By Nicholas Anderson
It’s too warm for November and the fallen leaves smell wrong because of it. They feel uncertain underfoot, a warm pulp that underlines the fact that the world is off-axis somehow. The world is going to slide in all directions and there’s nothing to measure anymore. In 69 days, an idiot beast will stalk the halls of democracy in America’s highest office. People are being shot in the street with their hands raised. Everybody’s either drunk with power or hungover in despair because everybody knows the war is over and the good guys lost. Leonard Cohen is dead. I’ve seen the future, brother, and it is murder.
When David Bowie died, we lost our hearts. When Prince passed on, we lost our breath. And now, with Leonard Cohen, we’ve lost our soul. The man who taught us how to say so long to Marianne and goodbye to an Alexandra lost has left us and it’s hard not to slip into a pompous melancholy. But our secret lives are all a little lonelier now and there ain’t no cure for love. There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in but sometimes you just want to close your eyes to it.
I saw him once, in Portland, about six years ago. “Consummate” is the only word I can think of that does the man justice, in all facets of his performance. Cohen, who took to the stage with all the grace of a retired elder statesman, was somberly resplendent in his trademark suit and fedora. He was everything the audience wanted him to be. Outlandishly coy and subtly regal in his stage presence (good Lord, he had MOVES) and his banter with the crowd and his band (the introduction of his drummer is still one of the funniest I’ve ever heard from a performer). His set list was superb, touching on all the milestones but also hitting some hidden gems. His guitar playing was startlingly technical but possessed of a fluidity that gave it a powerful humanity. And his voice…
…oh, I’m so sorry, but we were so lucky to have him. He always promised that he was our man and I can attest that, on that night in Portland, he fulfilled it. I know he earned his place in the tower of song and that he gets to apologize to Janis and maybe Hank Williams will finally answer him. I know that heaven will be a little less dead this Saturday night but that it’s closing time down here. I know he just released an incredible new record produced by his son and that he had every right to be proud of it and that he can STILL make the ladies swoon. I know I’m off the rails here and that he wouldn’t want me to despair. But it’s too warm for November and the leaves smell wrong and this strange world is looming over us like a predator’s shadow and I can’t help it. I know it’s not his fault and time comes for us all and his time on this world was marvelously spent but hey, Mr. Cohen, that’s no way to say goodbye…
It’s just that his music elevated everything that it touched, which is maybe the highest ideal that any artist can strive for. Jeff Buckley drowned in his hallelujah. He’s the only lyricist who could take a waltz from Lorca and improve upon it.
I think the first time I ever heard his music, I was home alone, late at night, maybe 12 years old. I was watching Natural Born Killers and a song of his played over the closing credits and I watched all of them because I HAD to know what this strange new music was that I was going to be listening to for the foreseeable future.
I remember being in love for the first time and screaming out with the girl like a drunk in a midnight choir to a punk band covering one of his songs. I remember it well how the love of my life sounded so brave and so sweet when we turned one of his songs into a duet. Another time, a sister of mercy sweetened my night and I let her create her own personal playlist on my iTunes and the first song she picked was one of his.
In these twisted times, where people are being called traitor to their face, the dreamers must ride against the men of action. Leonard Cohen was one of our finest dreamers and his dreams took all of our love, fear, sex, embraces, gods, demons, hatred, sadness, friendship, laughter, strength, weakness, darkness, and light and repurposed them into songs that will last longer than this warm November… and any other Novembers to come.
If it be your will, pick one of those songs and play it as loud, or as quietly, as you want. And I promise that tonight will be fine, for a while.