The Next Chapter

Leonard Cohen on aging and longing

We revisit a 2006 conversation with Shelagh Rogers about Cohen's poetry collection Book of Longing.
Leonard Cohen spoke to Shelagh Rogers in 2006, shortly after the publication of Book of Longing. (AFP / Getty Images)

In 2006 (after a waiting period of 30 years or so, she points out) Shelagh Rogers was able to interview Leonard Cohen twice in the same year. The first interview was on the occasion of his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. That interview is available here. The second conversation, held in May 2006 and excerpted below, was about Cohen's collection Book of Longing, his first book in a number of years. Much of the book was written at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, which he joined in 1994. 

Cohen died in November 2016, at the age of 82.

On aging

Getting older, of course, is the only game in town. It is really a very interesting process. My friend [Irving] Layton called it "the inescapable lousiness of growing old," but I don't know if I subscribe to this. I think it takes about 65 years to find your way around the block. 

On criticism

You become pretty thick-skinned after a while. People say all kinds of things about your work. It's very nice that they say anything, to tell you the truth, especially about a book of poems.

On writing about passion

It's such a curious activity — writing about the things that touch you deepest. In a certain sense, you become the witness to the whole enterprise, and you feel yourself churning or your emotions activated but you don't really feel them, you just describe them.

On his time at the monastery

I was drinking three bottles of wine every night on a concert tour — one of the things I was looking for was a rest! Not that the schedule in a monastery is very restful. But I had a feeling that my life had gotten very chaotic, and I didn't really have any other place to go. It wasn't that I was interested in Buddhism or even a spiritual practice — I had a perfectly good religion and I wasn't really looking for a religion — but what I was looking for was a kind of structure of significance, where I could be helpful and also tidy myself up.

Leonard Cohen's comments have been edited and condensed.