Leonard Cohen on how to write a song or name a company

By Danny Altman
April 8, 2009
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Naming

Leonard  Cohen is a powerful, dark, romantic figure in my life. Along with Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, he is a guide in the night.  Funny that he spent five years in a monastery. While Cohen was being cook, driver and late-night sake drinking buddy to the roshi, his business manager was apparently being a thief, spending all of his boss’s money. So Leonard Cohen has a new album and he is on the road again to build up his bank account. To commemorate this event, Terry Gross replayed an interview she did with him in 2006.

She asked him about a line in the song “Tower of Song.” The line is: “I ache in the places where I used to play.” She asks, “Is that line something you sweated over or did you just kind of get it?”  Cohen responds, “Well, you get it, but you get it after sweating. In other words, I’m in this situation where I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song.”

“So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. Although the good lines come unbidden, they are anticipated. And the anticipation requires a patient application to the enterprise.”

It’s hard to say anything after that, except, yes, that’s what it’s like and that’s how it is. But when Cohen was a monk, he wasn’t buying the whole program. He filled up many notebooks. One thing he wrote: “”For many years I was known as a Monk/I shaved my head and wore robes/and got up very early/I hated everyone/and no one found me out.”

Unless you’re just skimming the surface, any creative process, branding included, means going down a lot of roads and patiently exploring what you find on each one of them. You never know where the best ideas are going to come from. Sometimes they seem to pop up out of nowhere, but that’s because you are open to the idea. When we do naming and we put new names on the table, we encourage clients to try them on for size and see how they feel. Sometimes first reactions are misleading. Sometimes an idea feels a little weird or awkward or ugly until you live with it for a while. Sometimes clients fall in love with a name and it stops them from seeing what else is there. It’s all very human.