains that it has been crafted with care and attention and that it’s far from the frenzied thoughts the previous reviewers suggested it was.
Cohen is later asked whether it was indeed an autobiographical tale, as suggested. “The emotion is autobiographical because the only emotions I know are my own. The incidents are not.” Cohen smiles and goes on to apologise, “I cringe before the tyranny of fact. But it is not autobiographical. I made it up out of my little head.”
Watch the full clip of Leonard Cohen dissecting his first novel The Favourite Game on CBC back in 1963