I first fell in love with Leonard Cohen's music during my first and only summer in Ottawa. It was a formative and sometimes lonely time for me; I was working late exhausting hours and wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my future. Cohen's music throughout this time was a rock. It kept me thinking about darkness, death, passion and love; it helped me realize that beauty can come from sorrow. That we can touch people and find ways to be touched even when we are at our lowest.
For Cohen, pain and ugliness are part of what makes us human, as he professes in “Anthem”, There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. His deep baritone, his lust, his sadness, his wisdom, and passion were all poured into his work, making his music timeless and provoking.
I’m sure it would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard Cohen’s sublime gospel “Hallelujah”, which apparently took him five years to write. This song was chosen by Choir! Choir! Choir! to memorialize his life in a performance at Christie Pits Wednesday, November 16th. However, personally, I have always had an affinity for “Chelsea Hotel #2”.
The piece was written as a kind of memorial to Janis Joplin, and the brief affair her and Cohen had in that New York hotel. The tone and lyrics are pensive, but not sad, neither shunning nor glorifying their short relationship; it acknowledges a moment shared between two people, while accepting that moment has passed. Cohen’s warm vocals, when paired with the delicate guitar, provides an intimate feeling that I have yet to experience with any other song I’ve ever heard.
Cohen’s passing should come as little surprise to anyone who has followed his latest release,You Want it Darker, the cover of which features Cohen staring from the light into the endless dark void, one arm hanging over. Much like Bowie did, Cohen drew upon his last moments on earth as inspiration for one last album. It presents a deeply religious reflection from Cohen, discussing his misgivings and enthralment with God, and declaring in the title track “Hineni, hineni. I’m ready my lord.” Hineni is the Hebrew word for ‘Here I am’. After decades of philosophizing, Cohen was ready to get his answer.
Leonard Cohen is Canada's great poet, and at a time when heroes are going missing, this one hurts. He will be dearly missed, but so long as we love, hurt, yearn, and hate, he will never be forgotten.