Mole Valley Poets - Meeting 31st March 2014
Tony Earnshaw: Leonard Cohen & Bob Dylan: Lyrics & poetry

Tony included a recording of two songs - one from Leonard Cohen and one from Bob Dylan.

Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan
Journeys between poetry and song

Two men with many similarities in their backgrounds but also big differences, two journeys which both mirrored and paralleled each other, each an admirer of the other. Both heroes of mine.

BornLeonard Norman Cohen 21.9.34, Westmount, Montreal (m class English speaking area)Robert Allen Zimmerman 24.5.41, Duluth, Minnesota
ParentageGrandparents from Lithuania (Maternal) and Poland (paternal). Leaders of community, Talmudic writers, rabbis, businessmen. 'I was born in a suit' Grandparents from Odessa (paternal) and Lithuania (maternal). Moved to US to escape pogroms
RaisedMontrealHibbing, Minnesota
InfluencesLorca (W B Yeats)Woody Guthrie (Dylan Thomas?)
InstrumentsAcoustic then classical guitar as teenager, flamenco influences Later played keyboardsGuitar, harmonica, Later played keyboards
First GroupThe Buckskin Boys, country groupVarious. The Golden Chords (Rock n roll covers)
'journey'Poet to lyricist to singerFolk singer to poetic lyricist
 Admirer of DylanAdmirer of Cohen
 Self revealingSelf concealing

Leonard Cohen

Born into one of Montreal's most influential families, with a strong sense of who they were – 'a messianic child hood' told I was a descendant of Aaaron, the great high priest'. Very aware of his Jewish roots, beliefs and culture. Moved to Montreal's Little Portugal neighbourhood as a youth, read his poetry in the clubs.

Moved to Hydra, lived and wrote there with breaks in Montreal and NY, during 60s

Much acclaim but also controversy, not least because of sexually graphic passages.

Drifted into writing more songs and subsequently performing them. Moved to NY in 1967. Recorded Songs of Leonard Cohen. – followed by Songs from a room (1969) and Songs of love and hate – (1971)

His early songs were written for other people, or at least first recorded by others. Strong creative relationship with Judy Collins who recorded Suzanne, among others, encouraged him and effectively introduced him to the stage (parallel with Dylan/Baez although Collins was one of the few muses he did not have an affair with).

Since then, his career has moved between music and literature, with fallow gaps, has covered many musical styles and included effective retirement, and a return from retirement resulting (in part at least) from the loss of his savings to a dishonest manager.



Many affairs, some longer lasting relationships (including those with Suzanne and Marianne and with Dominique Isserman. Rebecca de Mornay, Anjani Thomas). Two children – Adam and Lorca. Strong links with family and childhood friends – Mort Rosengarten.

Still recording, writing and touring. Apparently with less sex and drugs now ...


Bob Dylan

Born Duluth, raised Hibbing, Minnesota, to Abram and Beatty Zimmerman, part of the area's small but close knit Jewish community. A music fan from early years – blues, country, rock and roll; formed several bands while in High School. Played piano with Bobby Vee while at school, under the name Elston Gunn. Enrolled at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, switched to American folk music'. ...
'The thing about rock'n'roll is that for me anyway it wasn't enough ... There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms ... but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings'

Became involved in the Dinkytown folk music circuit, started using the name Bob Dylan, because of influence of Dylan Thomas. Identity issues maybe? – in 2004 interview said "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free."

Dropped out after a year and went to NY, hoping to meet Woody Guthrie. Spent time with Rambling Jack Elliot as a result, played in Greenwich Village. First album 'Bob Dylan' a mix of covers and two original songs. Also recorded as Blind Boy Grunt and, for piano sessions, as Bob Landy. Played harmonica on album Jack Elliott under pseudonym Tedham Porterhouse. Legally changed name to Bob Dylan in 62, appeared in BBC programme, singing Blowing in the Wind, met Martin Carthy and learnt new material, performed at the Troubadour.

1963 Freewheelin' Bob Dylan –several protest songs, heavily influenced by Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Also love songs and jokey talking blues. The start of other artists covering his songs. Joan Baez recorded his songs, became huge supporter, introduced him around, they became lovers (cf Cohen and Collins).

Hailed as a prophet, 'the voice of his generation' etc – which pushed him into retreat – "I'm just a singer, a songwriter"

Songs characterized by strength of lyrics, roots in US and also British and Irish folk music. Hailed by many as 'poetic'.

Themes and highlights