“I have tried in my way to be free” -Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Arlo had just drifted off to sleep when I received word that Leonard Cohen, one of my favorite musicians, had passed away at the age of 82. And, now, I’m just laying here beside my son, in the dark, listening to Songs of Hate quietly while he sleeps. I don’t know that it’s Cohen’s best album, but, as it was the only thing I had to listen to in my car for a number of years, I’ve got an incredible fondness for it. It’s more than a fondness, actually. It’s like that record is part of me. It’s probably been a year since I’ve listened to it, and I still know every pause and every breath by heart. It’s kind of strange and beautiful, listening to it now, with Arlo curled up next to me, breathing softly against my arm. It’s also, of course, incredibly sad, especially given what we’ve just lived through here in the United States, and what we’ve likely got ahead of us. It feels like, after having been punched to the ground, I’ve just been kicked in the gut. But I’m trying to get beyond the sadness by just focusing on the music, while laying here, rubbing my son’s back as he sleeps with one hand, while typing with the other… I know that others will have more thoughtful tributes, but I just wanted to acknowledge his passing in some small way, as he meant so much to me. Here, with that in mind, is Famous Blue Raincoat from from Songs of Love and Hate.

[The line, “Did you ever go clear?” is my favorite on the entire album. I think t’s because I’ve always been somewhat obsessed by Scientology. Cohen, by the way, is said to have joined Scientology, a religion he’d leave after a short while, because he’d heard that it was a good place to meet women.]

Linette just reminded me that, when we saw Cohen perform in Detroit about half a dozen years ago, after finishing the last song of his set, he skipped off stage. That’s a happy memory I hope I’m able to hold onto it for a long time to come… And I hope I’m still skipping at 75.

Now, if we could just stop the death for a little while, it would be great. I feel like, after losing David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder and Cohen, we’ve paid enough of a price for a while.

Oh, and the quote in the headline, if you don’t recognize it, is from Cohen’s Bird on the Wire, which, coincidentally, Arlo and I have been singing together lately.

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10 Comments

  1. Lynne
    Posted November 10, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I not as big of a fan as you although I have always loved his music. The world has lost something good for sure.

  2. Jean Henry
    Posted November 10, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    From the Remnick interview in the New Yorker:
    “Dylan, who is seventy-five, doesn’t often play the role of music critic, but he proved eager to discuss Leonard Cohen. I put a series of questions to him about Number 1, and he answered in a detailed, critical way—nothing cryptic or elusive.

    “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. Even the simplest song, like ‘The Law,’ which is structured on two fundamental chords, has counterpoint lines that are essential, and anybody who even thinks about doing this song and loves the lyrics would have to build around the counterpoint lines.

    “His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres,” Dylan went on. “In the song ‘Sisters of Mercy,’ for instance, the verses are four elemental lines which change and move at predictable intervals . . . but the tune is anything but predictable. The song just comes in and states a fact. And after that anything can happen and it does, and Leonard allows it to happen. His tone is far from condescending or mocking. He is a tough-minded lover who doesn’t recognize the brush-off. Leonard’s always above it all. ‘Sisters of Mercy’ is verse after verse of four distinctive lines, in perfect meter, with no chorus, quivering with drama. The first line begins in a minor key. The second line goes from minor to major and steps up, and changes melody and variation. The third line steps up even higher than that to a different degree, and then the fourth line comes back to the beginning. This is a deceptively unusual musical theme, with or without lyrics. But it’s so subtle a listener doesn’t realize he’s been taken on a musical journey and dropped off somewhere, with or without lyrics.”

    In the late eighties, Dylan performed “Hallelujah” on the road as a roughshod blues with a sly, ascending chorus. His version sounds less like the prettified Jeff Buckley version than like a work by John Lee Hooker. “That song ‘Hallelujah’ has resonance for me,” Dylan said. “There again, it’s a beautifully constructed melody that steps up, evolves, and slips back, all in quick time. But this song has a connective chorus, which when it comes in has a power all of its own. The ‘secret chord’ and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect of the song has plenty of resonance for me.”

    I asked Dylan whether he preferred Cohen’s later work, so colored with intimations of the end. “I like all of Leonard’s songs, early or late,” he said. “ ‘Going Home,’ ‘Show Me the Place,’ ‘The Darkness.’ These are all great songs, deep and truthful as ever and multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, and they make you think and feel. I like some of his later songs even better than his early ones. Yet there’s a simplicity to his early ones that I like, too.”

    Dylan defended Cohen against the familiar critical reproach that his is music to slit your wrists by. He compared him to the Russian Jewish immigrant who wrote “Easter Parade.” “I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all,” Dylan said. “There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. He’s very much a descendant of Irving Berlin, maybe the only songwriter in modern history that Leonard can be directly related to. Berlin’s songs did the same thing. Berlin was also connected to some kind of celestial sphere. And, like Leonard, he probably had no classical-music training, either. Both of them just hear melodies that most of us can only strive for. Berlin’s lyrics also fell into place and consisted of half lines, full lines at surprising intervals, using simple elongated words. Both Leonard and Berlin are incredibly crafty. Leonard particularly uses chord progressions that seem classical in shape. He is a much more savvy musician than you’d think.”

  3. Kat
    Posted November 10, 2016 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Someone on Reddit also mentioned the skipping.

    Here’s the comment –

    I spent an incredible amount of money to be in the 8th row of a concert in his last tour.
    It was worth every penny.

    He seemed like he would live forever. After 2.5 hours of performing, he skipped–he skipped–off the stage.

    What struck me most was how he had gathered a dozen incredible musicians together to perform for that tour. Each was a genius in their own way, and he would step back at times and let them shine. It struck me as a mark of both humility and confidence, humility because in many ways he was the “worse” instrumentalist on stage, but he was confidant to let the others do their thing.

    It was a glorious, glorious evening.

  4. Loser Larson
    Posted November 10, 2016 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Being from the trailer park, I never understood this kind of music.

  5. Loser Larson
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    I find this much more pleasing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiC9ofpzVZw

  6. LUMOS
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I can attest to the skipping. I have seen it with my own two eyes. For a ma who could go to such dark places, he appeared to have a lot of joy.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp6UnhHh9xc

  7. blueeyedpupil
    Posted November 11, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    When Cohen was last in Detroit, at the fox we saw him. It was better than i even imagined. He just communed with the audience. It was the most amazing concert i have ever been to.

    It was the first time i had seen him, i came late to my love of his music. Oh that i would have loved him for much longer. The day i read that he was coming to the fox i knew i had to see him no matter the cost. I had never thought i would see him in concert given his age. He had toured a few years earlier and I did not expect another tour. When the tickets arrived I could of cried.

    I am so glad i got to experience his magnificence in person. Thank you Leonard Cohen

  8. Roddy Doyle by Proxy
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    -See Trump killed Leonard Cohen.
    -Saw that.
    -He doesn’t only hate women. He hates the men tha’ women love. ’Specially older women.
    -Fuckin’ Clooney’s gone into hidin’.
    -Fuck him an’ his nespresso.
    -And the Pope.
    -Fuck the Pope?
    -No. Women – they love him. Mine does, an’ anyway.
    -Poor oul’ Leonard. He was good, but. Wasn’t he?
    -Ah, he was. You should hear me grandkids singin’ Hallelujah.
    -Good, yeah?
    -Fuckin’ hilarious.
    -The wife loved him.
    -Leonard?
    -She even became a Buddhist cos o’ Leonard.
    -Is tha’ righ’?
    -For a few weeks, just. Then she saw me eatin’ a quarter pounder an’ she said, ‘Fuck the Eightfold Path.’ But she’s always on at me to wear a hat like Leonard Cohen’s.
    -Well, he won’t be needin’ it any more – in fairness.
    -The thing is, but. If Leonard walked in here – if he wasn’t dead, like – they’d all go, ‘There’s an interestin’ man with a hat on him.’ If I walked in, it’d be, ‘Will yeh look at tha’ fuckin’ eejit with the hat.’ An’ that’s the big difference between us an’ Leonard Cohen. We couldn’t even start bein’ cool an’ Leonard never even had to try.

  9. iRobert
    Posted November 16, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Though I love it, I can only listen to Leonard Cohen’s music for a few days or weeks at a time. I’m usually drawn back to it by some depressing experience. The voices that keep us company when we are at our lowest might be the ones we hold most dear. I’ll miss his romantic bluntness.

  10. Patrick
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    He could have thought of a more solid tune than Easter Parade to mention.
    Remember, for example.

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