Books

'Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen' Is at Once Fascinating and Frustrating

This collection of interviews forces us to consider that Cohen's interactions with the press are products of his public image instead of honest words that represent his core belief system.


Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters

Price: $29.95
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Length: 624 pages
Editor: Jeff Burger
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-04
Amazon

When we think of great interviewers, individuals like Barbara Walters and Charlie Rose come to mind. But what about great interviewees? Jeff Burger’s new book Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters is a collection of more than 50 interviews Cohen conducted between 1966 and 2012, and it demonstrates, at the very least, that the legendary poet and musician is a fascinating subject.

Journalism, for the most part, is about the pursuit of truth, and the challenge of this quest stems from the individual’s subjective nature. Most of us are aware that objective truths do not exist, and if they do, they are nearly impossible to obtain. Thus, while readers might turn to Burger’s book in an attempt to locate the true essence of Cohen in his own words, they are ultimately left with a calculated image that aims to provoke and perplex.

Burger’s intention is to call attention to this challenge, and to show that public figures like Cohen are often “more focused on projecting a persona than on speaking from the heart” (xix). This is not to say that the interviews in the book aren’t interesting, because Cohen handles the press in a playful manner most public figures wouldn’t dare. Rather, it’s to acknowledge that we’ll most likely never know who the “real” Cohen is precisely because he is a public figure and all public figures construct a fabricated image for the masses to consume.

As a result, Burger’s book is at once fascinating and frustrating. Those interested in the cult of celebrity will be intrigued by Cohen’s adept handling of the media. In many ways, he’s like Prince, David Bowie, Madonna, and Bob Dylan, in that he deliberately becomes an enigma to entice an audience. However, those who want to know Cohen will be disappointed, as the interviews illustrate how he acts for the public eye but can’t fully paint a portrait of who he is when no one is around.

Nevertheless, when Cohen utters, “I have never dazzled myself with thought, particularly my own thought,” in a 1967 interview, one can’t help but be charmed by his elusiveness. After all, what is a poet without his own thoughts?

Similarly, when he says, “I don’t care what people call me, whether you call it folksinging or some people call it a priestly function or some people see it as a revolutionary activity or acidheads see it as psychedelic revolution or poets see it as the popularization of poetry,” you get a sense that he’s acutely aware of how the public perceives him.

It is this acknowledgment, I think, that makes Cohen a fascinating figure. He’s willing to admit that the perception of him changes with each member of the public, but by saying he “doesn’t care,” he assumes a level of superiority. Unlike other celebrities who might be plagued by how they are viewed by others, Cohen claims to be uninterested, as if he is removed from this superficiality.

Perhaps he is, or perhaps that’s what he wants us to think in order to be considered a true “artist” who doesn’t care about such things. In any event, it’s an intriguing statement that causes the reader to think about the extent to which anything a public figure says should be taken at face value.

For example, in another interview from 1973, Cohen claims that he is “motivated by the same ambition—greed—as everybody else,” which in many ways complicates what he says about not caring about public perception earlier. In the 1967 interview, he separates himself from others with his lack of concern for public perception, but here, he maintains that he is on everyone’s level.

What, ultimately, does all of this mean? It could mean many things or nothing at all. That’s the thing about celebrity culture and the public’s fascination with it. We invest so much of our time and energy trying to figure out who these people in power are, and we hang onto their every line and gesture as if it were gospel. But what if none of it matters? What if they just make statements to provoke and capture our attention without giving them much thought or even believing in them?

I’m not saying that Cohen is dishonest with the public, but it’s appropriate to at least consider the possibility that his interviews are products of his public image instead of honest words that represent his true self and core belief system. Why? Because he says everything knowing full well that his words will be transmitted to a mass audience, which by default creates a set of boundaries that are difficult to penetrate.

In the preface, Burger writes, “I’ve never met [Cohen], but after reading the interviews and interview-based features collected here, I feel as if I’ve spent many revealing hours in his company over many years” (ibid.). The interviews collected herein are certainly revealing, but after thinking about them for a while, I still don’t know what, exactly, they reveal.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image