Leonard Cohen 101 – Notes From The (Somewhat) Underground Cinema


Leonard Cohen 101 – The Well Known Secret Video

There are a number of unusual and interesting elements about the video, “Leonard Cohen 101,” not the least of which is that it appears to be a promotion for Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas album that was never officially shown but nonetheless has been viewed a few thousand times.

It is also flawed.

And because of those flaws, it is only ten times better than the usual album ad.

The Context

Let’s start with the items labeled in the screen capture atop this post:1

1. This video is unlisted.2 The reason this video can be watched by Cohencentric viewers (for now, at least) is simply that I’ve embedded the video with the unlisted YouTube link.

If the goal had been for as many people as possible to see this this video, YouTube’s public setting would have been the obvious choice since it allows the video to be found by searches, shown on playlists, etc. If Columbia Records, the account that uploaded this video, had wished to prevent any unauthorized individuals viewing the video, the private3 setting is most effective.

So, why was it classified as unlisted, which makes access to the video more difficult but not at all impossible?

My hunch is that the film wasn’t meant to be seen by anyone out of the corporate loop and should have been marked private but was instead made unlisted because using the private setting is a hassle.4

2. The title is Leonard Cohen 101. This is the kind of heading one is more likely to find, say, on a Cohencentric creation (e.g., Leonard Cohen 101: Suzanne Identification Guide – Suzanne Elrod, Suzanne Verdal, & Suzanne Vega). Other titles by the same uploader are on the lines of “Susan Boyle – Today Show Interview 10/18/11” and “Premiering 10/3 on Vevo: The Lady Is A Tramp – Tony Bennett feat. Lady Gaga.” The title may also have implications for the intended audience. The target group might, for example, be folks who are unfamiliar with Leonard but curious about the author of Hallelujah.

3. The uploader of record is aka Columbia Records aka Leonard Cohen’s record label.

4. The quotation – and the photos and the content in general – are familiar. Plug “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash” into Google, using quotation marks to limit the pages found to those with those exact words in that exact order, and you get 166,000 hits. I’ve posted it, dozens of Tumblr blogs have posted it, … it’s a popular line. More to the point, it’s a good line that grabs ones interest. I immediately recognized all the photos used except one. Moreover, most of the content, in my subjective judgement, comprises images, video sequences, and information that is interesting and helpful. It appears that the video was constructed in cut and paste fashion from an inventory of photos, video clips, audio recordings, and text. More about the content in a moment.

5. The upload date was Nov 21, 2011. The official press release announcing the Old Ideas album was released Nov 22, 2011. I don’t believe this was coincidence; I believe the video was uploaded with the intention it would be used- but was never formally released.

6. Despite the unlisted status of the video, it has garnered over 3,000 views.5

The Content

Leonard Cohen 101 is not a typical ad for a new album, a conclusion easily reached by simply comparing Leonard Cohen 101 with more conventional video promotions, such as French TV Spot or Belgium TV.

Leonard Cohen 101 opens with Leonard Cohen singing “Suzanne,” an apt choice for video titled “Leonard Cohen 101,” in the background.

As the film begins, the viewer is treated to an animation of two hearts rotating into the familiar Unified Heart symbol.

At 6 seconds into the video, the previous mentioned quotation by Leonard Cohen, “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” is displayed over a photo of Cohen at the beach. The photo used appears to be the same one used on the cover of the German edition of Rolling Stone (#10, 2001).

And, the sounds of waves are heard.

At 15 sec, another familiar photo is shown – with animated smoke arising from an off-screen cigarette.The frequently used photo – sans smoke – is from about 1968. Photographer: Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs.

Ar 20 seconds, a photo of the flashing Chelsea Hotel sign comes on screen. There is, however, no explanation given why this image is pertinent to Leonard Cohen.

At 24 seconds, the first evidence of blatant hucksterism emerges with an emulation of the old McDonald’s claim phrased in the same sort of headline with each word capitalized, “Over 20 Million Records Sold Worldwide,” appearing while the camera scans a double row of Cohen’s albums.

This followed at 30 seconds by an analogous accounting of Cohen’s literary output, which is, however, set in a standard sentence and uses the Canadian singer-songwriter’s first name, “Leonard has published 12 books, most recently 2006’s Book Of Longing, a collection of poetry, prose, and drawings,” superimposed over a double row of Cohen’s books.

Only at 35 seconds does a photo of Cohen in performance appear, a darkened image that is replaced within three seconds with the information that “Cohen’s [hey, what happened to “Leonard?”] work has been covered by hundreds of popular recording artists including … ”

At 44 seconds, the sentence is completed by a stream of names of the covering performers scrolling horizontally across the window of a train in which Cohen is traveling. The original photo of Leonard Cohen on the train from Marseille to Nice was taken in 1981 by Dominique Issermann and published in Les Inrockuptibles Issue #709.

At 1:01 , the soundtrack shifts to “Everybody Knows,” Cohen is seen in silhouette doffing his hat, and the heading, “World Tour 2008,” comes onscreen, followed by “Reaching 2 Million Fans.” Since the Leonard Cohen World Tour that began in 2008 continued through the end of 2010, it’s unclear why only 2008 is listed.

At 1:15, Cohen’s performance of “Everybody Knows” from Live In London is displayed along with the caption, “Live In London 2008.” A couple of stage scenes follow.

At 1:27, as “Everybody Knows” continues, a list of awards and honors Cohen has received (without dates and not in chronological order) is shown.

1:42: The chords of “Hallelujah” begin as “Everybody Knows” fades out, and we return to a first name basis with the news that “Leonard’s songs have frequently been used in movies and television shows including Watchmen, The Passion of The Christ, Natural Born Killers, The West Wing, The O.C. and many others” It seems odd to include Watchmen and The Passion of The Christ, yet exclude Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller, Shrek, Wonder Boys, and Pump Up the Volume.

At 1:51, the screen changes to scenes filmed, as the caption informs us, “Live at Coachella 2009.” One assumes this concert at an outdoor festival was chosen for inclusion because of the predominantly young audience.

Within 5 seconds, however, the live action is obscured by this boast about the popularity of “Hallelujah.”

Missing from this listing is the fact that “Leonard’s original recording” was a distant third in the charts.

At 2:07, a closeup of Neil Larsen’s keyboard glissando takes its place as one of the high points of this video.

The remainder of the video consists of shots of the performance and crowd reaction at Coachella …


until at 2:38, with the applause from Coachella continuing, the selling point (see below) flashes on screen while Cohen’s familiar voice intones “Thank you so much friends.” Within six seconds, the Columbia name and logo are the only elements in view.

The Conclusion

Leonard Cohen 101 is loads of fun to watch – especially compared to a typical album promotion.

Even the goofy, excessive animations are fun to watch. Showing those hearts interlocking to form the unified heart symbol is superfluous but harmless; it is, in short, the kind of thing amateurs like me do when they make a video and want to show off a new trick. The rising smoke animation, on the other hand, seems a tad too derivative of the billboards advertising cigarettes by emitting real puffs of smoke, for comfort.

While the data presented in the service of the Leonard Cohen 101 theme fails to reach its potential benefit because of inconsistent styles questionable choices of information presented, viewers do learn far more about Leonard Cohen from this 2 minute, 44 second video than from a dozen 30 second or 60 second spots.

And, given that the video was, after all, unlisted, it is possible that Leonard Cohen 101 was a proof of concept audition rather than offered as a final, polished presentation.

My criticisms of the execution of certain aspects of the video notwithstanding, the Leonard Cohen 101 theme does seem a worthwhile approach to engage a younger (OK, anyone under 55) audience who may have stumbled across Leonard Cohen through hearing other, younger musicians praise him, as the result of the ongoing evangelical efforts of a family member or friend who is a Cohen fan, or, God forgive us, even by listening to Alexandra Burke sing “Hallelujah” on the X-Factor.

It just needs a few tweaks before showtime – and, yes, I am available.

So, enjoy watching Leonard Cohen 101; it could disappear any moment.

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 May 2, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com.


  1. The screen capture has been adjusted to eliminate distractions markings and to reduce the overall size for viewing convenience. Nothing of significance has been added, deleted, or changed, as can be seen by comparing the graphic with the actual video itself. []
  2. Unlisted” in YouTube argot “means that means that only people who know the link to the video can view it (such as friends or family to whom you send the link). An unlisted video will not appear in any of YouTube’s public spaces (such as search results, your channel, or the Browse page). … Even though your video will not appear in any of YouTube’s public spaces, links to the video could still appear elsewhere on the web if anyone who knows the video’s URL shares it. It is therefore up to you to maintain the privacy of your video and the unlisted URL. You can further restrict the video at any time by returning to your account and marking the video as Private.” []
  3. According to YouTube, “If your video is set to Private, only you and up to 50 other users who you invite to view the video will be able to see it. The video will not appear on your channel, in search results, or in playlists etc. []
  4. Authorized viewers have to set up a YouTube account and provide the uploader with the email address linked to that account in order to receive a link from YouTube which allows them to view the video – if they are logged into the account. If this is a corporate screening, no one other than the IT guy wants to set up a YouTube account – and the degree of distaste escalates as as one ascends the corporate ladder. Consequently, the intern who is in charge of setting up a video on YouTube is unlikely to insist that the powers that be get themselves YouTube accounts to see the new commercial. []
  5. Update: As of this Dec 10, 2020 reposting, 5,094 viewings were listed []

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