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Sincerely, L. Cohen? - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
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Sincerely, L. Cohen?
It occurred to me while trying and failing to write about the Leonard Cohen concert last week that part of the reason I found it so hard to write about was a sense of there being no correct way — or at least no comfortable way, for me — to refer to the man himself.

"Leonard Cohen" sounds fine. That's what people call him. That's the name that was on the tickets, that's who the albums are by. But you can't use first name and surname every time you mention somebody, or you end up sounding like a search-engine spammer. So what's the alternative?

In some circumstances you can get away with surname only ("Cohen's music", or "Cohen himself", perhaps), but to me that feels like the wrong register; if I wrote that sort of review, it might sound less awkward, but as it is, it feels like patchy journalistic pastiche. First name only just makes me feel embarrassed, and as if I'm pretending to a closer connection than I have -- I don't know him well enough to call him "Leonard", let alone "Len" (though I could probably get away with one ironic reference to 'Laughing Len').

Then there's a whole raft of horrible clichés which could be pressed into service as overblown pronouns: "this living legend", "Canada's greatest export", or even just (as above) "the man himself".

But at the end of the day all of these weaselly workarounds feel either too embarrassingly clumsy or too coldly detached as a way of trying to talk about someone whose lyrics are so arch and so passionate, so constructed and so breathtakingly intimate. Perhaps the simple and concrete dilemma about his name serves as a metaphor for everything else I couldn't say.

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

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Comments
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: November 18th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't really get past "Thank you for the songs, Mr. Cohen".

Edited at 2008-11-18 02:32 am (UTC)
jackfirecat From: jackfirecat Date: November 18th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lenny, Len, the Lenster, The Choenmaester, the aforementioned Canadian, Leniana, him what did Marianne, the dark-chocolate-voiced seducter, the poet, the monk

.. I don't see a problem.
ewtikins From: ewtikins Date: November 18th, 2008 07:15 am (UTC) (Link)
My stepmum calls him "Lenny".
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 18th, 2008 10:50 am (UTC) (Link)
"Thanks, Leonard" or "Thanks, Mr. Cohen". The latter sounds fine to me because that treadition, in my country, wasn't defined as subservient or servile in quite the same way as it has been in some segments of British society (watch the emigree dance around the conventions!! donations in the hat please!).
marnameow From: marnameow Date: November 18th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

the patron saint of envy, the grocer of despair

I've been referring to him as L Cohen for some time now. I talk about him a lot.

If I were to review a Leonard Cohen gig - and I might, soon, manage to get my thoughts in order about those I've been to, and say something beyond a high-pitched squeaking noise, and say it while some of it's still fresh in my mind - I would call him L Cohen in that.He's been a constant in my soundtrack for so long, though, that anything I write about him will end up being more about me, I think.
imc From: imc Date: November 18th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
So what's the alternative?

Just pretend you are writing his full name and surname each time and just write LC for short so that it sounds less spammy. (In a more formal review you'd probably refer to him by surname, as you say.)
minnesattva From: minnesattva Date: November 19th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am exactly the same way, and struggled to write about the concert I saw in June for this reason (not only this one, but it doesn't help). I actually used L. Cohen once, because it made me smile, and a couple of my friends seem to call him LC, which has become my favorite, a good compromise, and easy to type.
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