November 7th, 2016 is the anniversary of the passing of Leonard Cohen. He showed up on the planet on September 21, 1934. His music and poetry were introduced to the world one summer in Greece while he took a break from art school. I really didn’t get to know him until my mid-twenties. And, I truly felt like I knew him—the parts he shared. I think that artists, when they put their art out there, when it’s authentic it’s like a piece of them. And if they share their art well you feel like you know them. That kind of sharing is intimate and sometimes even familiar.
Cohen with me at school
In my early years of teaching, I had a poetry book of Leonard Cohen’s on my desk. A student asked, “Is this what you read?” I replied “Yes. Would you like to look at it?” He nonchalantly shrugged—disinterested. He picked it up, and flipped the pages and then put it back. “Poetry.” The word was stated. “Well, I guess you’ve got to read something.” It was more than something but he was just a kid and in his youth he certainly wasn’t ready for it.
A year later in a drama class, another student borrowed Stranger Music from me during class. When he returned it to my desk he asked with awkward hesitation who gave me the book. I answered “My husband?” I couldn’t help but put a question mark on the end of the statement. Why would he even ask where it came from? “Good book.” He nodded. The boy made a quick exit. During the break I open the book and there on the inside cover my husband (at the time) had written some lyrics. No wonder that kid was awkward! A wee bit more passion that he expected directed at me.
But a man never got a woman back not by begging on his knees or I’d crawl to you baby and I’d fall at your fee and I’d howl at your beauty like a dog in heat and I’d claw at your heart and I’d tear at your sheet and I’d say please I’m your man.Excerpt from I’m Your Man
All the times Leonard Cohen was there
The first time I saw Mr. Cohen in concert and he was everything I expected. I sang along to all the familiar songs, his voice like molasses.
I remembered listening to Famous Blue Raincoat (Tori Amos’s version) on repeat while I healed from my first husband leaving me. I wrote the lyrics in my sketchbook enough times to feel like a bit of psycho. That song will always remind me of snow falling, candles, cold winters, aching hearts and dark living rooms. Between my major relationships, I sang along with all the musicians on Tower of Song who admired him as much as I did. My bartender friend, Bob, talked me into the depth of the song Suzanne. And I would sit alone reading his poems, swooning.
Intimate words and U2
On the Elvis Costello Show Bono and The Edge from U2 spoke about lyrics. They said that good lyrics are simple and that simplicity lends itself to intimacy. Good lyrics are intimate. Bono said that Leonard Cohen was very much a master in this area. He was able to use the simplest words to evoke strong emotions.
The last time
I saw Leonard one more time—the last time. I went alone. There is something to be said for seeing a performance or a movie by yourself. There’s no reaction to or with the person who accompanies you. When you’re alone, it’s just you with all your own feels. And that last concert, I definitely got my money’s worth in the feels department. He was even better than the first time. He was older but still full of life. It was a week night and at about 11:00 pm he told the audience that if they were tired they could go home but he was going to stay for a while longer.
I don’t think anyone left.
He confessed that he didn’t love Hallelujah (as much as I did) I’m glad he wrote it. I’m glad he sang it. At both concerts I was in love with the depth of his performance. His voice like dark coffee poured into my throat with my memories, slow and deep and dark and rich.
His grand finale
His last song, the finale, he recited 1000 Kisses Deep. I was moved to tears. Not the sobbing ugly cry but that slow-moving emotional ebb that happens when art speaks to you.
He died—November 7, 2016. He’s now on the other side hopefully still stringing words together and wooing angels.
Thank you, Leonard Cohen for your words and your passion and holding my hand through some memories.
An excerpt from “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from The Book of Longing:
And fragrant is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep—
And sometimes when the night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up our hearts and go
A thousand kisses deep
The ponies run, the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while and then it’s done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it’s real
A thousand kisses deep
*I took the photo at his last concert.