November 12th, 2016

Leonard Cohen: he was ready

After giving us the gift of his music for nearly fifty years, Leonard Cohen has finally gone home:

His son issued this statement on his father’s death:

“My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records,” Cohen’s son Adam wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor.”

I’ve written so many pieces on Leonard Cohen that I’ve probably said most of what I want to say about his life and his work. His death was expected, but it leaves a hole in the world. His music fills some of that hole. Although music is incorporeal, it is very real.

Here are some YouTube offerings from Cohen. I’ll do this in chronological order. First, one of my absolute favorites—the younger, handsome, melancholy, resonant Cohen of the Famous Blue Raincoat:

A few years later, we have Cohen on the Tower of Song. Some of the lyrics that seem especially poignant today:

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

Here is the elderly Cohen, his voice deeper and deeper still—impossibly deep—from an album that just came out (like David Bowie, he released a swan song). The word “hineni” is Hebrew for “Here I am.”

You can go to YouTube and keep going for days listening to the Cohen oeuvre and watching the documentaries and interviews with a man who was always humble, always thoughtful, usually humorous, and often wise. This one focuses on what I call the Dustin Hoffman years (yes, when Cohen was young he was a ringer for Hoffman):

What can I say? If anyone tried to get ready, Leonard Cohen did. Here is part of his last interview:

RIP Leonard Cohen.

17 Responses to “Leonard Cohen: he was ready”

  1. Mac Says:

    To quote my own obit of him: “If I were to pick one artist among the singer-songwriters of the 1960s whom I would bet would still be listened to a hundred years from now, it would be Leonard Cohen.”

    There are others who would qualify, but he would be at the top of the list. Dylan, for instance, is a genius of sorts, and I love a lot of his work, but I suspect that in the end he’s going to seem more of his time than Cohen, his extremely inconsistent lyrics less interesting.

    Cohen’s death can hardly be considered an unexpected blow, but as when Johnny Cash died, I feel like some important presence in the world is not there anymore.

  2. Yancey Ward Says:

    Of all the musician deaths this year- Bowie, Frey, and Prince (you can even go back further in time- Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston)- Cohen’s to me, though expected due to his age, is the greater loss.

    I first discovered Leonard Cohen at age 15 in 1981 growing up in Eastern Kentucky. A local rock radio station had a DJ that would pick classic albums to play starting at 11 p.m. One weekend, a Friday and Saturday, he played all the Cohen albums he had released to that point- six in all if memory serves. He was really like nothing I had ever heard before lyrically, and I was hooked. I ended up buying the first three albums, Songs of Cohen, Songs from a Room, and Songs of Love and Hate- albums not easy to acquire where I lived in boondocks.

    However, as grew older and my tastes in music started to gravitate to other areas, I lost track of Cohen. I probably hadn’t even thought of him in 10 years when I first saw the movie Natural Born Killers in 1996. His music is prominently featured in the movie, especially the song The Future. I instantly recognized the voice, though it had become even more distinctive by that time. I was rehooked as a fan, and that never changed again. I haven’t purchased You Want It Darker yet, but that is something I will do this weekend in his honor. I will miss seeing new stuff from him- he was a lyrical and musical genius.

  3. Yancey Ward Says:

    Like Neo wrote, YouTube is a great source for any musician- if you search, most artists have a 50 piece selection at the top right once you have selected a single video. I was listening to the Cohen 50 piece selection just yesterday afternoon.

  4. Big Maq Says:

    Neo – thanks!

  5. expat Says:

    I just watched all of the Lonesome Heroes videos. Like others here I haven’t followed most of his later work carefully, so this series of videos gave me a lot of perspective on him. It really helped me understand why I found so many of his songs so great.

    I guess another thing is that I am, like Cohen (at a completely differerent level), also an outsider and an insider. He touched things in me.

  6. Mac Says:

    Here’s an interesting rundown of all his work. I disagree radically with the reviewer’s rankings, but it’s a decent overview.

  7. Yancey Ward Says:

    Where do you disagree, Mac? My big disagreement is the with the top album he listed- I Your Man- would have had it middle of the pack (8th). I have always ranked Songs of Love and Hate as his best, followed by his debut album. Other than that, the rest of the order is ok with me.

  8. Mac Says:

    Well, what jumped out at me first was the very low ranking of Recent Songs, which I consider first rate. There were others. Maybe I’ll make my own list. This reminded me that I’ve never heard New Skin in its entirety. Have to remedy that.

  9. T Says:

    Is it just me or does Cohen look like Leonard Nimoy under that hat (in the lead image)?

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    T:

    Yes. The early Leonard Cohen was Dustin Hoffman.

    The elderly Leonard Cohen was Leonard Nimoy.

    And yet, Dustin Hoffman doesn’t look like Leonard Nimoy.

  11. Simon Says:

    I was devastated when I heard. My Apple Watch buzzed with an NYTimes breaking news alert whilst I was watching TV with the kids. I had to exit the room rapidly, so as not to make a spectacle of myself. My love of him is tied up with my father’s, who died not too long ago. I have also been completely obsessed with his new album, so he was very present in my mind.

    I wanted to comment on the off chance you haven’t actually listened to his new album. It truly is one of his best. And if not the best, then perhaps his most consistent. There isn’s a mediocre song on it. A remarkable achievement for an 82-year-old. I will miss him dearly.

  12. mezzrow Says:

    And how about this posted by our dear Gerard:

    http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/grace_notes/something_wonderful_dance.php

    I suspect OGH at one time looked a bit like Miss Anwar. We are all older now.

    Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
    Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
    Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
    Dance me to the end of love

    Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
    Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
    Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
    Dance me to the end of love

  13. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Must be my day to be negative.
    Cohen has the hat. He has the gravelly voice. In Hallelujah, he crouches.
    His must be IMPORTANT.
    For me, there’s no there there.

    So I’m poking through youtube for
    Sacred harp singing.
    Gospel
    Baroque
    Renaissance
    Country
    Shenandoah
    Goin’ Home.
    Angel Flight–with tower mix
    battle Hymn of the Republic
    Minstrel Boy
    You Fought All The Way (Johnny Reb)

    All over the place. But Cohen…..i get nothing.

    Strange, I suppose.

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    Leon Russel died too…

  15. geokstr Says:

    I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s when rock and folk took off, then through the acid and metal and disco phases, but I never heard of him before. I’ll say this for him though – his singing makes Dylan sound like a vocal virtuoso par excellence.

    Yuk.

  16. Richard Aubrey Says:

    geokstr. You’ve got it backwards. The worse the singing, the more authentic. So Dylan would be better.

  17. neo-neocon Says:

    geokstr:

    I love Leonard Cohen’s voice. I can’t think of a single cover version of any of his songs (and there are tons of them) that I prefer to Cohen singing his own works. I didn’t feel that way the first few years, but in recent decades I have.

    But then again, I’m not overly fond of pretty voices, except in opera. In pop or folk or rock or blues, I like distinctive and unusual voices.

    To me, Cohen’s voice is deep, but not just in timbre. Deep in what it expresses: suffering, joy, acceptance, irony, wisdom, puzzlement, spirituality, ennui, hope.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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