A Tribute to Leonard Cohen

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.

 

Cover of "You Want It Darker" album.

The cover of his last album “You Want It Darker”.

"Popular Problems" his previous album.

“Popular Problems” his previous album.

The Best of Leonard Cohen - a collection of his early recordings.

The Best of Leonard Cohen – a collection of his early recordings.

What is your favourite Cohen song?

 

 

“The People Have Spoken” – A Canadian’s View of the American 2016 Election

“The People Have Spoken” – A Canadian’s View of the American 2016 Election

For what it’s worth, I’m attempting to put down my thoughts on what happened on November 8th in the US. For like all you Americans, we here in Canada are still reeling and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Yes, I know some of you are probably wondering why I am writing about this because I should be writing about my travels as this is what my blog is all about. Well, truth be told, I haven’t been doing much travelling lately…that won’t begin until the latter part of December… so there hasn’t been much to write about in that department. Then you may ask, why should I be so concerned about what is happening in American politics? Firstly, like most Canadians I care about what happens to our neighbour to the south. Whatever happens there will undoubtedly affect us here. Secondly, I have American friends and blog readers from the US, and I know how disappointed and afraid they must be feeling right now.

Trump’s victory has certainly stirred me up as I expect it has for most of us up here in Canada and the rest of the world. This man may not know much about how the world of politics works… or the world for that matter…and, yes, he has shown a shocking narrow-mindedness and said some scary things, but he certainly has an uncanny genius for attracting publicity. Did he make all his nasty remarks about women and minorities and promises about cancelling the Paris Accord, re-writing NAFTA, etc. just for the publicity so he could get elected? Was he intelligent enough to think of such a ploy that he knew would grab America’s attention? Let’s hope so because this could be your only hope.

Now for a few more thoughts which have grabbed my mind regarding this historic election….

The reasons for Trump’s win and the aftermath for the for the next four years has to be looked at a strong ‘wake up call’ for all Americans…. and other countries, too. We are well aware that corporate greed, racial discrimination, selfishness, crime, climate change disasters, and lack of employment are all contributing to the feeling of helplessness that many people around the world are feeling. The gap between the rich and poor appears to be getting wider. For this reason it’s not been a huge surprise to me that he won since he seems to have struck a chord for those people who are feeling disenfranchised. They fear that what made America a great country is rapidly fading away.

I can certainly understand the sadness and despair that many Americans must be feeling, but I can’t help but think that there is a lesson to be learned here. The fact that he won is proof that the average American is not happy with the present status quo and wants change. They want to go back to the way it was, but you and I know that isn’t possible. You have to go forward, not backward. You need some real leadership to do this and it’s preposterous to think that Trump can do it. However, if he isn’t the answer, then maybe he is the catalyst to the much-needed change the people want?

This leads me  to Hillary’s brilliant concession speech. To assuage the people’s despair, she carefully crafted it to give Americans some hope. In spite of her painful defeat, she was able to graciously offer her help and promise to work with and not against Trump. Did I hear this or was I imagining it? And that was not all ….. she then made a plea for all Americans to do the same. She is such a fighter for the people as we all know, so my bet is that if anyone can have an effect on this loose cannon president, it will be Hillary’ speech.

Furthermore, I don’t think you should give up on “the Donald”… not yet anyway. He is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality but if he wants to really help the little guy and if he wants to gain the respect of those Republicans he has to work with and the people who are counting on him, then maybe he will choose his words more carefully and change his behavior. Perhaps he will take Hillary’s parting words seriously out of the admiration he claims to have for her? You can only hope…

After listening to Hillary’s concession speech on You Tube, I quickly tuned into Trump’s and couldn’t help notice how different the two atmospheres were. Where the feeling at Hillary’s was filled with love and adoration, the one at the Donald’s was stilted and uncomfortable with little to no emotion. How peculiar! Wouldn’t you expect there to be some joy after his win? Instead, there was just fear. Perhaps he and those around him really are afraid of what he has got himself into, and if so, then could this not be a good thing? Maybe he will start to listen now that he realizes he doesn’t have the answers and will accept help from those who have more experience? You can only hope…

One thing which we probably can all agree on is that this man has a lot of growing up to do. If all those who will be working with him realize this and treat him with some respect and an “open mind” (Hillary’s words) then just maybe he could turn out to be a decent president. He loves attention so if those he works with can come together to help him instead of quarrelling amongst themselves, then they could leave him to keep on doing what he does best which seems to be connecting to the little guys and getting the media’s attention.

Such an idealistic picture, you say, and from a naive Canadian. Perhaps… but I believe you must try to see the positive by visualizing a positive rather than a negative outcome by remembering Hillary’s words to not give up the fight: “Fight for what is right” she said to all the young women of America. It is right is to honour what the majority of people voted for, get over your disappointment, pull together, and go forward bravely to show the rest of the world that all isn’t coming to an end and truth and reason will prevail. I would guess that all of this and more is said in your Declaration of Independence as drawn up by the Founders of your great country. Perhaps more attention could be paid to this by everyone who loves their country and wants it to continue as a respected world leader.

And finally, please remember that as your northern neighbour we are here to help if you want it. Our Prime Minister has already stated he will work closely with your new President. For those who won’t be able to take the heat and uncertainty that is bound to come in the next four years, you can always escape to Canada… if you have the patience to deal with the red tape of becoming a Canadian citizen. Somehow, I don’t think many will do it. Instead you will stay and tough it out because right now your country needs you more than ever.img_0412