Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

News about Leonard Cohen and his work, press, radio & TV programs etc.
HelenOE
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Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by HelenOE » Tue Aug 06, 2013 4:43 pm

Priceless. From Creative Loafing Charlotte (and of course, though I quoted the whole thing, click on the link anyway, I'm sure they would want to have the page view for their stats)
Having a laugh with Leonard Cohen

Recalling a chance encounter on a gray New York day
by Peter Gerstenzang @happyspappy


It was a day that felt like a Leonard Cohen song — empty, gray and seemed twice as long and hopeless as it needed to be. I was working in Manhattan then, a city where Cohen had set some of his best work: "Chelsea Hotel #2," say, and "Famous Blue Raincoat." Tunes so bleak and frightening that, once you heard them, you had to put on something for comic relief: like "People Who Died."

But I loved those tunes. Partly for being well-crafted. And also for reminding me I wasn't the only person who had days in which he felt he needed one of those safety razors. The kind they show at the end of In Cold Blood, that lock, so, after you shave your cheeks, you don't go after your wrists. Amazingly, on this deeply-depressed day, I actually met Leonard Cohen. Oh, the laughs we had. My sides still ache when I think about it.

I decided to spend my lunch break at Manny's, a guitar store in New York City. An establishment, where, in those days at least, 20 kids would be playing the riff to "Walk This Way," at the same time. It was OK on a Les Paul. But on a classical guitar, it made you want to go on a Tri-State Killing Spree. Still, I was down, for reasons that were impossible to comprehend.

I was just very depressed about my life, which seemed like a random series of incidents, flying this way and that, like pool balls after a strong, sloppy break. Like I felt when I was 11 and I'd heard they'd just cancelled Gilligan's Island. I know, I know. It was that bad. All they had to do was tell me that McDonald's was never going to make the McRib Sandwich again and I'd have gone over the edge.

Anyway, in Manny's, I took a Gibson 12-string off the wall and sat down to play it. These were the good old days, before music stores started chaining guitars to the wall, so people couldn't steal them. Hey, I still say, if you can stick a Telecaster down your pants and walk out with it undetected, you deserve to keep it.

Still, I sat down to play some suitably weary chords. And not long after, I looked up and who was standing 12 feet away and playing an Ibanez? The only songwriter capable of depressing Lou Reed. Yep, Leonard Cohen. Handsome, dark-suited, his hair still black, approximately my height. Meaning somewhere between an average guy and a member of The Weeble Village. I thought it had to be an hallucination. But the medication hadn't warned me of any such side effects. And anyway, I wasn't on any medication.

Nobody was bothering Mr. Cohen. So, that left it up to me. I really was a big fan. Plus, in those days, I was writing songs. And was so ambitious, I once asked the guy that delivered lunch to Clive Davis, if I could take it up to him. I even offered the guy $20 for his striped shirt and paper hat. A clever move I once saw done in play by Shakespeare. Wait, I mean an episode of The Brady Bunch. Anyway, being half-Canadian and totally depressed, I saw a kindred spirit. But I was also hoping to ask the author of "Suzanne," if he might know someone who would be interested in my songs.

I approached stealthily, still holding my guitar. Cohen was fingerpicking, unsurprisingly, from minor chord to minor chord confirming the rumor that he doesn't actually know any major chords. I eavesdropped, hoping to hear some lyrics about some torturous (and this being Cohen) naked girl, who was tearing him apart as easily as a piece of flash paper. But he just hummed. I don't think I've ever been so nervous. But, I pressed on, anyway.

"Mr. Cohen, hi, my name is Peter," I said. "I'm a huge fan. And, uh, I write songs."

This didn't evoke anything other than the faintest of nods. For some reason, not wanting to appear unduly obnoxious, I then told Leonard I was half-Canadian. A group of people often thought to be the politest in the world.

Cohen seemed to find this whole thing a rude Yankee intrusion. And he was clearly not in the mood to be distracted from trying out his guitar. In a deep, polite voice he said, "I must be dealing with the American half, then."

This induced a profound thought that ran quickly through my brain. That Cohen, aside from his jet-black lyrics and knowledge of 13,000 minor chords, had another gift. He was funny. You had to listen for it. But the humor was there.

"You write songs?" Cohen said, in that bottomless voice. "Well, have you ever found a decent rhyme for the word 'orange'?" Which was either a famous Zen koan or a line from Ogden Nash. I couldn't remember. Before I could answer, Cohen said, "Neither have I. I've been down on my knees in my underwear at The Royalton Hotel, banging my head against the floor. All because I couldn't find a decent rhyme for the word orange."

He didn't smile. But I did. After all, aside from their good manners, Canadians are known for the driest wit this side of the Rockies.

"Would it be imposing too much, if I asked you where I might take my songs?" I wondered, my voice shaking like Cohen had a gun on me.

While he didn't stop fingerpicking, A minor to D minor, E minor to F# minor, Cohen rumbled deeply again. He gave me the name and address of the lawyer he said handled his business affairs.

"He might be able to help you. He's been very good to me. But remember to take one vital thing into account," Leonard said.

"What's that?"

"He's a lawyer," said Cohen, the slightest smile, just barely detectable at the corners of his mouth.

I nodded, so I wouldn't burst out laughing and break the mood of affable melancholy. I told Mr. Cohen how, I, in particular, liked his song "Who By Fire?" He gave me a serious look this time. Probably because the song is pretty much a litany of suicides.

"You're not thinking of killing yourself, are you?" he asked.

I assured Leonard I wasn't. I often felt that way, but, so far, so good.

"OK then, good. Peter, it was a pleasure to meet you."

I thought, after repeating this line back to its creator, that Dylan would never have said such a thing. Then, still down, but in a manageable way, I put the guitar I was holding back, very gently, on the wall. And, like a character in a Leonard Cohen song, I buttoned up my overcoat. And stoically, my Canadian side up, I pushed my depression aside. I started walking. And left the store.

HelenOE
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by HelenOE » Tue Aug 06, 2013 10:54 pm

From the immortal Ogden Nash:
Once I was slapped by a lady named Miss Gorringe
But the only reason I was looking at her that way was, she represented a rhyme for "orange."
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AlanM
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by AlanM » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:01 am

HelenOE wrote:
"Well, have you ever found a decent rhyme for the word 'orange'?"
Rich Hall on BBC TV's program(me) Qi: "Door 'inge" {Door hinge}

Can't see how it would fit into a song lyric however.

Alan
Too much Leonard Cohen is never enough.
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IMM
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by IMM » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:06 am

China ? :shock:
HelenOE
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by HelenOE » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:11 am

AlanM wrote:
HelenOE wrote:
"Well, have you ever found a decent rhyme for the word 'orange'?"
Rich Hall on BBC TV's program(me) Qi: "Door 'inge" {Door hinge}

Can't see how it would fit into a song lyric however.

Alan
"When I was shown the door by Miss Orange,
She pinched my hurtin' heart in the door 'inge."
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mnkyface
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by mnkyface » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:12 am

IMM wrote:China ? :shock:
:lol: (sometimes I really need a "like" button)
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HelenOE
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by HelenOE » Wed Aug 07, 2013 4:24 am

And may I just say that the thing that I maybe like best about this article is that Leonard took the time to make sure he wasn't talking to someone who was contemplating suicide.

And may I just also say that I never hear "Who by Fire" as a litany of ways to commit suicide, except for the "who by his own hand, who by his lady's command" verse (which creeps me out greatly... somebody tells you to die and you do it?)
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B4real
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by B4real » Wed Aug 07, 2013 5:34 am

I remember Leonard talking on a few other different occasions about his quest to find a word to rhyme with orange.

Here’s a couple:

When interviewed in July 1988 by Mark Rowland in “Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough” Leonard said:
http://drhguy.com/2009/04/01/leonard-co ... or-orange/

“But we’re not going to live forever; maybe I think, basically, that nothing really changes. I’m not attached to that opinion, though. I don’t even care if it’s true. When you’re banging your head against the dirty carpet of the Royalton Hotel trying to find the rhyme for “orange,” you don’t care about these things.”

And this interview in 1991 by Adrian Deevoy The Q Magazine, from the files:
http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/qmag.html

"He’s been a poet and songwriter for more than 40 years, but Leonard Cohen still can’t find a rhyme for ‘orange’. “It drives you mad,” he tells Adrian Deevoy. “Before you know it, you’re crawling across the carpet in your underwear.”

.....interesting that both quotes above seem to be a combination of the one by Peter Gerstenzang. I can't see any date of his encounter.
Seems Leonard was truly obsessed by this unmatchable feat and repeated his frustration again in a slightly different way to him. It would appear then that at least from 1988 to 1991 Leonard was still looking for the rhyming word. I tend to think the search would have started earlier.

My memory says there’s another interview somewhere when he actually gives an acceptable comparison using two words I think, but it eludes me for now.

And keeping on the "Having a laugh with Leonard" theme, maybe he really is still searching for the complete word!
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HelenOE
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by HelenOE » Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:36 am

Or maybe the "rhymes with orange" bit is just one of those little set pieces that goes over well and helps you get to the end of an interview more painlessly. If you read enough interviews of someone who is interviewed frequently, the material repeats. And really how could it not, since the questions tend to be so much the same?
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lizzytysh
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by lizzytysh » Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:57 am

Laughed at and enjoyed both the piece and the follow-ups.

Thanks for this, Helen.
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holydove
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by holydove » Wed Aug 07, 2013 9:20 pm

B4real wrote:
My memory says there’s another interview somewhere when he actually gives an acceptable comparison using two words I think, but it eludes me for now.
Hi B4real,

I remember an interview Leonard did with a young woman, where he related that same issue of searching for a word that rhymes with orange, & after he told the story of crawling across the carpet, etc., the interviewer asked him, "so, what rhymes with orange?", & Leonard readily said, with an eager little smile: "door hinge"! (& he seemed glad that she asked & happy to reveal the rhyming word(s)). The interview must have been in the mid-to-late '90's ('94 - '99) because I remember Leonard's head was shaved & he might have even been wearing his monk's robes. The interviewer was a young woman, dark hair, & she had a wonderful, gentle, very respectful manner; but I don't remember where the interview took place or what station it was on. I would have to search through all my videos to find it - but that might not be such a bad undertaking. . .I'll let you know if I find it!
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B4real
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by B4real » Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:47 am

Ah holydove,
You are right! I didn’t remember which interview but I now remember Leonard saying those two words “door hinge”..... and as I type those words, this word has just come into my mind, “syringe” :shock:

And yes, that would be good if you did find it, if only to refresh my memory!
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Hartmut
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by Hartmut » Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:56 am

I thought the only word that really rhymes with 'orange' is 'Blorenge'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blorenge
Aria
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by Aria » Thu Aug 08, 2013 1:01 am

There is a word which rhymes with orange and it’s Blorenge, the name of a mountain which overshadows the lovely town of Abergavenny in South Wales.

Leonard might like to see it when he visits Cardiff in September…
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holydove
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Re: Having a Laugh with Leonard Cohen

Post by holydove » Thu Aug 08, 2013 7:35 pm

B4real wrote: And yes, that would be good if you did find it, if only to refresh my memory!
I found it. It's the 1993 CBC Primetime interview (I don't have info regarding the exact month or date). I have it in a video compilation of interviews, & unfortunately, the name of the interviewer is not given (I think the video begins slightly after the actual beginning of the program, maybe that's why no names are shown). But she is a young woman, dark hair, nice manner, etc. However, I was off about a couple of things: Leonard is not wearing monk's robes; his head is not exactly shaven, but it looks like it had been shaven recently, & is starting to grow back (looks nice that way too!). So the timing (1993) was a little before his 5 year residence at the monastery, but maybe he had recently spent some time there. The verbal exchange about "what rhymes with orange" is as I mentioned previously, & after Leonard responds with the words, "door hinge", he gives a great big smile & says, "nobody likes that one, though".
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