Three Leonard Cohen Animations

Leonard Cohen, High Priest Of Pathos…

     Lord Byron of Rock and Roll…

          Gen­tle­man Zen

                Mas­ter Of Misery…Morbidity… Erot­ic Despair…

                    Prince of Pessimism…Pain…

                         Trou­ba­dour For Trou­bled Souls…

The grav­el-voiced singer-song­writer accu­mu­lat­ed hun­dreds of nick­names over a career span­ning more than half a cen­tu­ry. He wasn’t thrilled by some of them, remark­ing to the BBC, “You get tired, over the years, hear­ing that you’re the cham­pi­on of gloom.”

Tak­en all togeth­er, how­ev­er, they make for a decent com­pos­ite por­trait of a pro­lif­ic artist whose sen­su­al­i­ty, mor­dant wit, and obses­sion with love, loss, and redemp­tion nev­er wavered.

He took some hia­tus­es, includ­ing a 5‑year stint as a monk in California’s Mount Baldy monastery, but nev­er retired.

His final stu­dio album, You Want It Dark­er, was released mere weeks before his death.

Jour­nal­ist Rob Sheffield artic­u­lat­ed the Cohen mys­tique in a Rolling Stone eulo­gy:

This man was both the crack in every­thing and the light that gets in. Nobody wrote such mag­nif­i­cent­ly bleak bal­lads for brood­ing alone in the dark, star­ing at a win­dow or wall – “Joan of Arc,” “Chelsea Hotel,” “Tow­er of Song,” “Famous Blue Rain­coat,” “Clos­ing Time.” He was music’s top Jew­ish Cana­di­an ladies’ man before Drake was born, run­ning for the mon­ey and the flesh. Like Bowie and Prince, he tapped into his own realm of spir­i­tu­al and sex­u­al gno­sis, and like them, he went out at the peak of his musi­cal pow­ers. No song­writer ever adapt­ed to old age with more cun­ning or gus­to. 

Cohen also excelled at inter­views, leav­ing behind a wealth of gen­er­ous, free­wheel­ing record­ings, at least three of which have become fod­der for ani­ma­tors.

The ani­ma­tion at the top of the page is drawn from Cohen’s 1966 inter­view with the Cana­di­an Broad­cast­ing Corporation’s Adri­enne Clark­son, short­ly after the release of his exper­i­men­tal nov­el, Beau­ti­ful Losers. (His debut album was still a year and a half away.)

Ear­li­er in the inter­view, Cohen men­tions the “hap­py rev­o­lu­tion” he encoun­tered in Toron­to after an extend­ed peri­od on the Greek island of Hydra:

I was walk­ing on Yorkville Street and it was jammed with beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful peo­ple last night. I thought maybe it could spread to the [oth­er] streets and maybe even … where’s the mon­ey dis­trict? Bay Street?… I thought maybe they could take that over soon, too.

How to tap into the source of all this hap­pi­ness?

The future Zen monk Cohen was pret­ty con­vinced it could be locat­ed by sit­ting qui­et­ly, though he doesn’t con­demn those using drugs or alco­hol as an assist, explain­ing that his fel­low Cana­di­an, abstract expres­sion­ist Harold Town, “gets beau­ti­ful under alco­hol. I get stu­pid and gen­er­al­ly throw up.”

8 years lat­er, WBAI’s Kath­leen Kendel came armed with a poem for Cohen to read on air, and also plumbed him as to the ori­gins of “Sis­ters of Mer­cy,” one of his best known songs, and the only one that did­n’t require him to “sweat over every word.” (Pos­si­bly the con­so­la­tion prize for his dashed hopes of erot­ic adven­ture with the song’s pro­tag­o­nists.)

(The ani­ma­tion here is by Patrick Smith for PBS’ Blank on Blank series.)

Ani­ma­tor Joe Don­ald­son riffs on an excerpt from Cohen’s final major inter­view, with The New York­er’s edi­tor-in-chief, David Rem­nick, above.

Rem­nick recalled that his sub­ject, who died a few days lat­er, was “in an ebul­lient mood for a man… who knew exact­ly where he was going, and he was head­ed there in a hur­ry. And at the same time, he was incred­i­bly gra­cious.”

The 82-year-old Cohen spoke enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly if some­what pes­simisti­cal­ly about hav­ing a lot of new mate­r­i­al to get through, “to put (his) house in order,” but also admit­ted, “some­times I just need to lie down.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Inter­view: Record­ed by David Rem­nick of The New York­er

Ladies and Gen­tle­men… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musi­cian Fea­tured in a 1965 Doc­u­men­tary

Leonard Cohen Plays a Spell­bind­ing Set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Fes­ti­val

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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