- 07 Nov 17
One year on from his death, we look back on Leonard Cohen's life and the Hot Press interviews with those who knew him best.
"There was a special rapport between him and Ireland," the co-writer of 2001's classic Ten New Songs tells Stuart Clark.
“As soon as I met Leonard at that Field Commander Cohen audition, we seemed to hit it off. There was a really nice chemistry. He was extremely gracious and hospitable and warm. He seemed to like me right off the bat, so it was very comfortable.
“He hadn’t made an album for six years before Ten New Songs and was looking for a way to express these lyrics he’d written that would feel like a whole body of work – that’s how we ended up doing the whole project together. He was interested in soul and blues and R&B, all of that. We often referred back to the blues greats and to the Muscle Shoals stuff.
“Working with Leonard was a dream. In terms of the man/woman thing, he always respected you fully as an equal. Discussing all sorts of things that were on his mind was part of the friendship, part of the interaction. Leonard had an immeasurable wisdom and intellect, and was able to access it and put it into his work. He spent a lot of time on these words. Working and then re-working them brought another level of depth that probably even he couldn’t predict. That’s why his songs are so timely – and so timeless. He worked on it so much.
“Leonard would send me a lyric, and I’d go to my piano and try to understand where the verse was and what the chords should be, and just shape it into less of a poem and more of a song lyric, if you will, without changing any of the words.
“Sometimes I would change the order, or I’d decide, ‘Okay, this stanza should be the chorus’. And I would build a melody and chord changes based on my interpretation of the lyrics. I’d present a couple of ideas to Leonard and then we worked through the rest of it together.
“I heard the whole of You Want It Darker for the first time in August at Leonard’s house. I was visiting him before my tour of Europe. He played it for me and I was, of course, blown away. It’s really beautiful. It was extremely important for both of them that (his son) Adam produced the record. To finally connect around Leonard’s work – and it was something that had been in the making for many years – left both of them very fulfilled.
“The feeling that it was a ‘goodbye’ was rather unavoidable. It would have been difficult to imagine him doing another record, although he was talking about other work he was starting on. ‘Retirement’ was not a word that featured in Leonard’s dictionary!
“There was definitely a special rapport between him and Ireland. Leonard and myself often spoke about the beautiful events that took place there: the dancing in the rain at Lissadell and being close to where his hero, W.B. Yeats, is buried. That was definitely one of his favourite concerts. He was aware of how much his music was loved, and he appreciated it.
“When I was shooting those pictures, I didn’t know I was shooting for a book. I was trying to document this incredible tour for my own sake, but then the photos were seen by a publisher and we decided to put them all together. As time goes by, it becomes more and more poignant.”
Sharon Robinson’s 2014 On Tour With Leonard Cohen photo-book is in shops now.