Leonard Cohen once quipped that only in Canada could he win Vocalist of the Year. It’s true that he lacks the skillful range of melodic control we might expect in a pop music superstar. Yet his voice does have something, a unique haunting monochrome that resists overproduction and background noise. As one of my mother’s favourite musicians, Leonard Cohen’s voice filled my childhood evenings. I still associate his voice with the crackly static of turntable needle and cold rain beating against the windows at night.
Leonard Cohen’s celebrity has increased as of late, partly because of his 1984 song, “Hallelujah.” It’s true, the song’s stunning popularity is largely because of artists that have covered the song and a number of films that have used this lovely song in their soundtrack. These covers have taken Canada’s folk poet global, and there has been a bit of a Leonard Cohen revival for a generation that might have missed him. This is particularly intriguing since the song’s content–David’s adultery with Bathsheeba–conveys such doubt and darkness that it seems to betray the worshipful chorus.
While “Hallelujah” is certainly the most intense and well known Leonard Cohen song, it is not my absolute favourite. Actually, I prefer the Rufus Wainwright version to the original. My favourite period for Leonard Cohen was that early folk period, the late 60s before he became a star. Still today, decades after I first heard it, I am in love with “The Stranger Song”.
While he is known as the Restless Pilgrim with sad songs like “So Long Marianne” and “Dance Me to the End of Love,” I have never found his music to be sorrowful or dismal. Perhaps it is because it was so much a part of my childhood, I have always found Cohen’s doleful melodies to be uplifting. Since my mom passed away earlier this year, Leonard Cohen’s music has taken on a new meaning for me. Now, Canada’s poet laureate of love creates a new space for memory. One of my mother’s greatest wishes was to see Leonard Cohen live. When he finally came to town a few years ago, she wept through the entire show.
Leonard Cohen died a week ago, on Nov 7th. Just a month earlier we had an internment service and memorial for my mother. At this small, quiet gathering of friends and family, my sister read Cohen’s poem, “Take this Waltz.” In very few words Cohen is able to capture so very much. It feels like 2016 is a year where we have lost so much and the loss of Leonard Cohen closes off a period for me. So long Leonard Cohen. Your pen has finally stilled.