By now I’m sure every music lover has heard the news. Leonard Cohen died yesterday. I once had a bio that had the words “Leonard Cohen better live forever”, but despite my attachment to this elder statesman of song, I’m having a hard time conjuring tears at his passing. Tears seem to come to me out of frustration or fear these days. Maybe I’ve lost too many loved ones, and too many fellow cancer fighters. Maybe the well is just too dry in 2016 – the year of lost idols. Grief is now a heavy, hollow thing and strangely dry given a watery nature.
Or maybe it’s something else? Maybe I’m holding on tightly to the idea of death being another beginning. I’m in a state of unsettled unknowing that’s more consuming than the sadness I feel. And besides… Leonard Cohen’s passing is not a tragic or unexpected loss. He knew, he gave us warning, he kept creating for us up until the end.
When I was 17 a bought a rather large sailboat on a romantic whim. I had the means due to an inheritance that felt like it came out of nowhere, and I had this idea in my mind that I wanted to be a sort of ‘Suzanne’. “She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China”, was me in my little galley with my floating propane stove, my copper kettle and my Blue Willow teapot making tea for any passing stranger who seemed interesting.
I’ve been playing that song for years at gig after gig, closing my eyes and conjuring those days… not much aboard but my books, my guitar, my cat and my teapot. But does a songwriter really need much more? I, in fact, wrote an ode to Suzanne called Our Lady of the Harbour, imagining what she would say if she had a chance to reply to Leonard.
Years ago I fell in love with a version of Hallelujah by an artist named Jeff Buckley. I was devastated when he died far too early in life after drowning in the Mississippi. And then, I battled a near drowning of my own. I couldn’t believe I made it out of that situation alive and was consumed by confusion as to why he drowned and I didn’t. A week later I sang a bride down the aisle to Hallelujah, this time trying not to cry out of gratitude and the beauty and mystery of it all.
I’m so glad I got a chance to see Leonard Cohen in concert when he passed through Victoria a few years back. I had the sense then that it might be a last chance type situation. We couldn’t expect him to tour forever… and despite my demand in my bio, we couldn’t expect him to stay here with us forever either.
I admit I’ve been avoidant of his latest release. I’m not ready for the final words. I know they will be there waiting when I’m ready. You Want It Darker. I don’t, I really don’t. Not right now. I hope you are basking in a brilliant, eternal light.
Rest in peace, Leonard Cohen.