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How a serendipitous encounter with Leonard Cohen changed Glen Hansard's life

Editorial Staff

Glen Hansard has often spoke about his “holy trinity” of musical influences: “there’s Leonard, there’s Dylan and there’s Van,” he said during a sit down with CBC Music, his close familiarity with his muses warranting a first-name-only type of relationship. “Those are the guys that for all of my needs as an artist, it’s all there,” he said, pausing for the briefest of moments before adding, “followed, of course, by Joni. She’s part of it, the trinity, or how do you say it, the quinity.

But of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, it’s Cohen who Hansard credits with inspiring him to become a musician in the first place, and it all dates back to a chance encounter a 15-year-old Hansard had with the iconic musician in Ireland.

We asked Hansard to recount the incident, which we’ve transcribed in full because it’s one the best Cohen stories we’ve heard. Read it below, or, if it fancies you and because there’s nothing quite like listening to Hansard tell the story himself in his charming Irish brogue, listen to it below. 


Afterwards, we also asked Hansard to send us his five favourite Cohen songs. We got this hand-written list in reply.

Glen Hansard's favourite Cohen songs hand-written in a list.

Glen Hansard’s serendipitous Leonard Cohen story

When I was 15 years old my cousin gave me the Greatest Hits of Leonard Cohen, the one with the yellow cover where he’s looking into a mirror, and I absorbed that record. I breathed it in, I drank it, I fell utterly in love with “Famous Blue Raincoat” and the atmosphere and the energy and the particular oddness of it.

It’s more than the recording, it’s more than the lyric, it’s more than the melody. There’s just something about that song that just creates a space – which is something you hope to do as a songwriter, to create a space in one’s career where I want to be. So I was 15, and Leonard came to Ireland and my cousin bought me tickets. And Leonard was doing two shows one day, there was an evening show and a matinee show. Back in the day if your gig sold out they’d stick on another one that same day, and so we got tickets for that show. We’re sitting in the fourth or fifth row and during “Famous Blue Raincoat,” my cousin, who was an epileptic, took a fit. Leonard stopped the song and said, “Is that boy ok?” We were taken out by the John’s ambulance people and some man with a pass came along and said, “Hey, if you guys make it back for the later show, if he’s ok, here’s two tickets for tonight’s show.”

So we got to the hospital, and by the time we got to the hospital my cousin was fine, we went straight back and got on the queue for the next show. When they let us in they put us into a box, which was really fancy, and we watched the show again and we couldn’t believe it. It was so wonderful.

Afterwards, the guy with the pass said “Wait here a minute,” and Leonard came up and he shook my cousin’s hand and said, “Are you ok?,” and then he shook my hand. I was 15 and it was the moment I really committed to being a musician. I was shaking his hand and it was like something passing. The master passes on something, some kind of energy, to the student, because I had just learned guitar and had just figured out how to play “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

Three years ago, in the north of Spain ... Leonard was honoured with a [Spanish Letters] award and I was one of the people invited to sing. So I got to sing “Famous Blue Raincoat” to him. Afterwards we spoke and I told him the story. He didn’t remember, of course he didn’t – he was through a lot and he was on a lot – but it was very nice for me to go and sing that song to him all those years later and finish that circle.