I can’t find the words.
I cried. God, how I cried. I curled up on my bed and cried until my eyes could no longer produce tears. But my body still rocked from sobs even then. I couldn’t stop. Maybe my already fractured state I couldn’t take one more loss, one more piece of sadness. This year has already shattered me to my very core. This… this is what has rendered me speechless.
I could talk about his music and how “Hallelujah” was actually quite uninspiring until John Cale took it to a place it needed to go. I could talk about The Future, where he saw the bleakness around him and gave us “Anthem” to remind us of beauty despite the pain. I could talk about “Bird on a Wire”, forever the song to be on every compilation of Canadian music ever put together. I could speak about “Famous Blue Raincoat”, my favourite Leonard song, and it’s amphibrach metre. I could speak of poetry.
I can’t find the words. But here I go.
I know what I will miss. I know what his last album is and what it sounded like two weeks ago and what it will sound like tomorrow. I know how hopeless I feel, and how lost. I can feel my heart in a million little pieces, scattered among the chaos of my bed. I know where I want to be right now, and with who I want to be with. I am missing what centres me, both in my life and in my heart. And secondary comfort measures, like music, seems petty in the wake of the news. Leonard’s music has saved me from myself more times than I can recall. It goes beyond being a fan, or Canadian pride. I’ve been deeply connected to Leonard Cohen’s music since I was a wee lass.
I’m disillusioned by the world. This year has stripped me of all hope. There is no joy in my life. Moments of happiness are fleeting. Most of it is me being an idiot. I’m my own apocalypse, after all. But one of those brief moments of joy was realizing there would be a new Leonard album. He brought to us You Want It Darker. Here I spent time, listening to Hebrew laced in the prayers and requests to God, gambling metaphors and Christian imagery. It comforted me simply by existing, even as I became aware of this sounding like a man at the end of his life asking for forgiveness, redemption, and understanding. There’s the presence of the Shaar Hasomayim Synagogue Choir, the synagogue of Leonard’s youth, providing angelic voices behind his aging baritone, still finding deeper tones at 81. The album is not sentimental on any level, and it’s clearly the album of a man expecting to go and soon. It doesn’t mean we were ready for it to happen.
So now I sit here, tapping away on my keyboard, full of emotion and unable to find my bearings. I am emotionally drained and I can barely breathe. All I want is relief.
And then “Anthem” makes it’s way back on my playlist.
“That’s how the light gets in.”
I never met Leonard. I knew some stuff about him, but mostly I was drawn to how he wrote. It was so dark, but it was always laced with a bit of black humour. It’s the type of writing that makes some depressives sit still and not do the impulsive destruction we are prone to because he makes us chuckle. Did he really just drop a line about crack and anal sex? That can take you out of a moment quickly, I tell you. He would write like a poet and the music was an afterthought. No one is going to accuse Leonard Cohen of creating complex melodies. He wrote folk laments, jaunty waltzes, and modern hymns. The words of “Hallelujah” matter more than the music, and in this case that is precisely how it should be. He lacked Dylan’s gift to create something you can hum, but then again, Dylan doesn’t have anything quite like “Hallelujah”. Dylan could never have written “Hallelujah”.
In a way it’s a shame that “Hallelujah” has eclipsed is other songs in the public mind. As lovely as the Cale arrangement is, and how that arrangement begat the Buckley arrangement (which begat the Wainwright cover, which begat the X-factoring of the song, which begat the lang version…), Cohen’s original version has aged poorly, and with a total of 80 verses written at various points, it could have been his most indulgent song. Cale’s cool and calculated version from the incredible I’m Your Fan tribute album stripped the artifice away and left the emotional core. I can understand why it’s so popular.I wish more poeple wouls cover “Famous Blue Raincoat”.
This is what I’m thinking. This is what I’m feeling. I’m pissed that I don’t think there are enough covers of “Famous Blue Raincoat” and his last album was one of the few things that didn’t make me want to jump in front of a train despite being all about his expectation of death. That I’m feeling lost. That I’m heartbroken already and I just cannot bear to feel one more minute of it, and then the universe tells me it thinks I can handle more. That Leonard Cohen is now gone and I can’t breathe.
How do I find my way out of this?
Leonard Cohen CC GOQ, singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, and genius, a man whose influence far exceeds his album sales, and a man who has written some of the loveliest, most profound songs in the history of music, died November 7th at age 82, mere weeks after releasing his last album. He leaves behind his son Adam, his daughter Lorca, a grandson and a granddaughter, and millions of fans who found comfort in his words.