By Gary Cordwell
The death of the great Leonard Cohen, surely the only lyrical competitor to Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, was announced yesterday on his official Facebook page. His final album, ‘You Want It Darker’, was released a mere three weeks ago and, like Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’, will now be seen as his goodbye letter. There is no question mark in its title, it’s a statement. An admittance and dignified acceptance of life’s only inevitability. Its artwork is almost entirely black and song titles such as ‘Traveling Light’ and ‘Leaving The Table’ leave no doubt as to what had been on Cohen’s mind of late.
But then the black clouds of mortality were always lurking in the background for Cohen – love and death, he’d always pondered the biggies. Already a recognised poet and author, he decided to become a songwriter and released his seminal debut in 1967 at the age of 33. It set his template – “the godfather of gloom”, his none-more-dark, funereally paced masterpieces begged to be listened to with the lights out, accompanied by whisky and a contemplative demeanour. They were always, however (as was the man himself), darkly, impeccably cool and shot through with a bone-dry, self-depreciating streak of black humour.
His albums grew in class, assurance and sophistication. Articulate, arch and enigmatic. Indeed, that sense of mystery left them wide open to interpretation and his songs have been re-examined, turned upside down and covered by everyone from Judy Collins to Rufus Wainwright and, most famously (and perfectly) Jeff Buckley.
And it was a life well lived. He took a time-out for most of the 90s to become a Buddhist monk, living on Mount Baldy in California and becoming Jikan (The Silent One). Then came the re-emergence and late period renaissance – born, partly, from being ripped off by his ex-partner and former manager. Cohen took to the road (in lieu of having a pension fund – despite winning his court case he was never repaid what he was owed) while releasing a string of brilliant albums. His triumphant appearance at Glastonbury in 2008 was one of that year’s high points. He was the Mount Rushmore of singer-songwriters…iconic, revered, magnificent.
His back catalogue is superlative – ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird On A Wire’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Tower Of Song’, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ – most would donate a major organ just to have written any one of these. Poet, author, musician, wit, holy man, ladies man and suit wearer extraordinaire. he may have been ready but he will still be missed.
“I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game”
RIP Leonard Cohen