So long Leonard, a poetic cham­pion

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - OPINION - Josh Glancy

LEONARD Co­hen, who died last week, had a rare gift for con­vey­ing the deep­est emo­tions in his songs.

In July this year Leonard Co­hen found out that his old friend Mar­i­anne Ihlen was dy­ing of can­cer. They had not seen each other for many years, but they had been lovers once. In­deed Ihlen was the muse for one of Co­hen’s most fa­mous songs, So Long Mar­i­anne.

Co­hen swiftly dis­patched a let­ter that reached Ihlen on her deathbed. “Well Mar­i­anne it’s come to this time when we are re­ally so old and our bod­ies are fall­ing apart and I think I will fol­low you very soon,” he wrote. “Know that I am so close be­hind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”

He knew the end was com­ing, then. Late last month he re­leased You Want It Darker, a haunt­ing farewell al­bum. He died, at the age of 82, as he lived, pure class to the end.

Co­hen was al­ways an un­likely rock star: the failed poet, the singer who could not sing, the mid­dle-class scion of a Mon­treal suit-mak­ing dy­nasty who be­came an icon.

He came to promi­nence as a mu­si­cian in 1967 when he re­leased his first al­bum, Songs of Leonard Co­hen. His mu­si­cal po­etry gained a cult fol­low­ing and he was cham­pi­oned by Judy Collins, the first of many stars to cover his mu­sic.

In fact ev­ery­one has cov­ered Co­hen at some point El­ton John, U2, Nick Cave be­cause he al­ways had the best lyrics. His most fa­mous songs, Suzanne, So Long Mar­i­anne, Bird on the Wire and of course Hal­lelu­jah will live on as long as peo­ple con­tinue to play and record mu­sic. His melodies were elo­quent, pro­found and dis­tinc­tive, al­ways de­liv­ered in a grav­elly tone that de­noted a long and event­ful life.

Bird on the Wire al­ways felt like the song that best ex­pressed Co­hen’s own feel­ings about his itin­er­ant life: “Like a bird on the wire,” he sings, “Like a drunk in a mid­night choir / I have tried in my way to be free.”

For de­spite his even­tual fame and suc­cess Co­hen was for­ever the out­sider try­ing to be free, strange and am­biva­lent. As an ado­les­cent he would wan­der the streets of Mon­treal at night con­sumed with rest­less en­ergy. He left his bour­geois child­hood be­hind, but al­ways dressed like a pro­vin­cial un­der­taker, de­scrib­ing him­self in song as “a lazy bas­tard liv­ing in a suit”.

Co­hen never fit­ted well into a band or a scene. He was al­his ways mov­ing on, tak­ing the show else­where. He lived in Green­wich Vil­lage dur­ing its 1960s hey­day, but it was al­ways Bob Dy­lan who had the lime­light.(The two shared a mu­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion.)

Peo­ple fell in love eas­ily with Co­hen. There were many women in­clud­ing Ihlen, the ac­tress Re­becca De Mor­nay and the artist Suzanne El­rod.

He even had a fling with Ja­nis Jo­plin, which be­came im­mor­talised in his song Chelsea Ho­tel.

But amid these pas­sion­ate en­gage­ments Co­hen some­times strug­gled to love back. He of­ten be­came rest­less. He loved non­de­script ho­tel rooms and star­ing out of win­dows, as though al­ways look­ing for another place to wan­der to.

For a long time he also had lim­ited recog­ni­tion as a mu­si­cian. He was fre­quently branded a mis­ery min­strel and found only a lim­ited au­di­ence out­side core fans.

Co­hen’s pro­found words pro­vided so­lace for so many of his fans, but he never seemed able to find peace for him­self. He strug­gled with drug abuse, hated go­ing on tour and suf­fered from de­pres­sion, of­ten re­treat­ing from the world for long stays at the Mount Baldy Zen Cen­tre in Cal­i­for­nia, a Bud­dhist monastery where he would med­i­tate and seek to con­quer the dark­ness that gnawed away at him.

It was the monastery that saved him. As Co­hen’s ca­reer stalled in the 1990s he joined Mount Baldy and spent five years there deal­ing with crip­pling de­pres­sion. Even­tu­ally the veil lifted and Co­hen’s sec­ond com­ing be­gan.

He was spurred on in 2004 when it emerged that his man­ager of 17 years, Kel­ley Lynch, had stolen mil­lions of dol­lars from his re­tire­ment fund.

So a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Co­hen hit the road. He was re­vi­talised, as­sem­bling a su­perb band and writ­ing some of his best mu­sic. Fi­nally he seemed to have let go of the pain that had haunted him all those years.

Fi­nally he could smile, skip and dance his way around the stage, re­joice in be­ing alive and bril­liant. Mil­lions of fans, old and new, flocked to see him around the world. – The Sun­day Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.