My all time favourite poet, singer and song writer died last week.
Hard on the heels of the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States came the announcement of Leonard Cohen’s death. Two shocking bits of news all in one day! Granted Trump’s win was of more interest because of its potentially devastating impact on the world, whereas Cohen’s death will be primarily missed because he leaves behind a legacy of love and humility. Such a contrast… yet two momentous events so close together.
There may be some who would not agree that Cohen’s main legacy would be about love if they were the ones who saw only the darker side of his lyrics. Yes, dark and depressive he could be, but there was always some light lurking around the corner. Nonetheless, I was both amazed and heartened by the reaction of his fans who came from not just Canada and the US where he made his home(s) but from the Western world in general. He was a musical icon to many and Canadians should be proud of him.
I know I’m not alone in confessing that Cohen somehow captured my heart from the day I first became aware of him in the late ’60’s. For it was then he began his journey to becoming Canada’s greatest poet, song writer and singer upon the release of “So Long Marianne” and “Suzanne”. Who could ever forget the description of his love relationship with a girl named Suzanne when he says:
“Suzanne takes your hand and leads you to the water where she will feed you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”
No other song writers at that time could come near to expressing so clearly and reverently such a personal experience as this…Bob Dylan didn’t even come close!
I adored Cohen back then and still do today. My adoration has grown stronger because he speaks to me on all levels: spiritual, intellectual and physical. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he appealed so strongly to so many women…and men. The love he wrote and sang about was not just about sex (as many Canadians claimed when they first heard him) but very much on an intellectual and spiritual level.
I am not ashamed to confess that some of his songs, such as “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me to the End of Love” have made me weep. I know I’m not alone in this. To evoke such emotion in people was his gift to us. When I reflect on this man and his ability to speak to so many, my greatest regret was not making the effort to see him when he came to Halifax in 2009 on his final world tour at the age of 77. I have heard and seen what I missed umpteen times by witnessing his London performance on U-Tube… and every time I am deeply stirred by his passion. For a man who had such difficulty facing his fans when he was younger and actually walked off stage a few times, he certainly surprised us all on that tour. He put his whole heart and soul into this performance engraving it in our memories forever.
When I heard about his latest recording “You Want It Darker” I knew I had to buy it. I was fortunate to get it just before he died. After listening to it a few times and reading the blurb he wrote on the cover, it was obvious he was singing… or I should say speaking because his voice had gone so low that singing was out of the question…about his approaching death. After all he was 82 and had been suffering health problems while making the recording with his son, Adam. The songs throughout the recording seem to speak of his readiness to “leave the table” with no regrets and to meet ‘his’ lord. As you probably know, Cohen was born into the Jewish faith, became a Buddhist monk after ten years of intensive study, and made numerous references to the Christian religion throughout his song writing. Here is a poignant verse from “You Want It Darker”:
Magnified and sanctified
Be Thy Holy Name
Vilified and crucified
In the human frame
A million candles burning
For the help that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame.
This is true Cohen. The words here can be interpreted on many different levels but one thing is clear: he expresses feelings that we all can relate to… a yearning for peace and love, suffering and hate, regret and approaching death. Dark and often depressing it might be but don’t ignore his references to the light: “a million candles burning” and “We kill the flame”. Moreover, there is no mistaking his honesty, humility, and ever-present passion in this CD. Here his true personality shines forth and for this we loved him. He truly touched our very souls and will be greatly missed.
What is your favourite Cohen song?