My parent’s generation remembers where they were when they first heard that John F. Kennedy was shot.
But for me and probably many others of my generation the standout memory for me is the first time I heard a Leonard Cohen song.
I was at camp and a Walkman was passed to my bunk.
And there is no way I could have been prepared for what I was about to hear because the music that came pouring into my ears had more passion, more love, more feeling and all around more coolness then I could have imagined existed.
The song was Famous Blue Raincoat and as I listened to Leonard Cohen reminisce about someone he loved but couldn’t help, I couldn’t wait to grow up and cause some drama of my own.
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
But Leonard Cohen’s music is often about more than heartbreak and loves won and lost.
If we listen and let the music seep in there is so much waiting for us.
The first meditation retreat I attended was not at all what you would call traditional: mornings began with music and movement and afternoons included talking circles, microphone and all.
On the first morning the teacher played Leonard Cohen’s Anthem on his laptop as we moved our bodies around the room. And even though I had heard the song many times before, that morning I heard the words as if for the first time and I knew that I was cracked and that I could only hope Mr. Cohen was right about the light, coming in and all.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
And now—closer to the end of his life then the beginning—Leonard Cohen doesn’t stop writing. He doesn’t stop inspiring us.
His new songs may not have the edge the old ones are overflowing with but they are full of a lifetime of wisdom and we would all be smart to listen.
In Show Me the Place he tells us,
The troubles came
I saved what I could save
A thread of light
A particle a wave
But there were chains
So I hastened to behave
There were chains
So I loved you like a slave
But what I can’t fathom is what would it even be like to have such an extensive body of work as Leonard Cohen? He’s touched on love of course and sex and passion and death.
But he also isn’t scared to tell it as it is.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that 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
But you know what I really love about Leonard Cohen? That everything is part of it.
He can spend five years studying at a Zen monastery, but still partake in the enjoyment of a bottle of wine and parent his children and travel through the depths of depression and have all his money stolen by his manager and write and sing and about it all.
In Closing Time we hear,
Ah we’re lonely, we’re romantic
And the cider’s laced with acid
And the holy spirit’s crying, “where’s the beef?”
And the moon is swimming naked
And the summer night is fragrant
With a mighty expectation of relief
So we struggle and we stagger
Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime
And I swear it happened just like this:
A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The gates of love they budged an inch
I can’t say much has happened since
But closing time
And if there’s more to say then that I don’t know what it would be.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard