Rabbinical Songwriting

Ahmed Rashid appreciates Leonard Cohen's spiritual side:

A Canadian Jew descended from rabbis, Cohen infuses his music with his enduring interest in religion. He reads Jewish scriptures but is also a master of Zen Bhuddism of the Rinzai school; his closest friend and mentor is the 105-year-old California-based Japanese Zen master Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Going through a bad spell in the 1990s, Cohen spent five years in a Zen monastery outside Los Angeles. For a time he gave up music; he returned to it partly out of necessity, after discovering that his manager had run off with all his money. He later spent several years studying with a Hindu mystic, Ramesh Balsekar, in Mumbai. He is also extremely knowledgeable about Islam and, in particular, Sufism, the most spiritual branch of Islam. Some of the Sufi whirling dervishes in Turkey have even danced to his songs.

Carl Wilson tackles another major influence for Cohen – women – in a review of Sylvie Simmons’ new biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen:

[Cohen] tells Simmons, “I had wonderful love, but … I was unable to reply to their love. Because I was obsessed with some fictional sense of separation, I couldn’t touch the thing that was offered me, and it was offered me everywhere.” He says he doesn’t know if it was spiritual practice or an aging brain that relieved him. Part of me wondered, unkindly, if he’d simply lost the appetite for the habits the despair excused.