That Don’t Make It Junk – Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: His Scientology Phase

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

From Famous Blue Raincoat
By Leonard Cohen

That Don’t Make It Junk

As discussed in the introduction to this series, That Don’t Make It Junk: Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen, certain unequivocal facts about and views held by Leonard Cohen have proved overwhelmingly unpopular with readers, more than a few of whom have reacted with vehemence that extends far beyond, for example, the stridency implicit in demands that nobody be allowed to cover Leonard’s songs.

Leonard Cohen’s Scientology Phase

I was interested in all these matters that engaged the imagination of my generation” Leonard Cohen

Many, many fans are vexed by the fact that Leonard Cohen had a brief connection with Scientology, an artifact of which is his employment of a single Scientology reference (“go clear”) in a single song, Famous Blue Raincoat. My guess is that most readers who find the mention of Leonard Cohen’s brief involvement with this belief distasteful are those who find Scientology itself repellent. They may also view such posts as attempts to proselytize, lack of evidence notwithstanding. While some have made a case for simply omitting those portions of Leonard’s life that could upset fans, even benign historical revisionism is not without cost. If those who admire artists are interested in understanding their backgrounds, rewriting those histories defeats the intent. Ignoring, let alone attacking biographical data is dangerous.

I emphasize that Leonard’s association with Scientology is not an opinion, conspiracy theory, or extrapolation but something we know because Leonard – repeatedly and straightforwardly – reported it in interviews. A summary of information about Leonard Cohen’s experience with Scientology and the use of “go clear” in Famous Blue Raincoat follows:

Going Clear

 

Question: Some of the articles about you over the years have indicated that you’ve dabbled or more than dabbled in various kinds of spiritual paths. Is the line, “Did you ever go clear?” from Famous Blue Raincoat a Scientology reference?

Leonard Cohen: It was a Scientology reference.1 I looked into a lot of things. Scientology was one of them. It did not last very long. But it is very interesting, as I continue my studies in these matters, to see how really good Scientology was from the point of view of their data, their information, their actual knowledge, their wisdom writings, so to speak. It wasn’t bad at all. It is scorned, and I don’t know what the organization is like today, but it seems to have all the political residue of any large and growing organization. Yes, I did look into that and other things. from the Communist Party to the Republican Party, from Scientology to delusions of myself as the High Priest rebuilding the Temple.2

About that “going clear” thing …

Question: With Scientology, did you ever ‘go clear’?

Leonard Cohen: Probably.

Question: Officially?

Leonard Cohen: No.3

Photo

A photo of Leonard Cohen attending a Scientology Dianetics Course at the New York Org can be viewed at WhyWeProtest.

From The Biographies

Cohen’s dislocated situation in New York led him to exploring different sexual, spiritual and pharmaceutical pathways, and one was Scientology. In 1968, as he was driving down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, with Joni Mitchell, she spotted a building with a number of women wearing saris and handing out material. Above the door a large sign which read “Scientology”. “What is Scientology?” she asked Cohen. “Oh, some crackpot religion,” he replied. A few weeks later, he called form New York to say that he’d joined them and that they were going to rule the world. But a few months later, Cohen told Mitchell he was disenchanted and that he’d had some difficulty extricating himself from it. Initially, Scientology offered the goal of a ”clear path”, (“Did you ever go clear?” he asks in “Famous Blue Raincoat”). Cohen had also heard that it was a good place to meet women. On June 17th, 1968, Cohen received a Scientology certificate awarding him “Grade IV – release.”4

More specifically, Cohen’s certificate confirmed him as a “Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release.” In addition to Cohen’s general disenchantment with Scientology, he was also angry that “the organization had begun to exploit his name.”5

It Turns Out The Scientology Center Was A Place To Meet Women

Suzanne Elrod, who is the mother of Leonard Cohen’s children, Adam and Lorca, gives this account of their meeting:

It was early Spring 1969. We both seemed to have signed up for a Scientology class the same day. He was getting into the elevator at the Scientology Center as I was coming out of it and our eyes locked. Some days later, we both took seats near each other. Although I had another person I was living with, I left that relationship immediately for Leonard and moved into the Chelsea with him.6

Cohen Talks About The Mysterious “Clear”

In this 2007 interview with Mark Lawson, Leonard Cohen talks about Scientology (beginning at 11:11):

Scientology As One More Exploration

“I was always going off the deep end” Leonard Cohen

 

Question: Your last album, The Future, was successful and you had a fiancee, Rebecca de Mornay — and you left to live in a monastery?

Leonard Cohen: Well, I was always going off the deep end, so it was no radical departure. When I finished my tour in ‘93 I was approaching the age of 60 and my old friend and teacher Roshi was approaching the age of 90, and I thought it would be the right moment to spend some more time with him. So I entered a monastery 6,500 feet up on Mount Baldy and I stayed there for six years as his cook, among my many duties. I’d always been associated with Roshi and his community — for 30 years. He’s 94, in radiant health. He’ll probably outlive most of his students.

Question: What were you looking for?

Leonard Cohen: I wasn’t looking for a new religion or another list of dogma.

Question: Since the ’60s you have often appeared to be enjoying the hunt — I Ching, Scientology…

Leonard Cohen: Yes, I participated in all those investigations. I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas. No robe — I didn’t join them! But of course I was interested in all these matters that engaged the imagination of my generation at the time.7

So, Leonard Cohen, the descendant of a long line of rabbis, a frequent attendee at his nanny’s Catholic church, an ordained Buddhist monk who spent five years in a Buddhist monastery, a student of Hinduism with a guru in India, a chanter of the Hare Krisna mantra, and a reader of the Bible and the Bhagavad-gita, was briefly involved with Scientology.8, As the man says, “It was no radical departure.”

 

More Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen

  1. Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: Introduction
  2. Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: His Scientology Phase
  3. Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: His Fondness For Guns
  4. Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: His Perspective On War
  5. That Don’t Make It Junk – Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen: His Perspective On War Part 2

 

Credit Due Department: Photo atop post by PictorialEvidence – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen).

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  1. From Wikipedia-Clear: “Clear” is the condition in which Scientologists say a person is free of the influence of unwanted emotions and memories of trauma. Source: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950) []
  2. Jewish Book News Interview With Leonard Cohen by Arthur Kurzweil And Pamela Roth: 1994. []
  3. Felonious Monk by Sylvie Simmons. MOJO: November 2001. []
  4. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. New York: Pantheon, 1996. P 60 []
  5. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012 []
  6. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012 []
  7. Felonious Monk by Sylvie Simmons. MOJO: November 2001. []
  8. Given that Leonard Cohen seems to have never met a cult he didn’t like, I believe that if he had spent some time in my native Ozarks, there might be an album or two with references to Serpent Handling. Heck, that odd chanting he does in his stage performances of “Darkness” sound a lot like speaking in tongues to me. []

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