Enneagram & Music: Leonard Cohen
There are some reasons why I decided to start this series (after my first two introductory texts) talking about the late Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen.
The first — and most obvious — one is that I’ve been a huge fan of his for a while now. I find his work to be tremendously inspiring, and I honestly feel that any singer-songwriter would do him/herself some good by getting acquainted with Cohen’s songs.
The second — and most important — reason is that, from the perspective of the Enneagram, I believe he’s a great example of how a deeper understanding of the subtypes can help us see new dimensions in regards to this system — ones that were not so widely known until very recently.
To better comprehend the impact of such knowledge, it is important to take a moment to consider that Cohen was, most likely, a type Four in the Enneagram.
your pain is no credential here
Sometimes called “the Artist”, sometimes called “the Individualist”, Fours are known to be very much in touch with their feelings, which are often of the darkest nature due to an acute sense of inner deficiency. This, in turn, can lead them to be constantly self-absorbed in their quest of making sense of those feelings.
Four’s sense of inadequacy comes from their main passion, which is envy. In other words, they tend to be very aware of whatever other people have (or seem to have) that they themselves lack (or seem to lack). Because of this, they are often depicted as being easily ruled by their moods, as well as being drawn to drama and melancholy.
All of these are characteristics that one can certainly find in abundance in Cohen’s songs, which I believe is the main reason why he’s one of those people who, among Enneagram enthusiasts, don’t seem to generate much controversy when it comes to typing. (This is usually a hot topic in the community.)
This may lead one who doesn’t know that much about Cohen to think that he fit the stereotype of the misunderstood genius, or the melancholy artist who wears his heart on his sleeve. Which, for the most part, couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, how is it that a person who obviously took his own feelings way too seriously — as the lyrics from each of of his albums show very clearly — didn’t appear to be so constantly ruled by them in his day to day life (at least not to the point of being neglectful of his duties, which can be quite common for other Fours)?
only drowning men could see him
It’s here that the knowledge of the subtypes comes in handy. Because I’m pretty sure that Cohen’s main instinct for most of his life was Self-Preservation, which represents the countertype of Fours. (More about the concept of countertypes in a second.)
As the Enneagram theory says, as person who is Self-Preservation first tends to be very concerned with his/her own safety, and this often leads them to be not only more self-aware than others of the same type, but also — and here is my main point — more self-contained.
So, how does the Self-Preservation instinct, which favors discretion and secrecy, mixes with a passion such as envy, which is the fuel for a constant need to let the world know about how one feels (whether those feelings are pleasurable or not)?
Well, that’s the whole point of the concept of the countertypes. The passion is still there, but for one of the three subtypes of each of the nine points in the Enneagram, it is expressed in a counterintuitive way.
Which helps to explain, in type Fours’ case, why many of those who are Self-Preservation first find in writing a great tool of self-expression (even if they keep those writings only to themselves, whether in the form of poetry or some kind of journaling activity).
But the important thing is that we don’t let ourselves be fooled by such different manifestations of the passion. Because, again: the passion is still here. It’s just that, for the countertypes, we have to look for it differently.
there ain’t no entertainment, and the judgments are severe
For a Self-Preservation Four, maybe the most pronounced difference from the Sexual and the Social subtypes is that they tend to be, as Bea Chestnut says, less dramatic and more masochist (in the sense that they often make things much harder than necessary for themselves).
And let me tell you that Cohen knew one thing or two about being a masochist. Not only was he was a notorious perfectionist, taking years to finish a single song, but the whole songwriting process was far from being a pleasurable experience for him, as it can been in the following passage of his interview to Paul Zollo:
[…] once the song enters the mill, it’s worked on by everything that I can summon. And I need everything. I try everything. I try to ignore it, try to repress it, try to get high, try to get intoxicated, try to get sober, all the versions of myself that I can summon are summoned to participate in this project, this work force. […]
In fact, the main reason I brought the above quote is to help emphasize the importance of considering a person’s main instinct when trying to understand his/her motivations according to the Enneagram. For too long, we’ve been over-relying on the analysis of one’s predominant wing (and, more recently, on tritypes).
I, for one, still consider the study of wings to be a very important topic. It’s likely that Cohen had a more pronounced 5 wing than a 3 wing, and I do believe that this of considerable importance to understand why he was more of a songwriter than a performer (although he also had great stage presence).
But I’d prefer not to use his 5 wing as a starting point to understand his overall orientation towards life or his creative process.
so I hang upon my altar and I hoist my axe again
To bring my point home, I’d like to retell a very famous anecdote involving Cohen and a certain singer-songwriter who is also normally categorized as being a type Four with a 5 wing (but most likely with a more developed Sexual instinct): Bob Dylan.
It was said by Cohen himself that, at one point during the eighties, Dylan asked him how long did he take to finish “Hallelujah”. “A couple of years” was his answer (it was more than that actually).
Then, it was Cohen’s turn to ask Dylan how long did he take to finish “I and I”.
Dylan’s answer: “Fifteen minutes” (and it was probably true).
In spite of it all, Cohen seemed to be at least resigned, and sometimes even satisfied, with this state of affairs (such resignation may also be credited to the predominance of the Self-Preservation instinct in a type Four individual):
[…] why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with the payload.
All I can say is that I’m grateful for the payload he brought to so many of us, and I’m happy that he lived long enough to see at least some of the fruits of such hard labor.