10 Things I Learned From Leonard Cohen

leonard Cohen death photo

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

As you may know, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen died last week “peacefully at his home.” He was 82 years old. We are rarely surprised when an old man dies, and those of us who not only listened to his songs, but also read his interviews now and then, knew that the maestro would soon take his last bow.

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

I could confess that, if banished to a deserted island and allowed to take with me one record only, I’d choose his first, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, or that I’ve listened to all his studio recordings, all 14 of them, or that Live In London is the best live record I have ever heard. Or I could say that his songs have kept me afloat, like it has many others, on the turbulent seas of love or depression, and it would not be an overstatement. But that still wouldn’t capture the essence of what he represented to me.

Write about your life, about your biography of love, but filter everything through the sieve of understanding, until you find the essence of your experience.

His songs enchanted me with the mesmeric rhythm of their poetry and guided me to a place within myself where no other songwriter has taken me. In his lyrics I found a luminous understanding, the wisdom – and sometimes the foolishness – of experience.

Polish a piece of writing, however short, like a gem cutter his diamond. Work on it months, years, and don’t stop until it’s finely polished on all sides. He took 5 years to write Hallelujah, one of the most covered songs of all times.

With Leonard it’s not just about being a fan of his music. There are many other bands and musicians I am a proud fan of, Bob Dylan or Paul Simon included. But with Leonard it’s different. Listening to his songs is a spiritual experience.

Adapt your craft to the times. Leonard Cohen began as a novelist. But in spite of the critical acclaim his books received in Canada and beyond, he didn’t manage to sell enough to support himself. He then turned to music.

After Cohen’s death, I could hear the echoes of his timeless songs, calling me to him again. It was like I had expected it to be.

Don’t entrust your fortune to some asset manager before settling in a Buddhist monastery for a few years, or when you return, you may not find anything left.

I found comfort in his latest album, released three weeks before his death. It has the depth that his best records have. It is dark, but it is the good kind of darkness, that only makes the light more beautiful.

Anchor your life in spirituality. Cohen suffered from depression for most of his life and when asked whether he contemplated suicide he answered that it was his faith that had kept him alive.

It was the old Leonard that I liked most of all, with his self-deprecating humor and husky voice, “deeper than a Siberian coalmine“.

Many things get better with age, including one’s voice.

Through his music and poetry, Leonard Cohen has long transcended his physical boundaries, attaining that permanence reserved to masters, not simply of art, but of life. To me, and to many others he will remain relevant perhaps for the rest of our lives.

Keep the opposite sex near you if you can. Even when they make life’s music biter, it’s a rich kind of torment.

It’s hard to say you will miss someone you can always summon in that intimate space within you where music unfolds.

“Love is the only engine of survival.”

***

Have you listened to Leonard Cohen? What’s your favorite song?

Not everything in quotes is a direct quotation.

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9 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned From Leonard Cohen

  1. My favorite is “Coming Back to You.” I was playing it on guitar Thursday afternoon before any of us knew he was dead. He’s the only lyricist that can be even better than Dylan. Dylan wasnt really a mystic where Leonard certainly was. It’s been an awful year. Glen Fry and David Bowie early this year, then Leonard then Leon Russell three days later. It was great that Dylan won the Nobel and it’s unfortunate that it made barely a dent on FB, for example because everybody was talking about something else. Leonard certainly influenced me when i was writing any kind of poetry or lyrics. We will all miss him.

    1. They were friends, at least for a time, Dylan and Leonard. Actually, Dylan did say to him that in his opinion he was #1, but then Dylan probably considered himself number 0, i.e. beyond immortality. 🙂

  2. Beautiful elegy for an extraordinary human being. As one who has tried his hand at songwriting, I can definitely appreciate what a master craftsman Leonard Cohen was. I wrote an appreciation for him and Leon Russell yesterday. We just lost two of the best wordsmiths ever.

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