Hamilton Leithauser on the Passing of Leonard Cohen
Hamilton Leithauser's new effort with Rostam, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, is not only one of the best releases of the year (order yours), it calls to mind classic songwriters from across pop and rock of the past half-decade. One clear influence of Leithauser's is none other than the recently passed legend Leonard Cohen, who passed away on Monday, November 7. As such, we had the vocalist / former Walkmen frontman speak about what Cohen meant to him.
What did Leonard Cohen mean to you?
Well, I know this is a little ridiculous, but I've always felt really close to Leonard — more so than other musicians I love, like I knew him or something. Like there were inside jokes. I could imagine a lot of people might have this feeling, and I think maybe it's in his lyrics. They’re clever and subtle. I never actually got to meet the man, so it’s definitely not because we were actually close. So, he meant a lot to me. There are many great songs and melodies, and the production can be so interesting. In high school, I used to sit and think about his lyrics for hours on end in class, or listening to CDs at home by myself (not studying). Sometimes thinking, like, “What in the hell is he talking about? Why is he singing about a German Shepherd wearing a collar of leather and nails? Why is he burnin’ up the road on the way to Phoenix? Why is he yelling about a hard-on?” But there was a reason they stuck with me, and as a 16-year-old with a lot of energy, I was actually bothering to consider them … a lot. In fact, in my mind, they had no trouble competing with the Geto Boys, the Wu-Tang Clan, Bad Brains or the Jesus Lizard (or any other aggressive stuff I had on repeat). I realized at some point, years later, that his words didn’t actually have to entirely make sense in some logical way for me to love them.
How did his passing affect you personally?
I was sad, actually, like someone a little out of my inner circle of friends had died. I was sad when David Bowie and Prince died, but with Leonard Cohen, I really felt like it was a personal loss.
For those who aren't familiar, what do you think is the definitive Leonard Cohen statement? What is your favorite track and/or album?
Too many to choose from. The first five records are all my favorite, and his career spans a long time, so it’s hard to summarize. I guess in the end, it’s when he’s playing the classical guitar that I like the songs the best.