First broadcast in January 2006, this interview took place at Leonard’s home in Los Angeles near the end of 2005. Included in the broadcast are a telephone call from Leonard’s daughter, Lorca, a call initiated by Leonard inviting Daniel to dinner, a discussion of the neighbor’s dogs, Leonard sharing food with the interviewer, Leonard’s use of Marianne’s corkscrew, and much about Leonard’s take on men connecting with women, writing poetry and songs, and, of course, Marianne. Leonard Cohen’s portion of the interview is in English, and the remainder of the content is a mix of English and Norwegian (with English translations shown on screen).
Kari Hesthamar Talks About Her Interview With Leonard Cohen
In these excerpts from Behind the Scenes With Kari Hesthamar, Producer Of If It Be Your Will, Kari Hesthamar explains her notions about why these interviews were especially revelatory as well as providing a few tantalizing clues about the content itself:
I think maybe [what is revealing is] everything that is “in between” and also the way that the music is used. He is very verbal, and when he speaks it’s with some of the same quality as you find in his lyrics, it’s just very well put. But I think what maybe works the best is the fact that we’re in his house, we can hear the dogs barking in the garden, he pours me wine with Marianne’s old corkscrew,1 he puts his feet on the table, there’s the Friday night party with family and some close friends where they play guitar and sing: we feel that we’re in his home, close to him, and that it’s not just an interview that could have been done in a studio or in the radio station. He becomes an ordinary man, not just a star. And I’ve tried to make the music and the spoken parts reflect on each other.2…
He was a very humble and silent man, as I saw him. We spent a lot of time together saying nothing.[Question from interviewer] Were you nervous about playing the tape of your interview with Marianne, where she’s singing along to Cohen’s recordings, for him? Sure I was nervous, because if he hated it, it wouldn’t increase my chances of getting good things on tape. I had an appointment for Thursday at 11 am, but didn’t know whether I would get one or two hours, if he would let me come back the next day etc. Finally I spent more or less three days with him. I played the Marianne-piece for him the first day, and it looked as if he enjoyed listening to it. But it felt strange: Here I am in Leonard Cohen’s living room playing a Norwegian documentary about his old sweetheart while Cohen is reading an English transcript, listening to how I cut in his music…… I’m Norwegian and he has a special connection with Norway – all his records go number one in Norway. Canadians and Norwegians are often a bit on the same wavelength, we feel familiar to each other. He said that he liked my email, where I also wrote that I was working with Marianne.
The transcript of the unedited interview from which the If It Be Your Will broadcast was taken is filled with so much wonderful content that it is difficult to choose excerpts.
What is your finest memory from Greece, from Hydra?
The finest memory? I don’t have a specific memory… I remember Marianne and I was in a hotel in Piraeus, some inexpensive hotel and we were both about 25, and we had to catch the boat back to Hydra, and we got up and I guess we had a cup of coffee or something and got a taxi, and I’ve never forgotten this. Nothing happened, just sitting in the back of the taxi with Marianne, lit a cigarette, a Greek cigarette that had that delicious deep flavor of a Greek cigarette, that has a lot of Turkish tobacco in it, and thinking, I’m an adult. You know. I have a life of my own, I’m an adult, I’m with this beautiful woman, we have a little money in our pocket, we’re going back to Hydra, we’re passing these painted walls. That feeling I think I’ve tried to recreate it hundreds of times unsuccessfully. Just that feeling of being grown up, with somebody beautiful that you’re happy to be beside and all the world is in front of you.
Marianne told me you sent her a telegram from Montreal, “Have house all I need is my woman and her son. Love Leonard”.
I remember that. And I remember her arriving at the airport in her fur coat, and she had two heavy valises in each hand, and I was prevented to go into that area, but I could see her through the glass, and she couldn’t wave to me because she couldn’t lift the suitcases up and she didn’t want to drop them because she was moving, you know, so she waved to me with her foot. I remember that very very clearly [laughter].
I wanted to be a writer. From very very early time I just knew that I was going to be a writer. So there was never any ambiguity or difficult decision about what I wanted to be. And it was a writer not in the popular culture,; on the contrary, it was a writer to writers that were already dead. The writers I was writing for and the audience I was writing for, was not a popular audience. I was writing for William Butler Yeats, I wouldn’t say Shakespeare, because I never really enjoyed Shakespeare, but there were other poets that I was writing for that were dead. And that was where I was aimed. I wanted to be one of those, I wanted to be in that tradition, I didn’t care, in fact with the little group of poets that I grew up with in Montreal, we criticized each others work very very savagely, we had a very very high sense of our calling. And a very exaggerated sense of our own importance.
It was never a mass audience; in fact a mass audience would have disqualified us from this elite score of authors and poets. So, I had that sense, that I was working against a very very specific… it wasn’t even a goal, I just wanted to embody that activity, I just wanted to be one of those guys that did that kind of thing. And my feeling was that if I did those things with the kind of integrity, and the gift had been given me, I wouldn’t have to worry about those things. There would be money, there would be women. Not in any abundance, but that there would be enough for me, that there would be a roof and a beautiful view. And I wasn’t, as you can see, I wasn’t interested in anything very great. I just thought I had some work to do, and I guess I came through, and it turned some people off and some people liked it.
Oh, Marianne was terrific, and of course one never, at that age one is mostly interested in beauty. And she had beauty in abundance, I think that’s mostly what one saw, what anyone would have seen with Marianne, this glorious beauty, and then she was an old-fashioned girl, and I kind of come from an old-fashioned background myself, so, the things that I took for granted with Marianne, and she perhaps took with me, a certain kind of courtesy and behavior and ritual and order, which became very scarce as I got older, I didn’t find it with such abundance in other women. But Marianne had some wonderful family qualities, and the home that she made was very very beautiful, very old fashioned. I don’t know how things go now with the young, but that house was very orderly and there was always a gardenia on my desk where I’d work, you know. There was such a sense of order and generosity, that she had, that she still has.
Both you and Axel (Jensen) were the creative ones, while she has been called a muse…
She is that kind of figure. Very nourishing presence. Looking at her from a distance of 40, 45 years almost, I see how very very rare those qualities are. She had and has a very very rare…, and I have met a lot of men and women since then. But she was brought up by her grandmother in Larkollen, she was brought up during the war, and she just knew things about the moment, about graciousness, about service, about hospitality, about generosity – that you learn from your grandmother in the country. And the grandmother who obviously was also in touch with a more ancient world, where those values were even more honored and observed. So Marianne inherited this very ancient sense of service and generosity, and it was totally natural, it was in the skin. It wasn’t just something that she dragged up or had to look for, it was absolutely natural for her. Just the way she put the plate on the table or poured the wine or… And she had that other side too, where she drank wine and danced and became wild and beautiful and threatening and dangerous if you were a man with her. So she had these qualities that were very very old, and that are very rare now, very rare to find in people.
For those with even a passing interest in Leonard Cohen, this is a must read, It can be found at LeonardCohenFiles: Leonard Looks Back On The Past.
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Oct 6, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.
- Cohen having won custody of the corkscrew is sufficient raw material for a number of jokes, none of which, unfortunately, are in keeping with the mood of this post. Maybe another time. [↩]
- The editing of the content, to emphasize the dogs barking, the telephone calls, the Friday night dinner, etc. strikes me as another example of the ordinary manipulation that is apparently integral to producing documentaries of stars such as Leonard Cohen. I don’t think it’s harmful or even incongruent with Cohen’s personality or lifestyle. I only wish to acknowledge that what viewers are shown is a carefully selected and edited sequence of events, not a random slice of life. [↩]