Of all days, of all years. What a time for one of music’s greatest, wisest and kindest points of light to go dark.
At 82, Leonard Cohen became the second epochal songwriter to foresee his own death on an album released this year.
“You Want It Darker,” like David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” tried to find some grace and meaning — and even some obsidian humor — in the inevitable. Under different circumstances, that may have been occasion for a bit of Cohen-ish irony, one last wink from one of music’s greatest poets in the face of the abyss.
But not today.
If there was ever a time to need words of lasting grace and connection, this is it. Cohen, the only songwriter whom Bob Dylan would place himself beneath, who could make the Old Testament sexy, could have maybe seen us through this divisive political time.
Perhaps it’s helpful, in some bleak way, that he’s gone — now the world will be reminded to turn back to his music and think about people they love.
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I’m lucky I got to see him at Coachella in 2009. So funny, so rakish in the desert sunset, so quietly aware that he was beginning the twilight of his own life. We were lucky to be there with him. It all feels so long ago.
It’s no surprise that there are many, many Cohen quotes to pick from in the face of recent political events — some funny, some earnest, some biblical in their use of myth to reconcile with the unknowable. Pick any of them. If you want to go literal, here’s one from “Democracy”: “I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean / I love the country but I can't stand the scene.”
But Cohen speaks for himself better than any of us can. So let’s go to an email he sent to an ailing Marianne Ihlen, the Marianne of “So Long, Marianne,” whom he re-connected with at the end her life. There’s a kindness in the face of irretrievable loss.
“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.”
Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles TimesDavid Bowie