How do I begin to say what Leonard Cohen means to me, to music, to poetry, to art, to society? How do I begin to explain what Leonard Cohen’s music has gotten me through? How do I explain that his song “Anthem” (which I’ve infrequently covered) has shaped my theology possibly more than all of Paul’s epistles? (“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” May as well be, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” in my book.) How do I express that the first time I heard his version of “Hallelujah” and NOT the Jeff Buckley cover version, I thought I should quit writing, because I knew I’d never be that good? Or that the first time I read the back-story to “If It Be Your Will”–that Cohen was himself mute at the time he wrote it–that I was so moved by his reverence even for a God who would take away his GIFT of a golden voice, I wept, knowing my faith was far more fragile?
How do I unpack those thoughts and the dozens of others? How do I unpack that there’s a lithograph sitting on top of my China cabinet that was purchased along with my copy of his 2012 record “Old Ideas” that I’ve never framed or hung in the house for personal reasons that go WAY beyond “this is a weird size and it’s hard to frame?” But I think about framing it every Christmas… Or how do I unpack that one of the abiding memories I have of enjoying his “Live in London” concert was watching it at my Dad’s place and dad and I kind of laughing our way through it while still enjoying the deep, lush sound?
Or how do I convey how special it was to see him at the Fox Theatre back in 2009? That it was the perfect, beautiful venue for him? That it felt like I was seeing Chopin or Mendelssohn rather than a man previously known as a hippie balladeer? That the memory of his version of “Suzanne” that he performed that night still gives me deep chills–just the MEMORY! That I was so overcome by the experience that in my post from that night I wrote that there were no major surprises in the setlist, completely overlooking that he debuted a new song that night (“Darkness”), which would go on to be on his next studio album? That I’m sitting here realizing that was November 8, 2009…my God, seven years almost to the DAY?!
Or how do I relay that when I read a few months ago that Mr. Cohen’s longtime muse Marianne Ihlen (of “So Long Marianne” fame) passed away that my heart actually ached for him? That when I read the Facebook post his page made about his letter to her on her deathbed I mourned that not all of us are so lucky as to have that kind of kinship? That the imagery from the above-linked post: “She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her” is going to haunt me forever? That in recent weeks when Leonard said he was getting his house in order and that “I am ready to die” I felt as worried as if it were a friend? That a couple of weeks later when he mentioned those same words while doing press for his last album (“You Want It Darker”), his words of “I think I was exaggerating…I intend to live forever” gave me a waking breath of relief and laughter? That I just paused and sighed deeply at typing the words “his LAST album?”
Or how do I put into words that even despite my sadness at hearing of his death tonight, I do not consider his promise of living forever a few weeks ago to be a betrayal, but rather a promise he is now keeping? That his words ARE forever and his spirit inside them? How do I say that although I find his loss deeply, personally, spiritually wounding, I still feel joy at knowing that his work is done, and I got to experience it within an intersecting lifetime? That I am certain I am BLESSED just by owning every sacred note of his recorded career on CD and/or vinyl?
How do I do or say ANY of that?
In one of life’s great ironies, the only person who could have possibly expressed how I felt upon learning of the death of Leonard Cohen is Leonard Cohen.