I am not a musician. I did not know Leonard Cohen personally, and I discovered his genius rather late in my own life. So I was surprised at the depth of my reaction upon hearing the news of his death. This week, I find myself listening to his songs, some of them over and over. I also listened to his last interview. It made me want to be in his presence. I don’t find it trite to say that he will live on in his work. I am satisfied with that.
The first Leonard Cohen song I ever heard was Suzanne. I loved it. It made me long for an authentic counter-culture life instead of my decidedly straight one. It was amazing poetry set to music…
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever…
(From Songs of Leonard Cohen – 196
I don’t remember the first time I heard Hallelujah, but it was the song that made me fall in love with Leonard Cohen. If you asked me, “Who is your favorite singer…your favorite musical group”…I would be hard pressed to answer. How to choose when there are so many greats? But if you asked me, “What do you think is the greatest song ever written,” Hallelujah would fall off my tongue without even thinking. And it is his spare, gravelly rendition that captures, for me, the essence of the song.
Maybe I do like it dark. I think of myself as neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I tell myself I’m a realist. I see the beauty in impermanence. Life is full of longing, of love and loss, defeat and new beginnings. The “dark troubadour” put all that and more into his work and I responded.
Leonard Cohen captured, for me, the mystery and humor and pathos of life. Perhaps he was a seer as well. Given all that is happening right now, these lines from Tower of Song seem prophetic…
Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter, but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the tower of song.
(Tower of Song from I’m Your Man –1988)