Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums

Would you say that Leonard's lyrics are influenced by Buddhist thought?

Yes, throughout his career
26
76%
Yes, since Mount Baldy
5
15%
No, not even after Mount Baldy
1
3%
I have no idea
2
6%
 
Total votes: 34
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B4real
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby B4real » Sun May 23, 2010 3:53 am

Hi guys, sorry to be pedantic but this is the correct line according to the files:
"So don't look down the ground is gone,
there's no one waiting anyway"

and this is the correct line according to The Little Black Songbook:
"So don't look down the ground is gone,
there's no one waving anyway"

When I listen to Leonard singing it sounds like "waving" :? I wonder which is actually correct; I seriously would like to know. I secretly think it is "waving" but in my heart I want it to be "waiting". Maybe someone else could clarify which word is the right one.

Even though I haven't posted here for quite some time, I am totally engrossed in all your responses - very interesting analysis indeed :)
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Sun May 23, 2010 10:50 am

The plot thickens! There is something to investigate... :D
Thanks B4real!

PS: Holydove and Tinedoes, great ideas, many many thanks!
I'll be back soon... ;-)
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby TineDoes » Mon May 24, 2010 5:20 pm

B4real wrote:Hi guys, sorry to be pedantic but this is the correct line according to the files:
"So don't look down the ground is gone,
there's no one waiting anyway"

and this is the correct line according to The Little Black Songbook:
"So don't look down the ground is gone,
there's no one waving anyway"
Hi B4real, glad you drew attention to this! Holydove, I do apologize. I only have the written version 'there's no one waiting anywhere'. But listening to the version on Recent Songs I do now hear 'no one waving anyway'. On Fieldcommander Cohen I do hear 'waiting', the 't' being pronounced more like a 'd'.
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Mon May 24, 2010 6:38 pm

When I first heard the song, I thought it was "there's noone waiting anyway", then sometime later, I thought it could be either "waiting anyway" or "waving anyway". Then (years later) I looked at the printed lyrics in the booklet that came with the FCC cd, & it says, "there's noone waving anyway", so I assumed that was it; but I know that Leonard's lyrics are often printed differently in different sources. So will we ever know the truth?? Is the truth out there?? Anyone. . . ??

Be4real, thank you for the info from the files & the Little Black Songbook. . .

Edit: maybe Leonard uses different words at different times here, as he often does with many of his songs. . .
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remote1
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Tue May 25, 2010 11:41 pm

Well, I know nothing about phonetics, but when I try to pronounce an American 't' as in 'waiting' (more like a 'd' in the Queen's English), it is not really that difficult for it to slide into a 'v' for 'waving'... I guess the only way to know is to ask Leonard himself. A job for Jarkko? :lol:

In any case, it does not change the overall understanding of the song. What I wanted to add to what I think is a fairly thorough set of interpretations of the song (well, at least considering this is a relaxed discussion forum and not a peer-reviewed academic article), is that I really like the idea suggested by Holydove that he is also disillusioned with the relationship. I had assumed that he was still in love with her, but that she was not interested in him any longer. But I think that is only because so many of LC's songs are about him being forsaken by a woman he still loves... Your reading, Holydove, I think works better, and I too like the analysis regarding transitional states. As for Tinedoes, I think that there is necessarily a spiritual side to your life, but 'spiritual' is one of those words that can mean many things. At first I was talking about everything in your life that does not belong to the realm of the senses, of pure perception. Then I described 'spirituality' as more of a religious concept (and that's not part of my life either). But the journey from the corporeal to the non-corporeal in sex is not (necessarily) a religious thing, I think; it can be totally secular, can't it? ;-)
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby TineDoes » Wed May 26, 2010 1:18 am

remote1 wrote:I think; it can be totally secular, can't it?
Absolutely!!
remote1 wrote:I really like the idea suggested by Holydove that he is also disillusioned with the relationship.
Me too. From reading Nadel's biography on LC and from different statements made by LC himself I understand that he loves, needs and respects women in his relationships but has/d difficulty in commiting himself fully. (correct me if you know this to be wrong) In this song I hear this illustrated, like before in a totally different context, in So long Marianne: "I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web/is fastening my ankle to a stone."
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Thu May 27, 2010 6:49 pm

TineDoes wrote: From reading Nadel's biography on LC and from different statements made by LC himself I understand that he loves, needs and respects women in his relationships but has/d difficulty in commiting himself fully. (correct me if you know this to be wrong) In this song I hear this illustrated, like before in a totally different context, in So long Marianne: "I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web/is fastening my ankle to a stone."
TineDoes, I believe you are correct about this, & the lyric you quoted is a very good example. I don't remember exactly what Nadel says about why LC has difficulty with commitment (or if he even tries to explain it), but there is a very interesting aspect to this, as illustrated by the lines, also from So Long Marianne: "You know that I love to live with you/ but you make me forget so very much/ I forget to pray for the angels. . . " He forgets to PRAY - this, I think, illustrates a conflict between his love for the woman, & his spiritual work, which is very intertwined with his sacred art; the authors of Leonard Cohen: Prophet of the Heart (a really great biography - the best, in my view) emphasize how it is of utmost importance to Leonard that he get his message (his prohetic message - his "word") to the people - it's really felt as a divine mandate (my words, not theirs, but that's their implication) - & he will do whatever is necessary to make his message(s) accessible to as many people as possible, without compromising the quality/comlexity/honesty of the message, or the beauty of its form. These authors say that when Leonard transitioned from poetry to music, the priest became a prophet. It wasn't enough for him to express life experience and/or describe reality in the form of written poetry; he had to confront the world head-on, & so he brought his poetry into the music, which he would have to perform (confronting the world head-on), & which would make it accessible to more people. (We know that he also performed his poetry in recitals, but music requires more performance, & would produce larger audiences). Anyway, these authors (Rawlins & Dorman) basically say that Marianne made Leonard feel very content - & that put his work at risk. There's also the fact that Leonard's work, especially when he moved into music, made it necessary for him to travel alot, which often put alot of distance ("now it's come to distances") between him & his women - we know this was one of the issues with Suzanne Elrod, the mother of his children, as it was with Marianne. So, I think this is a source of great pain for Leonard - the conflict between his very real love for his women, & his very compelling need to accomplish his work - to fulfill his prophetic role - to get his message to the people. I think there are indications of this conflict in many places in Leonard's work.
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby Lilifyre » Sat May 29, 2010 7:18 am

Hi all. Sorry, I haven't been following this thread all that much lately. I've been spending a lot of time enjoying a treasure of Leonard's work gifted me my another fan here. I'll leave it to my benefactor to reveal or not reveal himself. I'll just say that I have a true TREASURE and have not been able to even give more than a cursory glimpse of the riches.

Anyhow, one song that has been sticking with me seems appropriate to discuss here. The song is "Famous Blue Raincoat". I hope I'm not repeating something that has already been covered here, but it's only now that these concepts have been rattling around in my brain.

One line reads: "I'm glad you stood in my way." I don't know where I saw or heard someone else refer to this line......possibly in a different thread on this forum, possibly somewhere else. I really don't know. Any how, what I heard/read was to look at this line as if it said, "I'm glad you stood in my PATH". This sounds like a very Buddhist interpretation of this line.....at least to my uneducated ear. I can see it either way, as "way" or "path".

The whole verse reads:
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

What I see is here is a man who was/is in love with a woman loved by another man as well. Time and circumstances have calmed the original competition between them and the underlying friendship that existed between them before the introduction of the woman into their relationship. So now the speaker is making peace with his rival/friend. From the perspective of time and distance, he can accept the way things turned out. He sees the rightness of his rival/friend standing in his "path" and making him reassess the whole situation. By blocking his "path" it forced him to follow a "path" he might have avoided but needed to travel.

Comments welcome.

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Sat May 29, 2010 6:55 pm

Hi Lilifyre - nice to hear from you, and - wow! - I love your interpretation - I hadn't thought of that, & it definitely works - the "way" being another word for the "path".

I wonder if "my brother, my killer" could be a reference to the story of Cain & Abel (?) It reminds me of the lines from Story of Isaac - "if you call me brother. . . when it all comes down to dust, I will kill you if I must. . ."

And probably many know this already, but about "that night that you planned to go clear. . . ": "going clear" is a term from scientology; from what I recall, it means a process by which one would dissolve all habitual reactions that one's mind has developed throughout the years - like a washing away of all the old patterns, so that one's mind would be clean & clear, so to speak, & able to function without being driven by concepts originating in past experience, rather than acting according to the present situation - acting rather than reacting. Anyway, given that reference to the "path" of scientology, the "stood in my way" lyric could certainly be either another reference to that path, or to a different path.
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Sun May 30, 2010 11:40 am

holydove wrote:"going clear" is a term from scientology
I was aware of that but was kind of hoping that LC's use antedated the Church of Scientology's usage of the phrase. It spoils the song for me... :(
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby Lilifyre » Sun May 30, 2010 2:38 pm

Remote 1 and Holydove, as for the phrase "going clear", I had heard/read somewhere else that Leonard did indeed use the phrase to refer to the term as used by Scientology. In looking over the lyrics again, and bringing in the substitution of "path" for "way", perhaps what Leonard is getting at (and we'd have to ask him personally to know for certain) is to thank this other person/rival/brother/friend/killer for pushing him off the path TO Scientology. From a personal standpoint, I can relate to it that way. Back in the early to mid 70s I was stumbling thru a spiritual wasteland myself. At that point I investigated Scientology. I was at a very vulnerable point in my life and in many ways a prime candidate to become a follower of that philosophy. I make no judgment of those who claim to have found what they were looking for within Scientology. That is their personal journey. In retrospect, it would have been a huge mistake for me to have followed that "path". The one thing that "saved me" from that path, or what "stood in my way" was quite simply a lack of money. I didn't have the money to buy anything more than the first Dianetics book. I couldn't afford even the basic classes. The people I spoke to made it very clear that, until I could come back with the cash for the courses and books, I was not welcome. I thank them profusely to this day for "standing in my way".

In the song, it is not Leonard, but the rival/brother/enemy/friend/etc who "planned to go clear" and is asked if he "ever went clear". Once again, Leonard writes on many different levels. On one level this is a sad, sweet love song. It's the story of a love triangle. It looks back on that triangle after all the tempers have calmed. But on another level it is a spiritual journey. That journey is effected by many seemingly chance actions. The participants in this triangle have moved beyond the point of conflict to acceptance.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.
There is peace and forgiveness, some regret, and blessing for all concerned. There is gratitude for the path taken and for the path NOT taken. Does this fit in with Buddhist philosophy? If so, how would Buddhism explain it?

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Sun May 30, 2010 10:06 pm

Lilifyre wrote:Remote 1 and Holydove, as for the phrase "going clear", I had heard/read somewhere else that Leonard did indeed use the phrase to refer to the term as used by Scientology.
Hi Lilifyre, is that something Leonard himself said, or someone else's interpretation of the lines?

Looking at the OED again, I find a quotation as early as 1635 using the phrase "to go clear" to mean: "Free from any encumbrance or trouble; out of debt; out of the hold of the law": 1635 Musarum Deliciæ (N.), "Here the people farre and neer Bring their diseases, and go clear."

This is pretty much how I always understood the line, esp. as meaning "Free from any encumbrance or trouble"... Just interested to know whether what you heard was not just someone trying to produce a scientologist interpretation of the song...

I can't answer your questions about Buddhism, but I assume they were meant for Holydove! ;-)
However, my instinct would be to say that this is more of a romantic stance than a philosophical or religious one...
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby Lilifyre » Sun May 30, 2010 10:57 pm

Hi Remote 1. I'm not absolutely sure just where I heard/read about the phrase "go clear" referring to the Scientology meaning. I'm thinking it was in an interview of one of Leonard's old friends....possibly Irving Layton. I have no idea where to even begin looking for the interview. I have this quirky mind that hangs on to little bits of information like that. :oops: It's something I've done all my life. I hear something and remember the tiny bit within the whole but have no clue who said it or where or when. :? My mind is somewhat like my desk. Very cluttered with no specific "filing" system, but I can pull out individual items with little or no effort. :lol:

As for the song being romantic rather than philosophic or religious, well, I see no reason for it not to be all of the above. As I have said many times, Leonard's works have many layers to them. There is the most obvious, or surface meaning and then as you peel away the layers, more and more appears until you get to the central core. I've heard many interviews with Leonard where he points out that his songs mean many things to many people. If one person gets one interpretation and someone else a different one, well, that's the nature of poetry.

Lili
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I admit it's broken and it's bleak
But all the twisted pieces fit
A 1000 kisses deep."
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Sun May 30, 2010 11:22 pm

Hi again Lili

Don't worry about it; nobody can remember everything...

As for the "more of a romantic stance than a philosophical or religious one", I was not talking about the song as a whole but about the specific lines that you quoted, and which related to your two questions about Buddhism. My point was that I did not see any reason to read these particular lines as Buddhist, but that's my instinct; Holydove's got the knowledge! ;-)
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby B4real » Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:53 pm

Hi remote1,

This is from the official scientology and dianetics glossary:

"Clear: the name of a state achieved through auditing or an individual who has achieved this state. A Clear is a being who no longer has his own reactive mind. A Clear is an unaberrated person and is rational in that he forms the best possible solutions he can on the data he has and from his viewpoint. The Clear has no engrams which can be restimulated to throw out the correctness of computation by entering hidden and false data."

Leonard flirted with the Scientology cult in the late 1960's in New York City. Leonard's association with Ron Hubbard's dianetics is mentioned on page 211 in the biography "Prophet of the Heart".

Also - I can't read your PM's and I really want to :( Please send them again.

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