Even to talk about one's self at a time like this is a kind of unwholesome luxury. I don't think I've had a darkest hour compared to the dark hours that so many people are involved in right now. Large numbers of people are dodging bombs, having their nails pulled out in dungeons, facing starvation, disease. I mean large numbers of people. So I think we've got to be circumspect about how seriously we take our anxieties today," Leonard Cohen said in an interview published in July, 2009.
Well, he goes out as President-elect Donald Trump comes in. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said: Coincidence is God's way of remaining invisible.
Leonard Cohen will be remembered by the unreliable media as a lugubrious Spock-like troubadour of mournful love songs. Of all the songs that Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded the ones I like most are not, wirh the exception of Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat, love songs. Ever since David Marlow, a Jewish friend with whom I shared a basement flat in Hackney in the early 1970s, introduced me to his work I think I have always preferred the outward Cohen of Story of Isaac to the introspective Cohen of Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. I made my compilation last month after reading David Remnick's monumental interview with the man himself in The New Yorker. All of it is worth reading, twice; but here are the last two paragraphs, an apt post-script, Cohen signing off from the material world:-
"I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not," Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like: ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to co-operate enthusiastically with the process.’ Force yourself to have a sandwich.
“What I mean to say is that you hear the 'Bat Kol.' The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really."
My top twenty Cohen songs are:- Sisters of Mercy: Suzanne: Story of Isaac: Joan of Arc: Famous Blue Raincoat: Hallelujah: Who By Fire: Song of the Partisan: Everybody Knows: Tower of Song: In My Secret Life: Here it Is: By the River's Dark: In the Land of Plenty: The Future: Democracy: Going Home: Show Me the Place: Darkness: You Want it Darker.
Pick any one and you’ll find apposite lines that resonate with the times, trials and tribulations of the reality in which you’re living. The tawdry Trump versus Clinton scrap for the sepulchre of the White House prompted me to nominate You Want it Darker, the title song of Cohen’s latest LP, as the soundtrack for this particular movie. Others might say, ‘Yes, but what about the more sardonic Democracy? Or the ironic but poignant last lines from In the Land of Plenty:- May the light in the land of plenty/ Shine on the truth some day…
But of all Leonard Cohen’s songs I have chosen Going Home to send him on his way. God bless, Mr Cohen.
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube
Without my sorrow
To where it’s better
Without my burden
Behind the curtain
Without the costume
That I wore
He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete
I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
Without my sorrow
To where it’s better