Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah took around two years”
After discussing how Gillian Welch writes songs, now it’s the turn for legend Leonard Cohen. In a Guardian interview he explains why he doesn’t like slogans in songs, and why it took him two years and 80 verses to write his song Hallelujah.
Leonard Cohen is an absolute singer-songwriter veteran and legend. He has published poetry and novels. And while he was “neither the best singer, the best musician, nor the best-looking man around”, he had the “charisma and the words” (today’s Guardian). It’s all the more interesting to read how he finds songwriting still a challenge.
Songwriting: Work with what you’ve got
Leonard Cohen does not explain the meanings of his songs (some of them might reflect his six years in a monastery, others his struggling with clinical depression). However, at a press conference he talked about how songwriting works for him. While other people might “work out of a sense of great abundance”, Cohen has to “work with what you’ve got.”
In a one-on-one interview with Guardian writer Dorian Lynskey Cohen is even more open. He does not want to compare his difficulties with songwriting with actual hard work of mine workers in a “world where there’s famine” and where people “have their nails pulled out in dungeons”. “It’s very hard for me to place any high value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard but compared to what?”
No didactic songs, no slogans, no ideas
Cohen also doesn’t think about ideas or slogans for his songs. “I think ideas are what you want to get rid of. I don’t really like songs with ideas. They tend to become slogans. They tend to be on the right side of things: ecology or vegetarianism or antiwar. All these are wonderful ideas but I like to work on a song until those slogans, as wonderful as they are…, dissolve into deeper convictions of the heart. I never set out to write a didactic song. It’s just my experience. All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience.”
Read the full article in today’s G2 film & music print version, or online.
Listen to Hallelujah in a Cohen live version:
Read how Gillian Welch writes her songs.