I love Leonard, because he is sublime.

27 Nov

In three more sleeps, I’ll be at the Leonard Cohen concert in Brisbane. 

It’s impossible to choose a favourite quote from Cohen’s sublime output, but I do rather like this one, bearing in mind the man spent fifteen years of his life in a Buddhist monastery, from which he emerged to discover his manager had fleeced him of every cent:  I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Cohen’s sense of humour underpins everything he writes: those unbelievers who  claim he creates “songs to cut your wrists to” entirely miss his often gentle, sometimes darkly ironical humour, his innate”cheerfulness breaking through,” his extraordinary self-deprecating modesty that he manages to combine with an equally extraordinary dignity. Cohen is great. Cohen is humble. Cohen is, always, the one whose lonely love is unrequited: My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone, he wryly observes, and in the  beautiful “Ain’t no cure for love” he mourns:

I’m aching for you baby 
I can’t pretend I’m not 
I need to see you naked 
In your body and your thought 
I’ve got you like a habit 
And I’ll never get enough 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure for love

I use the word “sublime” to describe Cohen’s work reservedly. While “sublime” indicates the presence of an emotional depth and integrity that transcends rational thought and language, strictly speaking it also requires the presence of horror and fear inspired by that which is, in Kant’s terms “absolutely great.” Kant explains the difference between the beautiful and the sublime thus:

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt. 

The boundlessness of the sublime inspires a desire to transcend the limits of the self,  a fear-inspiring project if ever there was one, most commonly experienced when falling in love, that chaos of intense emotions, sublime delight, and necessarily, if one is offering one’s heart to another, trembling fear. To be in Cohen’s stage presence is to be for those few hours in an open-hearted state of  love without the fear: the man emanates an almost tangible love and generosity, you are the only audience he has ever had or ever will have, he is, like the best of lovers, entirely focused on you, given over to your pleasure, he lives, for these few hours, only to delight you. You feel Leonard Cohen in all your erogenous zones but it isn’t about sex. Cohen’s presence is sublime.

It is not so easy to find horror and fear in Cohen’s work, mediated as it is by humour, melancholy, and melody, however lyrics such as “The Future” describe a chilling dystopian vision:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!

I can’t argue that Cohen’s music and lyrics are by themselves sublime. But the man’s presence and delivery make them so. Of course, like any text, they are not fully realised without the participation of the reader or audience: if you want to feel Leonard’s great-heartedness, you have to open up your own. He is a spiritual man, whatever one takes that to mean, and many of his love songs can be read as addressing either a mortal lover or a transcendental exteriority.

I’m counting the sleeps.

Like a bird on the wire, 

like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free. 
Like a worm on a hook, 
like a knight from some old fashioned book 
I have saved all my ribbons for thee. 
If I, if I have been unkind, 
I hope that you can just let it go by. 
If I, if I have been untrue 
I hope you know it was never to you. 
Like a baby, stillborn, 
like a beast with his horn 
I have torn everyone who reached out for me. 
But I swear by this song 
and by all that I have done wrong 
I will make it all up to thee. 
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, 
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.” 
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door, 
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?” 

Oh like a bird on the wire, 
like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free.


40 Responses to “I love Leonard, because he is sublime.”

  1. Anonymous November 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    He’s a lazy bastard, living in a suit


  2. Kerrie November 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    I saw him last week in Melbourne and I am so happy to report that you will not be disappointed. He is in my humble opinion a very generous and humble performer who despite his incredible worldwide status, takes very seriously and wants to be the best on stage. My kind of artist. I judge on many things however one of my key criteria is how the artist acknowledges the band and the backup singers and I’m so glad to repor that Leonard did not disappoint me. Hope you will enjoy as much as I did. You will have an awesome night as Leonard is totally on form!


    • Jennifer Wilson November 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

      Thank you! I never expected to see him again after last time, so this is a bonus.


  3. 8 Degrees of Latitude November 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I am sooo envious! I would love to be there..


  4. hudsongodfrey November 28, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Expect a full review, written preferably in the style of Bob Ellis 🙂


  5. helvityni November 28, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    “Dance Me To The End Of Love”

    Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
    Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
    Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
    Dance me to the end of love
    Dance me to the end of love
    Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
    Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
    Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
    Dance me to the end of love
    Dance me to the end of love

    Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
    Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
    We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
    Dance me to the end of love
    Dance me to the end of love

    Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
    Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
    Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
    Dance me to the end of love

    Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
    Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
    Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
    Dance me to the end of love
    Dance me to the end of love
    Dance me to the end of love

    It was love at the first hearing of this song lying on floor in a sweaty smelling gym in Balmain, we were allowed a ten minute rest, and the instructor put this song on…

    After the session we, my Canadian girlfriend and I rushed buy the CD…it’s been a long lasting love affair……. 🙂 Still going…


  6. Marilyn November 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Joan of Arc and Diamonds in the Mine are my all time favourite Cohen songs, Songs of Love and Hate album.

    Anyone who loves Cohen needs to grab or download a copy of the DVD I am Your Man and watch the divine Ms Wainwight and the McGarrigles, Nick Cave, Teddy Thompson and a cast of other greats sing his wonderful songs with a tribute trio with Bono and Blade.

    It is my most watched DVD ever.


    • helvityni November 29, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      Marilyn, I saw it in the cinema, loved every minute of it…Nick Cave and Ms Wainwright were good, everybody really, got the CD…

      To forget about Abbott and Co, I listen to Leonard… 🙂


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  1. “I can’t argue that Cohen’s music and lyrics are by themselves sublime. But the man’s presence and delivery make them so. “ | DrHGuy - Another Other Leonard Cohen Site - December 2, 2013

    […] I love Leonard, because he is sublime by Jennifer Wilson. No Place for Sheep: Nov 27, […]


  2. DrHGuy Got Himself A New Twitter Account For Christmas: cojones4cohen | DrHGuy - Another Other Leonard Cohen Site - December 24, 2013

    […] Twitter account following DrHGuy was based , the site that hosted I love Leonard, because he is sublime by Jennifer Wilson, an excellent essay that was recently featured on a post at this site. […]


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