I am not a music critic; I am not a poet. I feel totally inadequate to the task but I also feel compelled, obligated. I owe it to Leonard Cohen. His music has touched me so deeply and so often. So this will be from the heart but if you want a really complete and savvy commentary on Leonard Cohen try the professionals at Rolling Stone or your favorite source.
His words and music found a way into a deep part of me, even when I didn’t understand all the lyrics. But I could feel the pain; I could touch the sadness even the occasional despair. Lots of people describe his music as dark; I won’t argue. But I find an honesty there that resonates with me. It is an honesty that speaks about the limits we all struggle with: time that is finite; joy that is always incomplete no matter how satisfying and filling; longing, yearning never fully realized.
And yet I believe he lived his life abundantly and copiously, never afraid to search for more, for spiritual truth, for the physicality of love in Chelsea hotels and famous blue raincoats. I envy the courage to walk, run, crawl, climb whatever path opens before you. Conventions be dammed. Expectations be trashed. Bring it on.
I love how he fused his Judaism with his world and his work. No pandering or pampering, you had to work to get it. So many of his songs a midrash on Biblical themes, heroes and villains. I think of him as a true “cohen” – a descendant of ancient priests, a grandson of Rabbis. He stands on the generations that went before him: outstretched hands, fingers formed in blessing, shrouded by a prayer shawl of Hallelujah choruses, too powerful to look at, too holy to touch. I think life was like that for him.
For one of my birthdays, Eileen took me to his concert in Vegas and arranged for him to send me an autographed copy of his newest collection of poetry, “Book of Longing”. It gives you a good sense of who he was and is (for me). Try this on
“Anyone who says
I’m not a Jew
Is not a Jew
I’m very sorry
But this decision
So filled with contradictions, so flawed, so stretching for perfection, so inventing and reinventing himself, his art, his music, his words, he lived profusely. That brings comfort and allows me to image him now in the light, for in his words: Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.