Last night at around 10.30pm I was driving home after a long and boring shift at work. I needed something to lift my spirits so I put “Field Commander Cohen – Tour Of 1979” on the stereo and spent the next thirty minutes absorbed in Leonard Cohen’s mellifluous tones, which have always had the power to soothe my savage beast. By the time I got home I had turned the volume all the way up and was raucously singing along to “Memories”.
So won’t you let me see
I said “Won’t you let me see”
I said “Won’t you let me see”
Your naked body?”
And I was happy.
This morning I woke to the news that Leonard Cohen had died. It was almost as if I had known. During my drive home last night, listening to him singing I’d had what you might call a “moment”. I reminisced that it had always been a dream of mine to see him perform live. Having recently listened to his newest album, “You Want It Darker” it had started to dawn on me that his live performances might not carry the same magic as they had once done. While his new songs still hold great weight and meaning, his delivery of them had become laboured. At the age of 82, that’s only natural. So with his live album playing in my car, I took that dream of seeing him sing, and I released it. I let it go. And it was OK.
Many people say that while they love Cohen’s music, they find it depressing. It has always had the opposite effect on me. They say that they love his lyrics but that his voice is terrible. I love his voice, especially when he was younger. It has been accused of being plaintive and thin but it was the perfect vehicle for the messages he delivered. And beneath the tremor lay a bedrock of solid, baritone strength. The female and the male in harmony.
I was introduced to Leonard Cohen in 1998. I was living in the US and working as an au pair. It was kind of a surreal time. When I wasn’t working I was spending every minute with a boy I’d met called Jeremy. We lived on a tiny sailboat. I was writing a lot. I was homesick, and it had started to snow. And one day Jeremy played me Leonard Cohen. It was a singular moment in my life. I was inspired, I was stirred and I was awakened. I became obsessed. Jeremy said I must be “Teflon-coated in happiness” because I listened to nothing else for weeks, and still didn’t want to slash my wrists. But I wasn’t “happy”. Cohen’s music simply resonated at the same wavelength as my life energy. I was buoyed and enriched by it, even the saddest stuff. Leonard Cohen entered my soul, and allowed me to feel peace. He became my saviour (my father, my lover, my confessor, my protector). I never said it wasn’t complicated.
When I returned to Australia I continued to devour his music. I discovered his poetry. His novels. My love for him deepened. I sent him letters, and poems. I never heard back from him personally, but I did get emails from his management saying that he was receiving them. This delighted me, and still does.
I was crushed when David Bowie died earlier this year. And I was gutted when Prince passed away. Last month, I was saddened when a young Aussie musician, Fergus Miller, took his own life. With Leonard Cohen it feels different. He taught me to live with my melancholy, and to have faith in it. I do feel grief, but I also feel truly embraced by him in his death. Like a warm blanket in the cold. My love affair with Leonard has always been with his words, and the feelings they evoked. Those words, and feelings, will always be with me in my heart. Coursing through my blood. I don’t mourn the loss of his corporeal body because his music taught me that truth lies not in the flesh, which is weak and transient, but in love. And love is eternal.
Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song