So Long Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

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.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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19 Responses to So Long Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for this, and its little anthology! Having lived with lots of (car) radios on, at odd times, over many a year, I never quite know who I know beyond their name, or just which of their songs, and so with Leonard Cohen. But I did not know (or really attend to?) “Hallelujah” till it was a selection at my mother-in-law’s funeral, a year ago, something even more “particularly intriguing”! (She was much more a lover of things like operetta, and popular music from the 1930s-50s, as well as Gregorian chant.) And it was the song itself – though not so long afterwards I encountered a sort of ‘liturgical’ version, not a translation in Dutch, but a setting of new text! (Have you encountered that in English, too?)


  2. L.A. Smith says:

    I have to say I have never been a fan of Leonard Cohen….at least not his music. I really appreciate the words he wrote and honour him as a poet. However the one exception is Hallelujah. That is a masterpiece of both music and lyrics, about the brokenness of human love that we all experience at some time in our lives, and yet…the hallelujah to God for His perfect love. That’s my interpretation, anyway…. My absolute favourite version is kd lang’s singing of it at the Vancouver Olympics:


  3. Leonard Cohen plays a different role in the chronology of my life. I was in my teens in an English boarding school in the early 70s. I was there thanks to a brief and astonishing period of democracy in my country in which I as the son of a farm worker shared a house with the sons of senior military and one boy with cabinet ministers and an ambassador to the USA in his family. And we lived a life of complete egalitarianism which included our vinyl record collections which included Leonard Cohen’s early albums. That means that I listened to him on dark evenings with the kind of dark moods that seemed to fit with my own.
    I listened today to a wonderful late interview with him on YouTube. It expresses his life long spiritual search that he approached with vigour and rigour. At the very least his life calls on us not to play at life with spirituality as a desirable adjunct but not an essential. He also calls us to a serious commitment to a great spiritual tradition. And his life shows that such a commitment does not free us from darkness and failure but it does transform them.
    I am grateful for his life and pray that he may rest in peace and that light perpetual may shine upon him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always remember thinking that this could be Jesus speaking to anyone who was backsliding or “walking the occasional old road” …
      “There was a time when you let me know
      What’s really going on below
      But now you never show that to me, do you?
      But remember when I moved in you
      And the holy dove was moving too
      And every breath we drew was Hallelujah”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think the poem has a good amount of fluidity, but I would hate to lose the tension of faith and faithlessness (or fitful faith) in the piece. A “backslider” voice is not all that different from a lost lover, I suppose.


        • I think we both agree that the poem is voicing the cry of a “fitful” human being’s – “faith IN Jesus Christ” (and this verse is attempting to speak from the mystery of the “Faith OF Jesus Christ) which inevitably includes “walking the occasional old road” and our God is a jealour God and lover, so I am interested to know how you think it could lose its tension between faith and faithlessness.


    • That’s a cool story, Stephen. One great think about popular music is that is not–or need not be–a tool of elitism (though I recognize it is used as a boundary marker for many subcultures).
      I didn’t know about his spiritual search. He is a classic womanizer. Thanks for adding that perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I seem to be doing a lot of autobiographical reflection at the moment. I hope it is not the beginning of a journey towards becoming a boring old man. My wife will let me know!
        I think there is a lot still to reflect upon in the relationship between our sexuality and desire and the spiritual search. I have been struck in reading Sorina Higgins’ blog on Charles Williams that Williams makes a huge effort to “get it” but I don’t think he quite succeeds. Maybe that is the point. I think that Williams was right to say (if I understand him aright) that we get as close as we will ever get to the Mystery in our relationships with one another and in the relationship between eros and agape but I think that any attempt at definition will always be elusive.
        Did I come to your blog too late to read your reflections on The Four Loves? I would like to do so.


  4. Diana Dahart says:

    Brenton….may I share this on my FB page. I have many LC friends from around the world. They have all been in descending or ascending levels of grief for the past week. I know how Janet loved Leonard’s music. I came to him late (2008) but from that moment on his music and his poetry became the fabric of my life. Personally I think he was the poet of the past century. I met him twice and he was the most amazing, beautiful man. Please let me know…Dave and I appreciate all your blogs, but for me….this was special.

    Hugs, Diana xxxxx

    On Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 8:14 AM, A Pilgrim in Narnia wrote:

    > Brenton Dickieson posted: “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 ” >


  5. Pingback: So Long Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) — A Pilgrim in Narnia | theBREAD

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    There must be lots of interesting things being produced about his work and perspectives at the moment – two interesting things by countrymen of yours I’ve run into, are by an Anglican priest, David Phillips, on ‘The Mystical Marriage in Song of Songs & Leonard Cohen: The consummation of love in Christ’, with some especial attention to Cohen’s ‘Alexandra leaving’ including what he does with Cavafy’s ‘The God Abandons Antony’ – a talk, but perhaps it will be posted online in some form, and by Mark Steyn, on ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ in the context of the history of rimes for ‘love’ and the song’s background and how it is vitally related to, but not simply dependent on that.

    Liked by 1 person

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