Back when he was a poet, not yet a singer, he woke up and went out to wander the streets of Montreal. He wandered along, thinking about his career and his writing, not sure how to find new directions. And he wandered into a coffeeshop where a folksinger was performing, and thought, "Hey, I could do that."
And then he went home and woke up his girlfriend Marianne and told her, "Darling, I've had a wonderful idea. I'm going to start singing!"
Marianne, looking aghast, said, "Please don't!"
The other story is one that Cohen has been known to tell in concert. One of his most famous songs is "Chelsea Hotel #2." It's the song you'd expect a poet to write on finding out that someone he hooked up with died, providing that someone is Janis Joplin. The first verse gives details that Cohen later regretted a little:
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel. You were talking so brave and so sweet. Giving me head on the unmade bed, while the limousines waited in the street.
As Cohen tells it, they met at the Chelsea; Cohen, attracted, attempted to chat her up. Joplin was unimpressed: she had no time for him, she told him; she was there looking for Kris Kristoffersen (whose "Me and Bobby McGee" would appear on her posthumous album, PEARL). This did not dissuade Cohen in the slightest. "Little lady," said Cohen, "this is your lucky day. *I'm* Kris Kristoffersen!"
After a pause for the audience's laughter (not to mention, I suspect, Joplin's), Cohen would add, "Well, those were generous times."
The penultimate verse is my favorite:
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel You were famous; your heart was a legend. You told me that you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception. And clenching your fist for the ones like us, who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, you fixed yourself; you said "Well, never mind; we are ugly, but we have the music."
Singers are too pretty, nowadays. Unless they're on the long spiral down.