I have to etch these words into my memory forever, while they are still fresh, while I am still stunned, while I am still reeling: Leonard Cohen has passed away, aged 82 years.
His music is playing on a loop in my room as I write this, his words are playing on a loop in my mind. I find myself suddenly making frantic online purchases of live Cohen recordings on vinyl--1970's landmark Isle of Wight album, Field Commander Cohen dating from his 1979 tour, and a 1988 concert from one of my favorite venues (Toronto's Massey Hall).
Undoubtedly, there are millions of people all around the world who are feeling his loss. Perhaps they knew him personally during the early days in Montreal. Or they could have crossed paths with him in New York City at the Chelsea Hotel. Maybe there's a Greek family living in his old house on the island of Hydra, who could regale visitors with anecdotes left in its dusty corners. Maybe there's a woman in England who owns everything he's written--all the poetry (from his first offering Let Us Compare Mythologies from 1956 to Book of Longing, released five decades later. Maybe there's a man in America who recently added Cohen's two novels to his collection--the semi-autobiographical The Favorite Game and the ecstatic, drug-fueled, gorgeous torture that is Beautiful Losers.
Of course, Cohen has also been an enduring and supremely gifted songwriter who wed evocative and lasting imagery to a spellbinding vocal delivery and mystical musical presence. And yet I argue that his greatest legacy is as an evergreen inspiration to innumerable musicians--legendary musicians and unknown legions alike. His appeal as an artist whose work begs for startling new interpretations will last as long as there are voices to sing and ears to hear.
Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Nick Cave, Judy Collins, Anohni (formerly Antony Hegarty), k.d. lang, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright--this is merely a shortlist of others who have brought Cohen's work to new fans suddenly enamored with these enigmatic, timeless songs. Buckley was the John the Baptist who paved my way, and Cohen the sacrilegious and articulate, holy and unchaste Christ figure I discovered on a road to some modern Damascus.
The more I delved into Cohen's extensive artistic output--Selected Poems, 1956-1968, the singular masterpiece of a song that is "Suzanne," the brilliant yet ultimately underrated 1974 record New Skin for the Old Ceremony, and onward to his last musical testament, You Want It Darker--the more I felt an inextricable connection to the man himself.
I was drawn to his provocative union of the sacred and the sexual, the Judeo-Christian with the secular. I was comforted by his insatiable search for spiritual truth wherever he might find it--from Judaism and a brief flirtation with Scientology to Zen Buddhism and Hinduism. I intrinsically understood his lifelong struggle with depression. His hopeless Romanticism and unending role as love's great, forlorn nomad provided encouragement as I explored similar themes in my own poetry and opera libretto.
And as I struggle to come to terms with the world's loss of Cohen, his lyrics appear now as the most prescient wisdom, the most pressing truth:
"If it be your will/ That I speak no more/ And my voice be still/ As it was before/ I will speak no more...If it be your will/ That a voice be true/ From this broken hill/ I will sing to you/ From this broken hill/ All your praises they shall ring/ If it be your will/ To let me sing" ~"If It Be Your Will" from Leonard Cohen's Various Positions (1984)
This post was originally published on the Huffington Post contributors' blog.