Leonard Cohen is a man who understands the power of words, and so refuses to be drawn into using them thoughtlessly. At a private preview of his 13th album, Popular Problems, on Tuesday evening in London, the legendary singer-songwriter refused to be drawn on the question of Scottish independence.
Although he evidently had no issue with the concept of nationalism, having already professed his love for Canada and pronouncing himself a “proud patriot”, he said he did “not feel compelled to take a stand one way or another.” He added: “People are trying to to make their lives significant … [They] are engaged in a struggle for self respect and significance.”
Looking slim and relaxed five days short of his 80th birthday, and dapper in grey suit and beard, Cohen answered questions from an audience drawn from 25 countries (the question about Scotland had come from a Spanish journalist). Asked about his decision to start playing Hallelujah again. In 2009, he had said: “I was just reading a review of a movie called Watchmen that uses it, and the reviewer said ‘Can we please have a moratorium on Hallelujah in movies and television shows?’ And I kind of feel the same way. I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.” But now, he said, given the state of the world, he felt the urge to sing the word itself: “It seems to call down some beneficial energy … in the face of catastrophes.”
He said it could be a struggle to find meaning when performing his songs in concert. “It always is a problem to find the door into a song, whether it’s old or new,” he said. He compared the process to navigating one’s way through everyday existence, “because we lead the same lives over and over again and there’s always this problem of making it new and significant. So it’s the same problem as we have in our relationships with people whom we know very well … trying to find another way into the nature of a song or a person.”
Cohen displayed a bone-dry sense of humour. Asked if Popular Problems contained elements of optimism, despite his having described it as an album of “despair”, he replied: “I’m a closet optimist.” And asked if some of the album’s themes of conflict meant it was a political album, he said: “I’ve tried over the years to to define a political position that no one can decipher.” And when reminded that he had said he would return to smoking on his 80th birthday, he responded: “I think a lot about smoking. I’m thinking about it right now.”
He added that he was already partway through a follow-up to Popular Problems, which he joked would be called Unpopular Solutions
This article was written by Michael Hann, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 16th September 2014 20.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010