Leonard Cohen and Five Good Songs

“You should never throw anything away, including people and ideas. It’s really true that we should never give up on anyone.”  That was Leonard Cohen, in my radio today.

Cohen is 71 now. Five of his songs were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on the weekend. (Did you know there was one? Not the weekend, I mean the Hall. Although, actually, there is no actual hall for the Hall. Someday.) He was on Sounds Like Canada this morning, a taped interview he’d done with Shelagh Rogers. I missed the first 15 minutes or so of a warm, intelligent conversation of the type that CBC Radio occasionally pulls off so wonderfully well. (The “Mother Corp” takes a lot of hits from people who don’t listen to it. The TV side has its highs, even beyond Hockey Night in Canada, but I don’t watch it much; it’s so-so, even before you account for having to watch commercials. But the radio side is brilliant, commercial-free, and getting better, getting a little younger. Superb.) It was an hour-long conversation, followed by an hour of highlights from the HoF awards show. (How’s a guy supposed to get any work done?)

“Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in…” This is an example of the songwriter as Writer, as Poet, a designation Cohen once refused, feeling that it was too early in his career to apply to himself such an exalted title; I take it upon myself to confer it now). It comes from “Anthem”, which enters the Canuck Songster Pantheon along with “Bird on a Wire” (Willie Nelson was there to sing it, and that’s the version I hear), “Ain’t No Cure For Love” (I hear Jennifer Warnes), “Hallelujah” (kd lang did a glorious version at the ceremony, but I like Bono’s, too) and “Everybody Knows” (Don Henley does a terrific rendition on the tribute album Tower of Song, but Cohen’s own is one I find more listenable than some of the others, gritty and morose).

I’m hoping that the whole interview, as well as the awards package, will be available. I looked on the CBC site tonight for it tonight, and instead went wandering through their archives of 1950s radio interviews and 1960s television chats – Adrienne Clarkson, in all her youthful bouffant glory! – and on into the more recent past. And in case there’d been any doubt, I found an extraordinary man. Even in his youth, Leonard Cohen was profoundly articulate, gently contrarian, an artist and a seer who sounded and looked as contemporary as his interviewers looked and often sounded quaint. Now, his intelligence, insight and deep humility are beautiful to hear. I hope to hear today’s interview again. (Apparently it was filmed for eventual airing on television. I’ll let you know.)