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Nation & World

Leonard Cohen's Poem 'Kanye West Is Not Picasso,' As Read By Michael Shannon

A memorial mural of musician Leonard Cohen in downtown Montreal.
A memorial mural of musician Leonard Cohen in downtown Montreal.

In 2014, Cohen surprised the Manhattan audience of a closed listening session of Popular Problems, his newest album at the time, by popping in not to sing, but simply say hello and look at everyone like they were aliens. At the time, I remember thinking that everything seemed to be a Very Serious Lark to Leonard.

Two years later, Cohen died. But just before that, he had put the finishing touches on a final book, The Flame, which was released on Oct. 2. It comes with an audio version of the works inside it, read by stars of film and literature.

It's a shame we'll never get to hear Cohen read this poem about Kanye West — which is really, it seems, about unnecessarily co-opting things, just letting great things stand as they are and being yourself — because he really had a way with saying words.

Instead, we have the actor Michael Shannon, who seems like a lovely but quiet and complicated person in interviews, doing his best attempt at being both Batman and Leonard Cohen.

Kanye West is not Picasso,

I am Picasso.

Kanye West is not Edison,

I am Edison.

I am Tesla.

Jay-Z is not the Dylan of anything,

I am the Dylan of anything.

I am the Kanye West of Kanye West,

The Kanye West of the great bogus shift of bullshit culture,

From one boutique to another.

I am Tesla,

I am his coil,

The coil that made electricity soft as a bed.

I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is,

When he shoves your ass off the stage.

I am the real Kanye West.

I don't get around much any more,

I never have.

I only come alive after a war,

and we have not had it yet.

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