On Monday I reviewed Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, edited by Jeff Burger. Mr. Burger graciously agreed to be interviewed via email.
Would you tell us a little about how you selected the interviews included in Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen?
JB: With difficulty. Though the Zen Buddhists called Cohen “Jikan,” meaning “the silent one,” he sure gave lots of interviews. I included about 50 and was being offered new ones even after I wrapped up this project. I tried to incorporate material that covered as many years and as much fresh turf as possible. I didn’t reject interviews that have been published before if they contained important insights—I saw value in having as many good conversations as possible all in one place, in chronological order—but I did give some priority to rare and previously unavailable material.
Readers may know that you are an often-published music journalist. How did your preparation for this project differ from your approach to review and interview projects?
JB: This was completely different. For interviews and certainly for reviews and commentaries, you rely largely on your own imagination and views; this project required a bit less creativity on my part and a lot more research. Finding the material was part one; then of course, I had to secure permission to use it, which wasn’t always easy with regard to pieces that appeared decades ago in long-defunct publications. A lot of detective work was involved but it was satisfying to wake up in the morning and find an email from a writer I’d been trying to locate for months.
How long did it take to put together this collection? Was the process similar to the one you undertook for Springsteen on Springsteen, which you also edited?
JB: It took me the better part of a year, working virtually every night and much of every weekend. (I have an understanding family.) Yes, it was quite similar to the process with Springsteen on Springsteen, which was helpful: I learned a lot from doing that book, and what I learned made this one much easier than it otherwise would have been.
Before you started work on Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen, did you have a favorite Leonard Cohen song, or book, for that matter? If so, did you learn anything surprising about that favorite song or work?
JB: I’ve been a fan of Cohen’s music since college and have a bunch of favorite songs, ranging from early classics like “So Long, Marianne” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” to “Hallelujah,” “In My Secret Life,” “Tower of Song” and the recent “Going Home.” I already knew a fair amount about these particular songs but I learned all sorts of surprising facts about Cohen from these interviews. For me, though, the most interesting thing was simply to observe how his thoughts, circumstances and personality evolved slowly over five decades.
After reading all these interviews, is there a question or question that you’d like to ask Leonard Cohen yourself?
I could probably formulate a few if the opportunity presented itself, but nothing immediately comes to mind. As noted above, Cohen has been interviewed extensively over many years, and the answers to just about anything I might want to ask are already in my book.
What’s next on your writing and editing horizon?
I have a full-time job running a magazine and, on the side, I do a little writing on music and other subjects, mostly these days for TheMortonReport.com, NoDepression.com and my own website, byjeffburger.com. As for another book, I may well put together a third musician interview collection but not immediately. I need to take a break and spend some time with the family.
My thanks again to Mr. Burger for his time and thoughtful answers. You can read more about Jeff Burger on his website, byjeffburger.com.