(I wrote this rather late. Like lots of these blog posts, it is just mumbling really and likely to be error strewn)
“I no longer have the voice that says ‘you’re fucking up’, that’s a tremendous blessing really”
(from a New Yorker profile piece on Leonard Cohen in late October)
The great troubadours who accompanied our fraught youth and fragile romantic hopes are now preparing us for death with their final works. It seemed to start with Johnny Cash’s later American Recordings, then this year with Bowie’s Blackstar, and now Leonard Cohen’s final, beautiful record “You Want It Darker”. A great artist moves on and moves us with them, they are not stuck still singing about the things that were in their teenage pocketbook. This is why I listen to Nick Cave a lot more now than I listen to Morrissey. Much as I enjoyed Life is a Pigsty, it was still the Morrissey of “MUM! It’s so unfair”.
Foolishly looking a social media at 2am, placing duct tape over any corner of the screen that reminded me that Donald Trump really will be the next US president, I saw a tweet that said, “Leonard Cohen is dead, 2016 can really fuck off now” or words to that effect, from the comedian Nick Doody. As it wasn’t trending yet, my 21st Century mind saw this as unconfirmed.
It soon was.
There had been more Leonard Cohen than usual in the last week. On the way back from Margate Winter Gardens, I had been listening to his new album. On Tuesday, I had been reading his collection, The Energy of Slaves. Yesterday, I reread his profile piece in the New Yorker.
My reaction is all selfishness. That had never been a time in my life when I had wanted so much to hear more Leonard Cohen, now “You Want it Darker” would not be the most recent, it would be the last. Like Blackstar, with the news of his death, the words and voice of the album became more potent, not just for tonight, but for every return listen. He seemed prepared, even if we weren’t.
My first memories of Leonard Cohen were as references in The Young Ones.
“He’s gonna get us and turn us all into vampires! And we’ll all be dead and yet still alive! Like Leonard Cohen!”
“I won’t say anything because no one ever listens to me anyway, I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record “
Both were lines from the miserable hippy, Neil.
I probably thought Leonard Cohen was a dull and miserable thing then.
When I was 18, I saw First We Take Manhattan at 2am on ITV’s Night Network, and I’m Your Man was my first Cohen purchase on vinyl.
I don’t go into a mad flurry of purchasing everything he had, but every time I was in old Edinburgh Fopp on the hill, and I saw his discounted back catalogue, I’d think, “I’ll need that, and buy another one”.
The tribute album, I’m Your Fan, which included Pixies, REM, Nick Cave, Robert Forster and John Cale, sealed it all.
In Atom Egoyan’s layered and revelatory masterpiece, Exotica, one of the lead characters works in an arthouse strip club where she strips to Everybody Knows. Every film that uses a Leonard Cohen song immediately gets awarded an extra star in my film rating system. What was it that i saw at the Curzon that ended with Avalanche? That is the song I have played the most until the stylus wore its way through to the other side.
An old NME journalist reviewed a reissue of Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue. He said that he had been sniffy of this country album when he was a writer in his 20s, hoping for more frenetic new wave, but now he was in his 40s, A Good Year for the Roses made perfect sense. Leonard Cohen makes more sense as we grow older.
One of the greatest sites I have seen on a stage, was the smile on Leonard Cohen’s face when he took to the stage at Glastonbury in 2008. He followed Neil Diamond, who had performed exactly the kind of wonderful set you would expect from him. Cohen brought something different, a beatific joy to the field of exhausted, joyous people who had come to praise him. For many, including me, this would be the first time we saw him, having imagined he would not return from his monkish retreat.
He seemed so uniquely at ease on that stage with tens of thousands watching him. He emitted a blissful joy. His final albums are brimming with words so carefully chosen, so delicately sewn together, so beautifully spoken, that he appeared to be an artist prepared for this end, even though in final interviews, he said he wanted more.
We can continue to learn from him.
Those of us who are godless need a beatific guide every now and again.
I am glad he lost the voice that told him he was fucking up.