Lessons From Leonard Cohen – A Manual For Living With Defeat: Introduction

Lessons From Leonard Cohen

Multiple articles and videos have already been published with titles like Lessons From Leonard Cohen, Things I Learned From Leonard Cohen, What Leonard Cohen Taught Us …. So why start a series of posts with the same goal?

Well, the problem with many of these pieces is that they include items which are not lessons as much as something along the lines of positive thoughts inspired by Leonard Cohen.

For example, the most recent specimen of this genre I’ve found is Lessons From Leonard Cohen at the World Jewish Congress Facebook Page, a video described as follows:

The late Leonard Cohen believed strongly in the virtue of modesty, and despite years of being in the spotlight, he always lived true to his believes. As we mark one year since his death, here are some of the timeless lessons the beloved poet and musician left behind. May his memory be a blessing.

And, it is an enjoyable video. Update: Video no longer online


But, let’s consider one of the lessons from that recording:

The pertinent definition of “lesson” follows: a piece of instruction.1 I’m not convinced that “Be good at what you do” meets the minimal criterion of “lesson,” but even if that imperative does somehow qualify, it provides little in the way of direction. It would be as useful to instruct readers to “Become a legendary singer-songwriter-poet-novelist icon.”

And from Music legend Leonard Cohen left us plenty of lessons to guide us through our life troubles by Kathleen Noonan (The Courier-Mail: Nov 3, 2017), we read

Put your house in order: “It’s a ­cliche,” Cohen tells Remnick. “But it’s underestimated as an ­analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

Now, putting your house in order strikes me as useful advice. But, from that same article, we are also instructed

Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit: Not every man can wear a fedora as fine as Cohen, but a good suit? Yes. All over the world, ageing rock stars still pour themselves into black skinny jeans, but Cohen wisely stuck to his family’s business roots and chose the well-tailored suit. Remnick writes: “He wore a well-tailored midnight-blue suit – even in the ’60s he wore suits – and a stickpin through his collar. He extended a hand like a courtly retired capo.”

“Never underestimate the power of a sharp suit.” Really, that’s one of Leonard Cohen’s “lessons to guide us through our life troubles?” It’s true that I wore suits throughout my professional life and believe they conveyed a certain gravitas and the notion that I took my work as a physician seriously. But, when Leonard calmed the riotous spectators at the Isle of Wright Festival, he wasn’t wearing Armani.

Yet, I’ve never come across the claim that a lesson to learn from Leonard is “Never underestimate the power of a safari suit.” Further, a sharp suit doesn’t seem an exclusive route to success; lots of tech professionals, for example, seem to do well wearing jeans and hoodies.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “So – do you think you could do better?” Well, my answer to that incredibly convenient rhetorical question is “Heck yes – without even donning that dark grey pinstripe double breasted suit that I’m pretty sure is still in my closet although I haven’t worn it in at least eight years.”

Lessons From Leonard Cohen
A Manual For Living With Defeat

Cohencentric’s Lessons From Leonard Cohen series focuses on those insights articulated or embodied by Leonard Cohen that are straightforward and pragmatically useful in everyday life:


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 October 31, 2016.


  1. Merriam-Webster []