“I am an old scholar, better looking now than when I was young.
That’s what sitting on your ass does to your face.”
Everyone seems to think of Leonard Cohen as a singer-songwriter. I dislike that term. It seems superficial to me. There are so many singer-songwriters, and, to me, the vast majority are generic, whining, humorless poseurs lacking in any amount of depth, emotional, intellectual, or otherwise. Give me real emotion, real sarcasm, real anger. Give me real.
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just ash. Out of the thousands who are known or who want to be known as poets, maybe one or two are genuine and the rest are fakes, hanging around the sacred precincts, trying to look like the real thing.”
I think, having known Leonard a bit over the last 36 years, that he would at least cast a sly jaundiced eye towards the term singer-songwriter as directed at him. Those above two quotes indicate a lot about the importance of poetry to his art. Although also a highly regarded painter, at the core, he was a man of words first, whether in his poetry, his novels Beautiful Losers and The Favourite Game, or just in conversation. As Leonard himself more than once said
“And I had not much of a voice. I didn’t play that great guitar either.”
Leonard Cohen didn’t have to play great guitar. He didn’t have to because he could communicate so well with just the basics. As for his voice, it was endearing, charming, filled with feeling, and instantly recognizable. Like all great recording artists, you might not have heard the song before, but you knew who it was on the first listen. The voice, and, the subject matter, the turn of a phrase, the timing: they all gave it away.
“Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.”
Leonard with Anjani Thomas and Noah, 2007
Leonard Cohen’s work was hugely powerful and influential. Only Bob Dylan had a larger and deeper impact on his generation. In its excellent obituary, written by Richard Gehr, Rolling Stone magazine referred to Leonard Cohen as “The dark eminence among a small pantheon of singer-songwriters (there’s that term again) to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies.”
Long known as a poet in his native Canada, music fans first became aware of him when his song “Suzanne” became a hit performed by Judy Collins in 1966. Previously, Leonard had published it as a poem called “Suzanne Takes You Down.” It had appeared in his book Parasites Of Heaven.
In 1967, “Suzanne” was his first single from his first album, Songs Of Leonard Cohen. It quickly became a radio staple of the late Sixties, influencing many artists. The song was even covered by a very young Bruce Springsteen in his pre-E Street Band, The Castiles. More recently, Nick Cave recorded the song for a Leonard Cohen tribute project called I’m Your Man.
Other famous songs followed over the next 50 years, including “First We Take Manhattan,” “So Long Marianne,” “Bird On A Wire,” “Everybody Knows,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Sisters Of Mercy,” “In My Secret Life,” “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” and his most famous song, the oft-covered “Hallelujah.”
“If I knew where the good songs come from, I’d go there more often… We’re in a world where there’s famine and hunger and people are dodging bullets and having their nails pulled out in dungeons, so it’s very hard for me to place any value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard, but, compared to what?”
Issuing a statement on Leonard Cohen’s death, manager, Robert Kory, rightly said “Unmatched in his creativity, insight and crippling candor, Leonard Cohen was a true visionary whose voice will be sorely missed. I was blessed to call him a friend and for me to serve that bold artistic spirit firsthand, was a privilege and great gift. He leaves behind a legacy of work that will bring insight, inspiration, and healing for generations to come.”
Leonard Cohen was and is a giant. He wrote, painted, and recorded until the end. A new album, You Want It Darker was just released on October 21st. He was 82.
“How do we produce work that touches the heart? We don’t want to live a frivolous life. We don’t want to live a superficial life. We want to be serious with each other, with our friends, with our work. That doesn’t necessarily mean gloomy or grim, but seriousness has a kind of voluptuousness aspect to it. It is something that we are deeply hungry for, to take ourselves seriously and to be able to enjoy the nourishment of seriousness, that gravity, that weight.”
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis