Leonard Cohen: Conjurer

Dr Ross Cole, lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Leeds, presents his paper Leonard Cohen: Conjurer at this School of Music research colloquium.


Epitomizing the singer-songwriter idiom as it emerged during the 1960s, Leonard Cohen’s early recordings capture an intense concentration on the self filtered through patterned language and given voice through performance.

This paper is an attempt to think through a number of central themes in Cohen’s songwriting that relate to his interest in modernist poetics and what Camille Paglia portrays as a widespread ‘spiritual thirst’ among the counterculture.

Cohen’s songs embrace the power of spirituality, enchantment, and the metaphysical as means to counteract what was perceived as an increasingly technocratic society, speaking the language of love and mysticism in the face of Allen Ginsberg’s materialist leviathan Moloch.

Borrowed from Cohen’s autobiographical first novel The Favourite Game, the idea of ‘disciplined melancholy’ offers a precise description of his art – a calling in which performance, poetic craft, and reflection on personal experience create an equivocal fusion of self-expression and self-erasure, control and surrender.

About Dr Ross Cole

Ross Cole is the newly appointed Lecturer in Popular Music at the University of Leeds. He spent the past decade at the University of Cambridge, completing his PhD at King's College, then as a Lecturer in the Faculty of Music and a Research Fellow of Homerton College, where he was also Director of Studies.

He is author of The Folk: Music, Modernity, and the Political Imagination (University of California Press, 2021) and co-editor of Remixing Music Studies: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Cook (Routledge, 2020).

Other work has appeared in venues including ASAP/Journal, Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, 19th-Century Music, Twentieth-Century Music, the Journal of Musicology, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and the Journal of the Royal Musical Association.

You can find him occasionally on Twitter @rossgcole.

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