Some words about Leonard Cohen

So Laughing Leonard has left the table, stepped down from the bar, tipped his hat for the last time, and gone on his final journey.

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Lots will be said about Leonard Cohen today.  How a poet and a visionary became a powerful singer-songwriter, a mirror for the times, a prism for words of passion, politics, religion and, yes, that thing we all struggle with and call life.

His story is well known. At 33 he was signed to Columbia despite their reservations and over the next half a century he has introduced fourteen studio albums of his songs and spoken words of wisdom to the world; the last, ‘You Want It Darker’, just a few weeks ago.

Although I’m not a long-term fan right from the beginning, I can pinpoint exactly when I was first aware of Cohen, and it was with his appearance on ‘Later … with Jools Holland’ on 14 May 1993.  

His album ‘The Future’ had not long been released, and although some observers claim this was blighted by doom and depression, it contained some uplifting songs such as ‘Closing Time’ together with the cynicism of ‘Democracy’.

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Cohen was a dabbler, a self-confessed ‘lazy bastard living in a suit’ (‘Going Home’), shy of commitment, he never married but has left two children, Adam and Lorca, his son having acted as producer and sometime co-writer on the last album.  Women have always been his muses: Marianne Ihlen, Suzanne Elrod, Suzanne Verdal, Rebecca De Morney, Anjali Thomas, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin.

His lyrics, always precise and deftly honed, have been sensual and sometimes strongly sexual (‘remember when I moved in you / and the Holy Dove was moving too’: ‘Hallelujah’; ‘there’s blood on every bracelet / you can see it, you can taste it / and it’s Please baby please baby please’: ‘Light as the Breeze’), and always linger, with meaning in the memory.

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Some samples of his work:

The Maestro says it’s Mozart / but it sounds like bubble gum (‘Waiting for the Miracle’)

You who build these altars now / To sacrifice these children / You must not do it anymore (‘The Story of Isaac’)

I struggled with some demons / They were middle class and tame / I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim (‘You Want It Darker’)

Everybody knows you’ve been discreet / But there were so many people you just had to meet / Without your clothes (‘Everybody Knows’)

I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? / Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long (‘Tower of Song’)

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And draw us near / And bind us tight / All your children here / In their rags of light (‘If It Be Your Will’)

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes / I thought it was there for good so I never tried (‘Famous Blue Raincoat’)

Touch me with your naked hand / Touch me with your glove (‘Dance Me To The End of Love’)

Please walk by me again / With a drink in your hand / And your legs all white / From the winter (‘Dear Heather’)

And sometimes when the night is slow / The wretched and the meek / We gather up our hearts and go (‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’)

We will not see his like again.  Go in peace on your final journey, Mr Cohen.

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About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, fan. View all posts by Louise Penn

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