Saturday, August 12, 2006

Reader's Diary #138- Leonard Cohen: Book of Longing (up to "The Third Invention")

I was about to write "Leonard Cohen goes through religions like an adolescent male goes through Kleenex." Not trying to be shocking, I thought Cohen would appreciate the comparison.

But then I read a quote from him on wikipedia that states "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism." This, despite the fact that he was ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1996. So his religious view is confusing to his fans. That's part of his appeal isn't it?

Book of Longing deals with the same themes that Cohen's been writing and singing about since the 50s: Religion, Love, Dirty Sex, Self-deprecation, and as the title says, Longing. These 5 themes, alone or entwined, can be found in any Cohen work (and if you can suggest an exception, I'd like to hear it).

At his best Cohen is an intriguing wordsmith, making the reader almost get his logic in his oft-attempted "perversion is the key to salvation" argument. "Almost" because there's always a sense of longing and of not quite attaining happiness, love, or inner-peace (if his theories were correct, the longing would be absent wouldn't it?).

At his worse, Cohen is a tedious, self-centred whining bore, repeating the same schtick over and over again.

But I don't want to end on that note, because I am a fan. "Hallelujah" is one of my all time favourite songs, be it done by Buckley, Lang, Cale, Wainwright or the man himself (not so much Bono). And Book of Longing has some pretty great moments as well. "A Limited Degree" is perhaps my favourite so far. It begins with his (limited degree of) realization that it is God's world and it ends with him in his grade six hockey sweater. The contrast of the higher order philosophy with the rather Earthly image of him in a childhood sweater becomes a perfect symbol of the humbling that has taken place. Brilliant.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

From what I've been told, there's a big emphasis on the dirty sex category on most of Cohen's writing. A friend of mine picked one of Cohen's poems to do a presentation on in grade 12 english and had to do some fast backtracking when she got to the front of the room and realised the poem she had chosen was about oral sex. She got an A.

John Mutford said...

A few years ago Cohen's "Beautiful Losers" was up for a Canada Reads and I remember hearing that some high school classes were reading it. If you've read the book, you know how shocking that is.