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Interview: Leonard Cohen

In this exclusive interview, Canadian singer Leonard Cohen, who died in November 2016, spoke to Andrew Rossiter, editor of Linguapress's advanced-level English magazine Spectrum .

    Leonard Cohen, who died on 10th November 2016, was - along with Bob Dylan - one of the most influential songwriters of the end of the twentieth century. A number of his songs, most notably Suzanne and Hallelujah, became anthems of their age.  Over 300 different artists have recorded versions of Hallelujah .  In this interview, Cohen talks about himself and about what it is to be an English-speaker in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec.

Leonard Cohen in concert
Leonard Cohen in concert in the early 1980s.
SPECTRUM : Leonard Cohen, it's very kind of you to talk to Spectrum. Could I first ask you some questions about yourself. How do you consider yourself ? As a writer a poet, a singer, or a musician ?
COHEN : Although I have written, and written verse, and sung songs and played music, I consider all those titles as extremely exalted, and usually only on my good days can I describe myself as any one of those things.
SPECTRUM : But nevertheless, you are a world-famous star. Did you try to become a star at the start, or did it come upon you by accident ?
COHEN : I think there was a certain point where I dreamt wild dreams for myself, but I don't consider myself as a world-famous star.
SPECTRUM : Perhaps a cult-figure ?
COHEN : Perhaps.
SPECTRUM : You live part of your life on an island in Greece though. Is this to escape from the world of show-business, or is it to give yourself merely an atmosphere which is suitable for creation ?
COHEN : I went to Greece twenty years ago, er, long before I started singing professionally, so it, um, was a place I could work in and live in.
SPECTRUM :  In the nineteen sixties, Canada had a great opening out of Canadian culture, Canadian consciousness, both in French Canada and in English-speaking Canada, with famous or well-known stars like Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and yourself.
COHEN :  Joni Mitchell ....
SPECTRUM :  Joni Mitchell, yes there's plenty of them, not only in music ...
COHEN :  Did you say Neil Young ? You said Neil Young ?
SPECTRUM :  I said Neil Young ... Not only in music, but also in the arts.
Is this still going on now, or has Canada been touched by the general feeling of depression which is touching most countries of the western world today?
COHEN :  Of course, as a Canadian, you learn that it's very dangerous to speak of Canada as a whole. It's a very big country, so it has a regional consciousness, so it's difficult to say. In Quebec there is no sense of depression in the arts, and in writing. In Western Canada there is certainly no sense of depression. In Toronto which I suppose is the center of English communications, I see great activity.
SPECTRUM :  What is going on on the West Coast ?
COHEN : I don't really know what's happening in Vancouver or the Maritimes, but by and large, I would say that even though people are having their troubles economically, er, and the country itself is always facing one sort of crisis of identity or another, that the arts are flourishing.
SPECTRUM : You yourself come from Montreal, don't you ?
COHEN :  I'm from Montreal.
SPECTRUM : You're an English-speaking Canadian from  .....
COHEN : From Montreal   Quebec.
SPECTRUM : What is the percentage of English-speaking Canadians in Quebec ?
I don't know, because it's getting smaller and smaller. A lot have left. I'm not sure what the .... I think in Quebec it's about 60%. In Montreal it's er.... a little lower. Montreal   Actually you know Montreal is a very different situation from the rest of Quebec. Because Quebec really is French-speaking. It's probably 90% French-speaking, Quebec, and Montreal is probably 60% French-speaking.
SPECTRUM : Nevertheless, do you get the impression of being an outsider at all, when one is, er, an English-speaker living in Montreal ? You .... You've always sung about being an outsider yourself ....
COHEN :  Mmm. I think probably my generation will be the last generation that is not completely bi-lingual.
SPECTRUM : Do you speak French ?
COHEN : I stumble along, yeah. But those coming after this....   the expression of French nationalism, they will most certainly be bi-lingual.


exalted : flattering, high - cult-figure : person whom others follow - merely : only - suitable : good  -  consciousness : recognition of its identity - the Maritimes - the eastern coastal provinces of Canada - - by and large : in general - Outsider : someone who does not belong - stumble along : get by, move with difficulty.

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Leonard Cohen Interview

From interview to article.

Students should use this interview as if it were  the "raw material" from which they are going to write an article.  The printed text above is a straight transcription of the interview that Leonard Cohen gave to Spectrum, including the hesitations, repetitions, unfinished sentences  and fillers that are features of the way we speak. So using information from this article, plus any other information you may have, write a 400-word article about Leonard Cohen.


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Advanced level English resource

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Originally published in Spectrum magazine
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