Leonard Cohen Lectures David Remnick

In service of this month's vivid profile piece.

The profile of Leonard Cohen in the Oct. 17 issue of The New Yorker is a long-form “Hallelujah.” A winding narrative of more than 11,000 words covering every aspect of the 82-year-old singer’s life: Montreal, Greece, embezzlement, touring and, rather notably in terms of timing, Bob Dylan’s thoughts on Cohen’s songwriting genius.

Remnick spent time in Los Angeles for the piece, visiting Cohen at the mid-Wilshire home where the artist lives on the second floor, above his daughter and her family. At one point there, the writer experienced a very unexpected situation in the company of Cohen’s close friend Robert Faggen, a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College:

So it was more than a little surprising when Faggen and I returned to the house one afternoon thinking that we were on time and were informed, in the sternest terms imaginable, that we were not. In fact, Cohen, wearing a dark suit and a fedora, settled into his medical chair and gave us the most forbidding talking-to I have experienced since grade school. I’m one of those tiresome people who are rarely, if ever, late; who show up, old-mannishly, for flights much too early. But there had apparently been a misunderstanding about the time of our visit, and a text to him and his assistant seemed to have gone unseen. Every effort to apologize or explain, mine and Faggen’s, was dismissed as “not the point.” Cohen reminded us of his poor health. This was an abuse of his time. A violation. Even “a form of elder abuse.” More apologies, more rebuffs. This wasn’t about anger or apology, he went on. He felt no rage, no, but we had to understand that we were not “doers,” none of us have free will. . . . And so on. I recognized the language of his teacher in Mumbai. But that didn’t make it sting any less.

The lecture—steely, ominous, high-flown—went on quite a long time. I felt humiliated, but also defensive. In the dynamic of people getting something off their chest, the speaker feels cleansed, the listener accused and miserable.

Online, Remnick’s piece is titled “Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker.” In print, the headline reads “How the Light Gets In.” In both cases, the focus is a truly incandescent personality.