Inspiration: Leonard Cohen on Finding his Song
Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech for Spain’s Prince of Asturias award, given Oct 21st this year, is must-listen material for any creative individual.
If you’re not in a place where you can enjoy Cohen’s gravelly, basement low, makes-Morgan-Freeman-jealous voice, here is an excerpt from the transcript, provided in full over at 1heckofaguy.com:
I wandered back to this park which I’d known since my childhood, and there was a young man playing a guitar… I loved the way he played. There was something about the way he played that captured me. It was the way that I wanted to play and knew that I would never be able to play.
And, I sat there with the other listeners for a few moments and when there was a silence, an appropriate silence, I asked him if he would give me guitar lessons. He was a young man from Spain, and we could only communicate in my broken French and his broken French. He didn’t speak English. And he agreed to give me guitar lessons. I pointed to my mother’s house which you could see from the tennis court, and we made an appointment and settled a price.
He came to my mother’s house the next day and he said, “Let me hear you play something.” I tried to play something, and he said, “You don’t know how to play, do you?’
I said, “No, I don’t know how to play.” He said “First of all, let me tune your guitar. It’s all out of tune.” So he took the guitar, and he tuned it. He said, “It’s not a bad guitar.” It wasn’t the Conde, but it wasn’t a bad guitar. So, he handed it back to me. He said, “Now play.”
I couldn’t play any better.
He said “Let me show you some chords.” And he took the guitar, and he produced a sound from that guitar I had never heard. And he played a sequence of chords with a tremolo, and he said, “Now you do it.” I said, “It’s out of the question. I can’t possibly do it.” He said, “Let me put your fingers on the frets,” and he put my fingers on the frets. And he said, “Now, now play.”
It was a mess. He said, ” I’ll come back tomorrow.”
He came back tomorrow, he put my hands on the guitar, he placed it on my lap in the way that was appropriate, and I began again with those six chords – a six chord progression. Many, many flamenco songs are based on them.
I was a little better that day. The third day – improved, somewhat improved. But I knew the chords now. And, I knew that although I couldn’t coordinate my fingers with my thumb to produce the correct tremolo pattern, I knew the chords; I knew them very, very well.
The next day, he didn’t come. He didn’t come. I had the number of his, of his boarding house in Montreal. I phoned to find out why he had missed the appointment, and they told me that he had taken his life. That he committed suicide.
I knew nothing about the man. I did not know what part of Spain he came from. I did not know why he came to Montreal. I did not know why he played there. I did not know why he he appeared there at that tennis court. I did not know why he took his life.
I was deeply saddened, of course. But now I disclose something that I’ve never spoken in public. It was those six chords, it was that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music.