2007 Leonard Cohen Video Interview: Personal Changes, Life As Zen Monk, The Pilfering Of His Money, Al Gore & Anjani

Leonard Cohen & Anjani Thomas Appear On 2007 Norwegian Talk Show

This video covers the appearance of Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas as guests on the March 30, 2007 edition of “Først & sist” (“First & last”), the Norwegian talk show hosted by Fredrik Skavlan.1

Left to Right: Al Gore, Leonard Cohen, Fredrik Skavlan (host), Anjani Thomas, and Gro Harlem Brundtland

“The real weapons of mass destruction
are the hardened hearts of humanity”

While the interview does contain epigrams such as the above quotation, my recommendation is primarily based on Leonard’s low-key explanations of the reasons he devoted a few years to living in a Zen monastery on Mount Baldy and the events surrounding the pilferage of his retirement fund, both of which demystify the circumstances without denying the significance of the episodes.

As always, Leonard is well-spoken, poised, and witty, especially in regard to his loss of his retirement fund of several million dollars.

Money has a way of disappearing if you don’t watch it very, very closely. That’s a certain wisdom I acquired. I wasn’t absolutely certain of this [before the loss], but now I am. It’s enough to put a dent in your mood.

[Responding to the host’s observation that Cohen seems “quite happy” despite having very little money following the loss:] Well, I don’t recommend this as a spiritual exercise…

As is often the case, Leonard Cohen exercises the poet’s prerogative of re-interpreting and manipulating the interviewer’s words and his own to distract and deflect. Over the years, Leonard has become more subtle and sophisticated in his technique, but he still shepherds the conversation into the path he chooses, content to follow the lead of the interviewer only if it fits his needs. This is, I hasten to add, invariably a benefit to the quality of the interview.2

Two brief expositions are worthy of special note:

1. In a few sentences, Leonard Cohen makes Al Gore, who is also a guest on the show, sound principled rather than ponderous and spiritual rather than self-righteous. Mr Gore, unfortunately, proves himself equally efficacious in undoing this rehabilitation when he responds to Cohen’s comments.

2. An interesting contrast exists between Leonard’s characterization of his relationship with Anjani in this interview and that contained in his introduction of her in the video of the 1985 Kalvøya, Norway performance of “I Tried To Leave You.” The 1985 introduction follows:

Now we come to the girl I love, even though she has a mean streak. She translates that mean streak into passion and fire. That’s why I love her. The Pearl of the Pacific, from Honolulu, Hawaii, Ms Anjani Thomas.

Compare that with his response to the host’s phrase, “This is a long love story,” which was spoken simply as an invitation for Cohen to provide the history between Anjani and him. Instead, Cohen first finds it necessary, with notable stuttering and stops and starts, to correct the improper application of “love story” to the relationship:

It wasn’t always a love … It was an affectionate story for a long time, and it ripened into something deeper. But I found it’s best not to name a relationship.

It is important to acknowledge that this shift does not seem the consequence of any change in Cohen’s relationship with Anjani, to whom he appears deeply attached during the interview. In fact, just prior to his halting pronouncements on the nature of the connection, Cohen had spontaneously segued from Anjani as his backup singer to Anjani as his romantic partner:

I depended on that [Anjani’s] voice, I leaned on it, I slept on that voice.

Instead, the difference appears the result of Cohen’s insistence, which has intensified with age, of speaking in a knowledgeable manner only about matters concerning which he is indeed knowledgeable.

Leonard Cohen & Anjani Thomas On Først & sist
NRK: March 30, 2007

 

Reflecting the power of ratings, the lion’s share of the interviewer’s attention is on Leonard. The primary question asked Anjani is, in fact, “How is it to work and live so close to Leonard Cohen?”

It turns out that “It’s a lot of fun.”

On the other hand, Anjani does a star turn on the show, performing “Innermost Door” in Part 2 of the video. (Update: Part 2 of Leonard Cohen & Anjani Thomas On Først & sist, NRK, 2007 has been removed from YouTube and, as far as I can determine, the video is not available elsewhere.)

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 Aug 10, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.

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  1. The other two guests are American environmental activist and former vice president Al Gore and Gro Harlem Brundtland, who from 1984-87 was chairman of the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development (also former prime minister of Norway and director-general of the World Health Organization). []
  2. One of the several reasons I desperately long to interview Leonard Cohen is my conviction that, if I can muster the presence of mind to stutter out a discernible query of any sort (currently, I’m thinking of going with “So, Leonard, how’s tricks?”), the interview will be a pristine, elegant discussion of whatever Leonard wanted to talk about – which would be the same result regardless of what I had asked, so it would be, as they say, all good. []

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