"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Music Tuesday: Memorial for Leonard Cohen

The singer-songwriter-poet-novelist Leonard Cohen passed away last week and I really want to commemorate the occasion.  I loved his music.  From the LA Times

Leonard Cohen, a singer-songwriter whose literary sensibility and elegant dissections of desire made him one of popular music’s most influential and admired figures for four decades, has died. He was 82.

“Unmatched in his creativity, insight, and crippling candor, Leonard Cohen was a true visionary whose voice will be sorely missed,” said his manager Robert Kory, confirming Cohen’s death in statement. “He leaves behind a legacy of work that will bring insight, inspiration, and healing for generations to come.”

The cause of death was not released.

It was not released, but it was cancer. 

It has amazed me how many people have never heard of Leonard Cohen, or if they have they no so little of his music.  He is sort of described as the Canadian Bob Dylan because his early compositions were also folk and because his lyrics were highly poetic.  In my review of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature I stated how and explained why most song lyrics are not poetry and that is still the case with Cohen, but frankly I think Cohen’s lines are much closer to poetic than Dylan’s.  The LA times article continues:

In songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Hallelujah,” and in his poems and two novels, the Montreal-born artist provided a rarefied alternative to more accessible troubadours, employing meticulous language to plumb the vagaries of the human condition.

His dry, monotone voice, which over the years deepened to a cigarette-charred whisper, contributed to Cohen’s popular image as a depressed — and depressing — artist. He teasingly alluded to that stereotype in one of his songs, referring to “the patron saint of envy and the grocer of despair.”

Cohen’s last LP, October’s  “You Want It Darker,” reflected a deep awareness of his mortality.

It had been reported that Cohen had been ill for some time, and he knew his October album, “You want It Darker” would be his last.  In that title song, he repeats the line, “I’m ready my Lord,” know he has reached an emotional end to his life as well as whatever physical ailments were curtailing him. 

There were so many Catholic allusions and imagery in Cohen’s songs, I had thought he might have been a convert.  He grew up as an Orthodox Jew and lived out his life as a sort of unorthodox Jew, though observant of the Sabbath laws.  He was also heavily involved with Buddhism, and actually was ordained a Buddhist monk.  It’s hard to say how devout he was though since he never married and had two children out of wedlock.  Still religion factors into many of his songs, and he held a high regard for Jesus.  From the Wikipedia entry:

Cohen showed an interest in Jesus as a universal figure, saying, "I'm very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says 'Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek' has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness...A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I'm not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.”

I’ve never read any of Cohen’s poetry, and certainly not his novels.  But given how highly artful his music is, I would imagine so would be his literary endeavors. 

The first verses that inspired him were Bible passages and the liturgy at the synagogue he attended with his parents and his sister, Esther. He wrote poems as a youngster, and in his teens he pursued his fondness for country music by forming a group called the Buckskin Boys.

The written word prevailed, and Cohen attended Montreal’s McGill University as an English major. After graduating in 1955, he joined the city’s thriving literary scene and published his first volume of poetry, “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” in 1956.

A second collection, “The Spice Box of Earth,” earned acclaim when it appeared in 1961, and was followed by the autobiographical novel “The Favourite Game” in 1963.

In 1960, Cohen bought a house on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote his second novel, “Beautiful Losers,” a sexual and spiritual phantasmagoria that brought him to wider critical and public attention, with comparisons to James Joyce and Henry Miller.

Despite the growing prestige, Cohen found it hard to make a living, so he started writing songs. He intended to move to Nashville, but when he stopped in New York he was seduced by the city’s folk music scene.

So let’s sample some of Cohen’s music.  I particularly like this early song about the Sisters of Mercy nuns.

In the 1970s and 80s, Cohen broke out of his folk song period to a more sophisticated arranged songs.  His most well-known song remains “Hallelujah.”  Here you see the combination of sophisticated lyrics around a complex melody.

His mid-career music became more cabaret style, and his voice became gravelly and deeper.  I just love “Everybody Knows.”

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Is there a song more undercutting with cynicism?

One of my all-time favorites is “Anthem.”

I think the entire lyrics should be posted on this one.  It’s so moving.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me

(Ring, ring, ring, ring)
Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee

(Ring, ring, ring, ring)
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in
Ring the bells that still can ring (ring the bells that still can ring)
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in

“There is a crack in everything./That’s how the light gets in.”  What is the light symbolic for?  God?  Truth?  It gets into everything.

Finally another of my favorites is “Dance Me To The End Of  Love.”  Though on the surface this is a love song, but strangely it is about the Holocaust.  

One last clip (I can’t resist) should come from his last album.  I really love his “Traveling Light.”

Finally, if you are still so interested, here is the last interview Cohen gave before his death.  It also includes a lot of biographical background.  It’s lengthy but fascinating. 

Eternal rest onto him.  He was such a good soul.  


  1. May he rest in peace.

    God bless you, Manny.

  2. Well done Manny even if your last video was not allowed because of copyright by "The New Yorker"... but then again maybe it is only in Canada... Pity! LOL

    I forget how many years ago and/or where "IT" took place but I politely disagreed with someone saying in so many words that Leonard Cohen considered The Holy Dove to be a "She"...

    Long story short... "IT" was agreed at that time that Leonard was not definitely talking about "The Holy Spirit" but then again nowadays most people would probably agree with Leonard Cohen that there's a crack in every thing and that's how "The Light gets in"...

    God Bless his soul.

    P.S. On November 11th I took off my old screen save her, "I" mean saver and placed a Picture of Leonard Cohen and for what "IT" is worth, his picture is still there.

    God Bless you and your family Manny

    1. Thank you for commenting Victor. The last video was also not allowed for me now. Oh well. You can search it on youtube.