Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Leonard Cohen Taught Me

A publisher had arranged that Leonard Cohen and I should meet to write a song together. It was a crazy idea, but too tempting for me to turn it down. I don't know why Leonard agreed to work with someone like me, but he did. Certainly not because of my talent. We collaborated for ten days. What came out of it was less than great and never released, deservedly so. Nevertheless I'm grateful for every minute we sat together, I scribbling on a pad, he behind a silly kiddie-sized electric keyboard. He lived in an unsightly townhouse off Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, a simple unpretentious man. We met in the late afternoons, for back then he spent six to eight hours per day in a monastery up on the hills, praying and meditating and, I suspect, searching for rhymes. For Leonard is not just some singer-songwriter. He is a true poet. A holy man. First thing he did in those afternoons was to quote a new version of the lyrics he was currently working on. It was always the same poem, with small, often minimal changes. “I’m writing all the time," he said. "I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. It takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is.” In those ten days I learned from Leonard how important every single word is, and how much difference little changes can mean. Only then I understood that you should never stop working on a good song. Sometimes you can improve it so much that it becomes great.

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