It is fabled that we slowly lose the gift of speech with animals, that birds no longer visit our windowsills to converse. As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armor themselves against wonder.
“I wish I could say everything there is to say in one word. I hate all the things that can happen between the beginning of a sentence and the end.”
–Leonard Cohen, seen above on the terrace of his house on the Greek island of Hydra.
But I was talking today to a friend of mine, and it came to me that Christ’s image is just the perfect symbol for our civilization. It’s a perfect event for us - you have to die to survive. Because the personality is crucified in our society. That’s why so many people collapse, why the mental hospitals are full. Nobody can survive with the personality that they want, which is the hero of their own drama.
Roshi [his Zen Buddhist teacher] said something nice to me one time. He said that the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. Which means that this hero that you’re trying to maintain as the central figure in the drama of your life— this hero is not enjoying the life of a hero. You’re exerting a tremendous maintenance to keep this heroic stance available to you, and the hero is suffering defeat after defeat. And they’re not heroic defeats; they’re ignoble defeats. Finally, one day you say, ‘Let him die— I can’t invest any more in this heroic position.’ From there, you just live your life as if it’s real— as if you have to make decisions even though you have absolutely no guarantee of any of the consequences of your decisions.
“You run through your top ten erotic fantasies, ambition fantasies, revenge fantasies, global ratification fantasies. You run through them all until you bore yourself to death, basically, and the faculty that produces opinions and snap judgments and unrealistic scenarios for your own prominence, after you run through them for a number of years, they cease to have charge. They bore themselves into non-existence. You see them as diversions from another kind of intimacy that you become more interested in–and that is what Socrates said: Know Thyself.”
—from Sarah Hampson’s interview with Leonard Cohen in Shambhala Sun.
Clarity is one of the things I like to go for. I don’t think we’re ever free from this mysterious mechanism, though. Mystery can go all the way from not knowing what to do with yourself to standing in awe at the vast activity of the cosmos which no man can penetrate. I don’t think we’re ever free from any of that. On the other hand, you can’t go around continually expressing your awe before these celestial mechanics. These are things that maybe we should keep to ourselves. I think that we’re surrounded by, infused with and operate on a mysterious landscape, every one of us.
At this point in his life, Leonard Cohen sings with a voice so deep and bottomless, he may as well be singing from underneath the earth. —Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews Old Ideas, the latest album from Leonard Cohen: Leonard Cohen is making music vital to his spirit, confident that a song transmits its essential nature directly to any listener receptive to his message.