Friday, November 11, 2016

Among the Garbage and the Flowers

Well, the hits just keep on coming, don't they, kids?

I can't claim to be a Leonard Cohen fanatic, but what I know of his words and music I respond to as strongly as to that of any other of the greats. "Suzanne," sung so beautifully here by Joan Baez, was probably one of my earliest exposures to his quixotic talent, and then in college the owning and endless playing of Jennifer Warnes's "Famous Blue Raincoat" was a badge of bohemian honor, right up there with adoring Kate Bush and not just the Talking Heads, but Tom Tom Club, too (say what you will, we were eclectic, and we had amazing idols).

Then "Hallelujah" exploded, and suddenly everyone was into Leonard Cohen, one way or another. He's one of those people one assumed would always be around; because we never really knew him young, we didn't really think of him as old. And, as with so many others this implacable year, off he's gone. Given all that's going on, I won't deny that now and then, just as I did all those years ago in some dorm room, I want to travel with him, and I want to travel blind.

But we'll carry on. One thing that I especially appreciate in Cohen's work is the way that he grapples with the language of mystery and spirit, incorporating into his lyrics both the cadence of liturgy and religious imagery that heightens the aura of paradox and painful choice that informs so much of his writing. In "Suzanne," as in "Song of Bernadette, "Joan of Arc," or even "Bird on a Wire," with its drunk in the midnight choir, he writes of people torn between liberty and obligation, what others think and what the self aches for, love - connection - and the ascetic urge for something half autonomy, half abnegation. We try, in our ways, to be free; we long for someone to touch our perfect bodies with their mind. We're baffled, singing hallelujah:

I did my best, it wasn't much 
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch 
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you 
And even though 
It all went wrong 
I'll stand before the Lord of Song 
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.


  1. I will miss Mr. Cohen. I like Judy Collins' version of his song, "Take this Longing".

  2. His voice got richer with age and I have always loved his lyricism.

  3. Cold and broken Hallelujah describes my first love...I'll miss Mr. Cohen and his ability to illuminate the beautiful and the toxic.

  4. A few years ago, I saw his son Adam in concert, opening for Rufus Wainwright in Edinburgh. Adam is a real talent. The only song of his Dad's he covered was 'So Long, Marianne', and the entire audience sang along, in harmony.