Leonard Cohen On Love

Ezra Glinter looks at sex and intimacy in the work of Leonard Cohen:

Cohen’s rawness, and the honesty with which he displays his own vulnerabilities, sometimes leads him to extreme positions, granting sex a primacy that it doesn’t deserve. In his view “there is a war between the man and the woman” as well as “a war between those who say there is a war and those who say that there isn’t” (“There Is a War”). He has written, “a friendship between a man and a woman which is not based on sex is either hypocrisy or masochism.” And he has concluded, “when I see a woman’s face transformed by the orgasm we have reached together, then I know we’ve met. Anything else is fiction.”

For me, that’s the voice of a less mature self, for whom deprivation is not just the mother of poetry but of exaggeration.

… Usually those emotions, even when we can admit them to ourselves or share them with our closest friends, have to be covered up in polite society. We can’t walk around constantly in the throes of our own private maelstroms. More important, maturity—and good sense—demands that we view each other as human beings who suffer from basically the same problems, not as enemies in a never-ending war of the sexes. We are the perpetrators of pain as well as its victims, we reject and are rejected, desire and are desired. But that knowledge doesn’t lessen the joy and suffering of our innermost selves. It doesn’t diminish the feelings of delight and anger that seem as though they had never been felt before. Only time diminishes them, along with experience, repetition and age.

Except, it seems, for Leonard Cohen. In his work, the bite of those feelings is still sharp. In his albums and novels, memories of love and heartbreak stay on the surface, bobbing up and down. In his poems and songs there is always, as Wordsworth put it, “The glory and the freshness of a dream.” Reading and listening to Leonard Cohen it is always, and forever, the first time.