The angels may have forgotten to pray for us, but they have not forgotten Leonard Cohen (1934-2016). In a year when fellow song icons Natalie Cole, Otis Clay, Prince and David Bowie also passed away, Cohen looked down on us with wise eyes and thoughts that crossed dimensions of time and space. With a long-spanning career and followers from all over the world, upon his passing Cohen was sorely missed as a musician and thought leader but his music lives on to this day and keeps inspiring others. Fans of all ages celebrate the Canadian singer by playing his music over and over again and reading his poems that tell stories we can all learn from; pearls of wisdom as we delve deeper into the dark mysteries of life and partly understand ourselves better, discovering a connection between very personal human emotions and movements and events that have shaped history.
Such has been the impact of Cohen’s all-pervasive thoughts and insights that composers and musicians have tried imitating him on countless occasions (there are multiple versions of Hallelujah circulating around. Originally a poem written by Cohen in 1974 it features as a song in the album Various Positions, 1984). We are inspired and touched by Cohen’s deeply spiritual, reflective visionary poetry and slowly meditative, narrative songs. These are alternated with more dynamic beats as in masterful song Democracy. Cohen fearlessly and honestly addresses topics of universal importance that we can all identify with and relate to. Themes revolve around love, sex, politics, life and death, light and darkness. With a deeply masculine, magical voice Cohen teaches us about life in a way unparalleled by other gurus and poets yet he refreshingly does so without euphemisms; in a matter-of-fact and achingly sincere manner. Only last year (before the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt) saw the Jewish Museum of New York organise the exhibition A Crack in Everything. A similarly inspired and celebratory Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Arts Centre (Nikolaj Kunsthal) staged their own version of the exhibition towards the end of last year and have decided to prolong it until August 2020. Drawing crowds from all over the world, these two exhibitions honour the Canadian singer ̶ his family steeped in Orthodox Judaism ̶ through visually and auditorily enticing exhibits that draw us in and bring us into a different, more complete universe.
Active until the very end and still with a story to tell, Cohen released the album You Want It Darker at age 82. The Jewish Standard (The Times of Israel Partner in New Jersey) congratulated Cohen on his birthday on September 21, its news editor writing – with regard to the signature song You want it darker:
”We immediately added the song to our seasonal Spotify playlist, and we’re still mulling over its meaning. But this fresh reminder of how little time we have in this mortal plane prompts us to issue this seasonal response: ‘And a happy birthday and New Year to you too, Mr. Cohen’”.
Less than a month after the album was released Cohen passed on but his voice keeps haunting and seducing us, with words that engage and call for reflection. Popular Problems was voted one of the best albums of 2014 by the Rolling Stones magazine. In subsequent touching, philosophical and experimental You Want It Darker Cohen crosses countries and continents. Arabic music is alternated with choral tunes and the evocative sound of the violin can be heard in beautiful song Traveling Light. Cohen’s words: “Au revoir, I’m running late, they closed the bar …” seems to refer to his own imminent departure, but as was often the case in his work, into the darkness enters a shimmer of light and hope.
With lyrics that range from deeply personal ponderings verging on Buddhism, to statements reflecting fervent political engagement, Cohen’s music transports us to a different realm, transcending boundaries of time and space. Over the course of his brilliant career he produced albums like The Future, Songs of Love and Hate, Songs from a Room, Songs from the Road, Various Positions, Ten New Songs, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, Old Ideas, I’m Your Man, Dear Heather, and Field Commander – each song and album timely and with its own contemporary function to play.
Cohen has left an impressive legacy. Accompanied by his many insights we will hopefully be able to better comprehend and tackle this highly volatile world and as far as possible find some solace and personal peace of mind through enlightening music that soothes the soul and protects us from the storm outside. We can also rest assure that there is a true poet waiting for us high above this world of fever, frenzy and turmoil, as we, too, eventually part from our life as we know it.