I'm a bit late to the point on this, but still I wanted to note the passing of one of my favorite singers. I've been listening to Leonard Cohen on repeat since he died last week, and his lyrics have been running through my mind. Especially, in the light of the election, this one, allowing for the smallest glimmer of hope:
There is a crack, a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in.
Do you remember the moment you first heard a Leonard Cohen song? I do. It was in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume starring Christian Slater. The song plays over the opening title sequence. I was hooked from the second I heard it, and rushed to the local record store and bought More Best of Leonard Cohen.
I remember putting that song on a mix tape for a boy in 1998; I think he laughed when he first heard the opening measures, so driving and relentless. I also put Susanne on a mix tape for myself, and I remember my mother listening to the song and asking, "What is this song about?", bewildered. I didn't know. I didn't know what any of his songs meant. I was a teenager, and I was still hooked on the romantic vision of perfect love. It would be another decade or so before I understood the way love shatters you, how darkness is bound up in the light, how love's hallelujah can be both broken and holy. Before I even began to understand anything that Cohen was singing about.
In recent years, Famous Blue Raincoat has captured my attention and been my go-to Cohen song. The first line tells you all you need to know:
It's four in the morning, the end of December...
Of course, there's always Hallelujah, the song that inspired its own biography, The Holy or the Broken. I remember listening to it in my bedroom on winter nights, not having a clue what it was about but listening to it on repeat anyway. (I think I was one of the last people to realize that other people had recorded the song, too.)
By chance, yesterday I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History, to an episode ostensibly about Elvis Costello's song Deportee. I was surprised to discover that the episode talks just as much about Cohen's Hallelujah as it does Costello's song. The framework Gladwell uses in this discussion is about two types of creativity or genius, one which emerges full-sprung into masterpieces (think Picasso and Bob Dylan), and the other which emerges slowly, over time, through endless trial-and-error (think Cezanne and Cohen). Cohen is said to have written anywhere between 50-70 versus of Hallelujah—he spent five years on the song! If you're at all inclined, do listen to the episode. It's wonderful.
So long, Leonard Cohen.
Do you have a favorite Leonard Cohen song or lyric? Is there any song of his that belongs to a certain memory or era of your life?
For more great music, check out A Couple Swedish Singers to Love. And for poetry, how about Edwin Morgan's Strawberries?
Wonderful tribute to Cohen. His music has always fascinated me, how his songs are like chapters torn from his life, tossed out raw for the world to see. Considering his early poetry and novels, the musical life-story is not surprising, but still truly amazing. Over thirty years of life, translated by a Jewish–Zen Buddhist monk; remarkable. I must admit, I have always been a fan of Hallelujah, but have been drawn to some of his earlier works like Suzanne with its marriage of two spirits and Bird on the Wire, which may perhaps be my favorite. Repeating music following a passing of an artist is also a habit of mine:) With Leon Russell’s funeral today; it’s A Song for You.
“Music is the emotional life of most people.” – Leonard Cohen
"Goodbye sorrow, hello tomorrow. Oh, let's dance again." - Leon Russell
Thanks for sharing these beautiful thoughts, Mary. I'll go listen to Bird on the Wire more closely now...
I don't know if I'm the 1998 boy or not, but I do credit you for introducing me to Leonard Cohen. 🙂 For this and other reasons, I remain in your debt.
You are, in fact, the boy. =)
I'm still on my Leonard Cohen binge and am not ready for it too end anytime soon. If you want to keep going this is a wonderful conversation with Leonard and Marianne (separately and edited together): https://soundcloud.com/fallingtreeproductions/leonard-and-marianne