“I said was ready to die recently. And I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatisation. I intend to live for ever.”
Today, the world awoke to heartbreak. This is a sentiment that has resurfaced throughout a rather dismal 2016, which has seen musical legends dropping like flies, but perhaps never has an attack on artistry been so personal or agonising.
Leonard Cohen, singer, songwriter, poet and novelist, has passed away at the age of 82, after a lifetime of blessing the world with his Baritone mediations on love, hate, war and peace. Arguably, in a world where his creativity and insight was unmatched elsewhere. Details of his death are scarce, with his passing being announced via Facebook, and many of his fans worldwide are devastated by the news; Cohen’s song ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ certainly springs to mind. Tributes are pouring out from all corners of the globe, however, with someone, somewhere, always being stirred by his haunting, melodic style, both as a poet and a performer. His desire to write was necessitated right up until his last moments, with album You Want it Darker being released just this year; an album which is inflected with goodbyes: “traveling light/ it’s au revoir/ my once so bright/ my fallen star.”His “piously crafted last testament” will indeed continue to resonate, just as Bowie’s Blackstar has in the aftermath of his passing.
Cohen’s pathos-ridden lyricism is one of his defining traits, and although having battled depression throughout his life, his returning nature of witticism and self-deprecation make him an icon to all heartsick and suffering people, reminding them that “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Perhaps Cohen’s genius is owed to fact that before he was a songwriter, he was a poet. His first published book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was released in 1956, and in the following decades his literary prowess flourished, exhibited in thirteen poetry collection publications and two novels. His ventures into the U.S after a lack of financial success as a writer meant that he could witness artists like Nico perform, which greatly influenced the fragile, melodious style to which he adopted. In the sixties, he spent time living on the Greek island of Hydra, where he met Marianne Ihlsen, a Norwegian woman who went on to be Cohen’s girlfriend and muse, inspiring him to pen the famous song ‘So Long, Marianne,’ where he sings that she “held on to me like I was a crucifix as we went kneeling through the dark.”
His life was constructed around his own pace, and he is proof that anything can be achieved at any age. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967, at the age of 33, and he wrote his chef-d’œuvre ‘Hallelujah’ at 50, which went on to be covered by the wonderful Jeff Buckley (and the not-so wonderful Alexandra Burke, of X Factor fame). For ‘Hallelujah’, he wrote nearly 80 verses before paring it down; indeed, his delicate phraseology was so deeply embedded within his psyche, that his ability to create literature never ceased. His first arena shows were undertaken in his seventies. A lifetime of being indebted to the power and beauty of words never punished Cohen, who continued to provide hope and light wherever it was needed.
When Cohen wrote a final, poignant letter to his dying muse Marianne in July 2016, he wrote: “we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” Little did we know that, less than six months later, his prophecy would be realised.
RIP, poet of the heart-broken. You found yourself in the darkest cracks of our hearts, and discovered the fallen words we couldn’t articulate ourselves.