Leonard Cohen's twelfth studio album Old Ideas opens with this track, which sung from the point of view of his own muse, who is at times critical of his songwriting puppet. Cohen croons about himself in his gravely baritone:
I love to speak with Leonard
He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard living in a suit
Cohen sings about writing "a manual for living with defeat" on this song. During an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian, he was asked if a listener can learn about life from his songs? The singer-poet replied: "A song operates on so many levels. It operates on the level you just spoke of where it addresses the heart in its ordeals and its defeats but it also is useful in getting the dishes done or cleaning the house. It's also useful as a background to courting."
It was collaborator/producer Patrick Leonard, best known for co-writing many of Madonna's late '80s hits, who encouraged Cohen to turn the original demo into a proper song. The singer-poet recalled during a press preview of Old Ideas in London (as reported by The Sun): "Pat said, 'This would make a great song'. I said, 'Are you mad?! This song is a piece of self-indulgent introspective writing that doesn't deserve to see the light of day'. Under his prodding, however, I finally began to see there might be a song there."
After Leonard came back with the music, the pair worked on the song together. Cohen told Mojo magazine about their songwriting process: "I don't know if it was the next hour or the next day but it was very fast, and then there some small divisions, both lyrically and musically, that we ping-ponged off each other, and then we recorded it."
English musical duo The Webb Sisters add angelic sighs to this tune. Charley and Hattie Webb were part of Cohen's 2008-10 world tour and are featured on the Leonard Cohen Live in London backing Cohen on the song "If It Be Your Will."
The lyric was originally published as a poem in The New Yorker magazine in January 2012, prior to the record's release.
At the age of 77, Leonard Cohen earned his highest ever charting album on the Billboard 200 when Old Ideas debuted at #3. His previous best had been his 2009 Greatest Hits album, which peaked at #29. You have to go back to 1969 to find Cohen's previous best ranking for an LP containing original material - His Songs From a Room peaked at #63 that year.
Leonard Cohen was asked by the New York Times where he was when he wrote this song. He replied: "In trouble."