One day a few decades ago while living in the staff residence of Purdysburn Hospital where I trained, a guitar-backed voice drifted along the corridor and filled the atmosphere of my little box room with such a haunting power that I literally stood still to listen. It was my first encounter with Leonard Cohen singing Suzanne.
My friend Edyth had just bought an LP of this master of lyrics and beautiful melancholic melody and once my obligatory cassette tape copy was manufactured, Leonard Cohen became my ‘go to’ artist for many years to come.
To date there is much commentary around Cohen’s prophetic words and their poignancy for the conditions of contemporary humanity but my purpose here is to pay tribute to an artist who enriched my life and helped strengthen my spirit, and to declare both sadness that his life has ended as well as joy that his songs will live forever. Like David Bowie, another Maestro lost this year, his work is woven into my Self in a multitude of ways. Yet professing this devotion often brought forth responses that were characteristically stereotyped comments along the lines of darkness, gloom, foreboding and nihilism. Not for me, though. I have always found Leonard Cohen’s songs enchanting and uplifting. They always bring me joy.
Laura Barton’s obituary for Cohen on The Guardian’s music blog takes the same view. To describe him as a ‘miserabilist’ is ‘to miss entirely the warmth of his words’, which, she elaborates, ‘run at the same temperature as blood.’ What animates Leonard Cohen’s offering is the joy beyond pain, the lesson in the challenge, the solution within the problem, the beauty within the chaos. As Barton reminds us, he echoes the wisdom of Rumi in his song Anthem
‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
So to the songs that stick with me most:
- The Partisan
- Famous Blue Raincoat
- So Long Marianne
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Lady Midnight
- Who By Fire
- Dance Me to the End of Love
- Hey, that’s no way to say Goodbye
Tibetan Book of the Dead Narration
Some time ago I found a documentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead perfectly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s voice as the narrator, so this is what I’m watching now as my memorial to another Maestro gone from the world. Check it out, it’s a profound exploration of life meaning and enrichment of the human spirit through meditative practice and Buddhist teachings. There is an empathy and wisdom in Cohen’s voice that makes this film a celebration of life in the midst of physical death. I wish him well on his journey and thank him for the songs.
Songs Never Die