His last album, just released, was entitled ‘You want it darker’; now he is gone and it is darker. I can’t remember why I bought Cohen’s ‘The Spice Box of Earth’, except that as a young adolescent I read poetry with the avidity of someone who, lost in the desert, stumbles across a lush green oasis. So when I saw an LP with his name on it, I bought it; The Songs of Leonard Cohen was the first LP I bought. It hardly seemed worth buying any more LPs as this one had it all – but when I discovered there were others, I bought them. My musical choice was, to put it mildly, unpopular at home; but that simply reinforced the feeling that here was someone who mattered in a way the wailing pop-stars did not. For the last 50 years Cohen’s music has accompanied me on my journey. I ordered the last album earlier in the week. I knew, by instinct, it would be his last – although of course it won’t be, there will be more as his archive is examined; but it is the last to be issued in his life.
The tributes have been coming in since the news of his death broke. Most of them have emphasised what appealed to me about him – which was an essential seriousness. Schooled in Scripture, Jewish and Christian, Cohen had a range of religious references which would once have been a common part of our culture; but he was one of the last generation of artists to able to take that for granted. I wonder how many of his news fans got the references in the second verse of “Hallelujah” to ‘ your faith was strong/ but you needed proof/you saw her bathing on the roof’? For him the spiritual and the erotic were intertwined. Like so many of his generation, his spiritual search took him to some strange places, but it was a consistent search to find a meaning in life that he knew was there – if he could only find it. To some that made him a pessimist, but as he said a pessimist was someone who was waiting for it to rain – ‘I am soaked to the skin’. Not everyone got the black humour, but a man with his voice who could sing of being born with a ‘golden voice’ was teasing himself – and his audience.
His renaissance as an artist after 2008 was prompted by the fact that his long-time manager had emptied his accounts whilst he had been in a Zen monastery; this could only have happened to Cohen, who then turned to touring to make up the deficit. This gave him a new generation of fans. His appearance at Glastonbury in 2013 book-ended his famous appearance at the Isle of Wight in 1970 (when he came on after Jimi Hendrix
It marked, it was thought then, a sort of finale. But since then we have had two new albums which showed that age had no effect on his creativity.
There is, as Cohen reminded us, ‘a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ – worth remembering that one.