In the late 1960s, Judy Collins, for whatever reason, came to Fairbanks, Alaska and did a performance at Patty Gym at the University of Alaska, the largest venue in Fairbanks at the time. The first song was her hit cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” After singing it, accompanying herself on the piano, she said, “I love Leonard Cohen songs. Let’s do some more.” She then sang wonderful covers of “Sisters of Mercy,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” “So Long Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire.” That was WC’s introduction to Leonard Cohen, as sung by Judy Collins in her beautiful mezzo-soprano. After an introduction like that, you kind of get fascinated.
No one better blended the sacred and profane in song lyrics than Leonard Cohen. No one’s song lyrics were closer to poetry. There was nothing wrong with his tunes, but for WC, it was always the lyrics. It’s that mix of the sacred and profane that make “Hallelujah” so great. In fact, those lyrics are so wonderful that WC is reluctant to sully them with anything WC could possibly write.
From “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”:
I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
it’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
but let’s not talk of love or change and things we can’t untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.
The New Yorker had a brilliant biographical article on Cohen recently, “Cohen Makes It Darker,” on the occasion of his last album. Cohen was well aware he was dying. In a letter to former lover and muse, Marianne Iheln – the Marianne in “So Long, Marianne” – back in July, he wrote,
Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when 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. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
And now, just a few months later, Cohen is gone.
2016 is proving to be brutal for the artists that WC loves. And now another one is lost to us, who for five decades wrote songs that resonated in WC, music to listen to in the dark hours, music to shrive the soul. From his last album, released just last month, “You Want It Darker”:
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Rest in peace, Leonard Cohen, 1935-2016.