“Those years as a monk prepared him for being able to come out in the world and an extraordinary collected energy that almost no other musician can command.” Pico Iyer Compares Leonard Cohen With Emily Dickinson, Thomas Merton, & Bob Dylan

Jeff Baker Interview With Pico Iyer Includes Dalai Lama and Leonard Cohen

Pico Iyer, author of some of the most lucid and insightful interviews of Leonard Cohen, was himself interviewed by Jeff Baker. The first half of this 90 minute interview was published in the April 4, 2010 issue of The Oregonian under the title Pico Iyer talks about the Dalai Lama, Leonard Cohen and the virtues of traveling within yourself. I’ve posted three excerpts focusing on Leonard Cohen to provide a flavor of the piece, but the entire article, the initial portion of which centers on the Dalai Lama, is an intriguing, worthwhile read. (The portions in red are from Iyer’s interview; I added the headings.)

Leonard Cohen’s Career Arc and Transparent Humility

The arc of his [Leonard Cohen’s] career is so interesting. He began as the bright troubadour romantic and then in the 70s his songs were all about self-hatred and being messed up and lost and then he went into the Zen temple and came out with these very worldly songs, “First We’ll Take Manhattan,” almost like a prophet returning to the mountaintop. I do feel, and maybe it’s just my prejudice, that those years as a monk prepared him for being able to come out in the world and an extraordinary collected energy that almost no other musician can command. One reason the concerts were so successful was his transparent humility. We’re not used to a performer thanking the audience over and over and not trying to hog the spotlight.

The Poetic Focus Of Leonard Cohen

He approaches life as a poet and I think he’s almost unique in the rock and roll domain in that there are many people like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and subsequent ones who have a great gift for poetry but are musicians first. I see Cohen as being very similar to Thomas Merton. I was just up at the monastery reading Merton and it’s word for word similar but even more Emily Dickinson with those riddled quatrains where each word is so uncanny but so perfectly put together in this little jewel box that can explode in your hand. It’s a very rare thing even in poetry because not much mainstream poetry is rhymed and observes so specific a rhythm as his.

The Difference Between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan

Q: The current Bob Dylan is revealing himself to be what he was when he was 20, a troubadour and a collector and interpreter of old folk songs. He’ll reinterpret himself differently every time where Cohen will make sure to get it exactly right.

A: Yes, and invested with the changes himself. When he sings “Suzanne” it’s note for note the same as in 1967 but what you’re hearing is a 75-year-old man singing a 40-year-old song of love so it instantly has a different coloration. But you’re right, he’s not playing games with it, he’s counting on the years to speak through it. I think Dylan is the great minstrel of people when they’re young and walking down the road and they don’t know what’s beyond the next mountain and the excitement of exploration and leaving everything behind and Cohen is about what’s on the other side of the mountain. He’s the only person I know in the contemporary music world who’s speaking for the wisdom of the 75-year-old rather the questing nature of the 20-year-old.

 

Pico Iyer talks about the Dalai Lama, Leonard Cohen and the virtues of traveling within yourself by Jeff Baker. The Oregonian: April 4, 2010. Photo by kellywritershouse – Pico Iyer 2.08.12, CC BY 2.0, via Wikpedia

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 Apr 5, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

Leave a Reply