I Read Leonard Cohen’s ‘Beautiful Losers’.

steve cuocci
3 min readMay 13, 2024

When I got into The Beat Generation, it changed my whole world. It changed the way I thought about language, how I thought about what was worth writing about, how I thought about what constituted poetry, prose and fiction. I think what happened to me is the same thing that happened to so many young readers and authors at the time. It shined a new young light on whatever rested beneath a heavy stone of structured antiquity. There was a new freedom around who could write and who should write, and of those pieces, what was worth reading. It seems that Leonard Cohen (yes, that Leonard Cohen; Hallelujah, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen) was granted that same awakening during that time and found himself behind a typewriter in the 60s and made this novel. I’m finding out now that he was a writer first, only finding his mastery in singing further down the line.

There is so much poetry in this novel, so much of it found tucked into long paragraphs of quasi-narrative. The poetry runs on like strokes of paint on canvas, like hanging icicles, like scrawled bathroom graffiti. Some of it has an artistry to it, words that glow around the brim of his throat and sing outward like a lowing smoke onto his fingers, onto the keys, clacking and clattering onto paper to create maps of beauty in his words. Then there are times which feel… less inspired. The words drape like peeling wallpaper, like conversations beside you which you can’t turn off, like spit running down a street lamp post. It can get ugly, crass, vulgar without purpose. And I wonder how much of that was trying to emulate the dark spaces which artists like Henry Miller and William Burroughs were able to find? I have read deeply into those authors and didn’t find that their brand of illicit sexual fantasies sent out onto paper in hot flashes were offensive or off-putting. Why Cohen’s? I feel like it may be something along the lines of reading these words and they feel like echos, like fan-fiction trying to recreate the same mood that was created before him. This book definitely feels of the era, and of that generation… and there are times when I feel like it fits in beautifully. And there are other times where this writing feels more enabled than inspired.

I think it’s a sign of the times too, but I find no excuse for the off-hand remarks, observations and caricatures of deep racism. Regardless of history whenever I see things like that, especially beyond the 1960s, it feels bad.

The book ultimately ended for me at the end of Part 1. The next part is a letter from one of the main characters, the eternally horny and constantly problematic F. It rambles, it talks endlessly about sex with The Narrator’s wife, Edith. It talks about how F was insufferable in order to teach Narrator how to be a better person, a more immortal and fearless man, a more physical specimen, a more powerful person over all. That part lost me, especially as we found our way into a longer portion of the letter, The Last Four Years of Tekakwitha’s Life and the Ensuing Miracles. Perhaps if I wasn’t already spent with the book, I may have been able to indulge the religious history lesson, but at this point in the novel I was heavily checked out an blatantly uninterested, reading pages as final miles of a trudge. Part 3 felt even more unnecessary, portraying F as an old child molester, and in some form almost glorifying his wily antics as “funny and zany” like a perverse Mister Magoo instead of a vile pedophile.

A strange book overall which I do not recommend. The writing is indicative of a passionate and artful time, but feels almost like masturbatory monologues given context through theological mythology. I was often left in a state of “is he still talking?” by the end of passages.