Professor Ryan Cox
March 16th 2015
The Philosophy of a Bohemian: Leonard Cohen Few Canadian poets are as widely recognized and respected for their work as Leonard
Cohen. One of the most recognizable characteristics of his works is the presence of sadness, this almost constant melancholy may be a projection of the writers own feelings of depression. Along with misery, other strong themes of his works included freedom and self expression; which may attribute to why Cohen felt so comfortable writing such personal lyrics. Upon research it can be noted that many of his works are inspired by actual events in the artist’s life, some almost identical to these events; this can be observed in the poems
You Have the Lovers.
Born September 12th 1934 to the city of Montreal, Quebec, Leonard Cohen was blessed as an incredibly gifted writer. Growing up in a predominantly Jewish household and a city whose skyline was home to many synagogues and church steeples, religion had a strong influence in his life as well as his writing; this was especially true in his later years as he studied as a monk of
Rinzai Zen Buddhism. He studied not to find a new religion he said but because he believed in what his teacher stood for, it helped him through a time when he felt he needed an escape; a bit of peace away from the busy life of a musician. Along with religion Cohen drew inspiration from things such as loneliness, sexuality, and his own personal experiences while living in America,
Canada, and Greece. Another suspected muse for his work was the Beats Movement, a social and literary movement that began in the 1950’s among alternative artistic communities in San
Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. This movement fixated on a feeling of alienation from traditional society, and much like Cohen’s work it focused on self expression. Some of Cohen’s most successful days of touring were in some ways his worst. He had begun drinking profuse amounts of alcohol before he could bring himself to sing in front of an audience. “So I started with a few glasses, then it was a bottle then it was two bottles and in the end I would drink three bottles before I went on the stage.” (2005 Interview for Norwegian
Radio) Cohen was always very modest about his singing career, along with most aspects of his life. “ I had the title poet, and maybe I was one for a while; also the title singer was kindly accorded to me even though I can barely carry a tune.” ( From the 2005 documentary
Cohen: I’m Your Man
). Along with his modesty came the desire to escape from the touring life,
Cohen had never felt as if he wanted to become a huge public figure or a pop star, he felt he didn’t have the aspirations to compete with the wiley figures of the big leagues nor did he feel the need. He was very content with his small loyal following, but this minimalist viewpoint may possibly be attributed to a lack of self confidence or even a deep seated depression that prevented the artist from breaking out of his shell and pursuing grander things. Cohen often wanted nothing more than to sit in a quiet corner, away from the boisterous life of a musician, this in part inspired his move to Mt. Baldy where he became part of a Zen Centre and studied the ways of
Rinzai Zen Buddhism under Joshu Sasaki Roshi, zen master. “I wasn’t looking for a new
3 religion, my own religion is just fine, but I liked him, and I liked what he stood for, and I liked who he was, and I knew that he knew a lot more than I do” (2005 interview for Norwegian
Radio). After much hard work Cohen earned the title of monk at the monastery as well as a lifelong friend in Roshi. This brief break from his life as a musician may have been a sign of instability in Cohen, a need for uniformity. He often said he was attracted to the the stability and clarity of military or monastery life, something he may have been lacking.