“Looks like freedom but it feels like death. It’s something in between. I guess it’s closing time.” – from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song, ‘Closing Time’.
A Brief One by Doug Draper
Posted November 11th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
On a week when that mal-tempered roach with orange hair was elected to the most powerful office in the world, one was at a loss to imagine any news we could be served that would be any worse.
Then late this Thursday night, November 10th, there came the news with the cold wind that Leonard Cohen died at age 82 – just a few months after his beloved old friend and lover Marrianne, whom he immortalized in song, passed away, and just two weeks after the release of his latest album, ‘You Want It Darker’, which has already received critical acclaim around the world as one of the very best albums of the year.
“They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act,” said Leonard Cohen’s son Adam during an interview about his father’s new album in the latest, November 17th edition of Rolling Stone magazine. “If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.”
Leonard Cohen grew up in Montreal, Quebec and attended McGill University as a student there, where he met poet and activist Irving Layton, who became his friend and mentor until he died in 2006.
There is a great moment in Ira B. Nadel’s biography ‘Various Positions’ on Leonard Cohen where a young Leonard goes to Irving for counsel on some plans he has for his future. “Leonard,” responds Layton after hearing his prodigy out, “are you sure you are doing the wrong thing?”
Years later, Cohen would say that as time went on, the teaching part of his relationship with Layton because more of a two-way street. “I taught him how to dress,” said Cohen. “He taught me how to live forever.”
In the 1960s, when Cohen moved from being a straight poet to putting words to music, there were critics who said he had no business singing those words himself.
Two decades later, following the release of ‘I’m Your Man’, one of Cohen’s most popular albums, the narrator of a feature CBC aired on Cohen said his voice was sometimes compared the engine of an old truck trying to turn over on a cold Montreal morning. The following year, when he was presented the Canadian Juno Award for male vocalist of the year, Cohen responded affectionately and with a wry smile; ‘Only in a country like this could I get male vocalist of the year.”
But it is the “epic lyrics,” as one commentator called them in the hours following news of his death, that earned him a headline on the front page of this November 11th edition of The Globe and Mail that read; ‘Leonard Cohen – The storied musician and poet hailed as one of the most visionary artists of his generation, Leonard Cohen transformed ordinary lives into legendary tails.”
So hailed he was that there were those in the art world who argued, right up to the news of his death, that if a songwriter or lyricist was going to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Leonard Cohen was at least as worthy as Bob Dylan, who was named to receive it earlier this fall.
In a recent article, Buffalo News music critic Jeff Miers reported that a few hours after Dylan was named for the prize, Leonard Cohen, who was attending an event for the release of ‘You Want It Darker’, “offered an absolutely killer quote on the topic, saying that the Dylan award ‘is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.’”
Miers went on to describe Cohen as “one of the very few lyricists who might be considered Dylan’s peer.”
To that I say “hallelujah” and leave you with a few lines from one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs.
“Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play. And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on. I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song. …”
Then there are the final few lines that seem so fitting now, and go like this –
“I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back. They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track. But you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone. I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song.”
To enjoy a wonderful CBC archive interview with Leonard Cohen from the late 1980s, click on this link then click on the video – http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canada-honours-cohen .
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