Matters Of Vital Interest By Eric Lerner – The Leonard Cohen Tell All Koan

Key Leonard Cohen Books: Those interested in learning more about Leonard Cohen are confronted with a plethora of books about the Lord Byron Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Consequently, I’ve put together a collection of the Five Key Books About Leonard Cohen:

1. “I’m Your Man” by Sylvie Simmons
2. “Leonard Cohen On Leonard Cohen” edited by Jeff Burger
3. “Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows” by Harvey Kubernik
4. “A Broken Hallelujah” by Liel Leibovitz
5. “Matters Of Vital Interest” by Eric Lerner

Butch And Sundance Meet Buddha On The Road

Eric Lerner, a novelist, screenwriter, and film producer, first met Leonard Cohen at a Zen retreat led by Roshi in 1977, an encounter which later led to an abiding friendship that lasted until Leonard’s death. Their intimate, idiosyncratic connection as BBBFs (Best Buddhist Buddies Forever) provides a unique perspective on the non-public life of the Canadian singer-songwriter. Where else, for example, are you likely to read about someone spending the night with Leonard and his children in New York while Suzanne goes out on a date?

For readers, that intimate, idiosyncratic connection is not an unmixed blessing. The BBBF mode entails its own jargon, rituals, and metaphysics, and supplemented by unsignaled time shifts, this structure makes for an intriguing but not always comprehensible experience for visitors to the realm. Lerner writes that “somehow, [Leonard] determined that I could understand him without explanation.” After finishing Matters Of Vital Interest, I now know how Lerner must have felt.

And, while there it never rises to the level of authorial arrogance, a certain smugness, especially evident in the repeated emphasis on the personal nicknames, inside jokes, and Zen-dependent allusions, pervades the pages. There is also a proclivity for unsubstantiated absolute pronouncements (e.g., Dominique Issermann was “the best woman [Leonard] would ever encounter” and no visitors, other than Carla Bruni in Paris and the author in Boston, were ever allowed backstage during the final tour).

Yet, these issues notwithstanding, Matters Of Vital Interest is a fast, entertaining, and informative read.

It must be a zen thing.

“I almost called last night to tell you to put it off.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
We watched the cab from the airport pull away.
Our last visit, September 2015.
(Caption & Photo by Eric Lerner)

In addition, the data in these pages are a treasure trove for Cohen fans. A few examples of the new information proffered, some trivial and some fundamental, follow:

  • The multiple meanings of “darling” employed by Leonard
  • Leonard’s relationship with Suzanne Elrod, including details of his first sighting of her at that Scientology meeting and a description of the court battle after they separated
  • Details about the ownership, decor, and habitation of the Tremaine house in Los Angeles
  • The origin of Leonard’s fascination with hot dogs
  • An account of Leonard in a sauna at the Ithaca Zen Center
  • Descriptions of Roshi’s interactions and discussions Leonard and the author had about Roshi
  • The accusations of sexual misbehavior leveled against Roshi and Leonard’s take on the matter, including his revision of the story of his spiritual life to minimize Roshi’s impact
  • Roshi’s final illness, including Leonard taking charge of Roshi’s medical care
  • The bass player Leonard claimed was “intent on sabotaging my efforts”
  • Leonard’s drinking habits and preferences
  • Leonard’s terminal illness and its treatment, including his consideration of assisted suicide

Matters Of Vital Interest by Eric Lerner (October 16, 2018). Photo by Eric Lerner.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Oct 16, 2018.

3 thoughts on “Matters Of Vital Interest By Eric Lerner – The Leonard Cohen Tell All Koan

  1. I am teaching a course on Cohen at two Boston-based universities. In aid of providing more background to my education on Cohen, I read this book a few months ago and was disappointed. Dismally so. I felt Lerner was simply attempting to make some money by writing and publishing this. Too much was superficial, and certainly it lacked the panache and class that Cohen always had — even if that class act was a persona that Cohen cultivated it would have behoved a real friend to leave it in tact, not tarnish it. There was little to remember from it but you’ve done a good job of weeding out the few new tid-bits worth mentioning.

  2. I must say that I find Eric Lerner’s book the very best of all the books I have read about LC. I gave my review on on May 18, 2019, and I can’t improve on that so I’m copying it here to give your readers a different take than Maggie’s above.

    Thank you, Eric Lerner, for taking us on a journey beyond dates and novels and poetry and songs, into the lost art of conversation . . . of thoughts . . . of considered words. The last time I so enjoyed eavesdropping on two people was in a theater in 1981, watching “My Dinner with Andre”.
    From the Neanderthals and Sabbatai Zevi to the horror of re-watching “March of the Penguins”, knowing the egg will be lost, to both men’s conclusions of what Roshi was really about–I was enthralled by the width and breadth of topics being discussed by Lerner and Cohen throughout their 40-year friendship.
    And the interludes of activity–babysitting for Adam and Lorca or spending an evening with Esther Cohen, were slices of ordinary life, with all the quirks!
    Between the covers of this book there is much to captivate, much to laugh along with, and yes, some tearful moments. It is life, after all.
    Mr. Lerner speaks about the importance of ‘tone’–of needing to listen to the tone in each other’s voice in order to discern the true meaning of what they were saying to each other. “Tone” was also vital to the American poet, Robinson Jeffers, in his ‘Continent’s End’. I love the way he explains it:
    “Before there was any water, there were tides of fire,
    Both our tones flow from that older fountain.”
    Lerner and Cohen, writer and poet, wordsmiths with a passion to get the tone perfect. And thanks to Mr. Lerner, we all get to listen and learn.

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