Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

But we have the music.

Photo: gaët

Leonard Cohen, who died yesterday, lived a full life — several full lives — before he passed, and was still in command up to the end. He just released his best album in fifteen years. He spent his final decade basking in an adulation that was no doubt sweeter for being so long in the making, and no more satisfying than was deserved. He was ready to go and he knew what was coming.

When a man dies in his ninth decade it isn’t a tragedy, sad though we may be that we’ve heard the last of him. Instead of mourning his death we should rejoice in his time here, and his body of work, some of which will last longer than the lives of anyone reading this now. He was the poet of yearning — for love, for justice, for connections both carnal and spiritual — and so long as those things continue to confuse and delight and depress us we will always have his verses to comfort us when we need consolation and accompany us when we crave celebration.

There are so many places to go right now to hear his songs that I won’t weigh you down with a list of all my favorites, because we would be here forever and they change so frequently that I would come back in a week and say, “Wait, I should have included ‘Tower of Song,’” or “How could I have not picked ‘Land of Plenty,’ particularly this week?” Even right now as I’m listing the songs I wouldn’t be able to fit into my imaginary list of favorites I am still balancing whether or not I should add “Closing Time” or “Dance Me To The End Of Love” or “Everybody Knows” or “Sisters of Mercy” or “A Singer Must Die” or “Anthem.” How could I not include “Anthem”? You can see how this could go on forever. So instead let me leave you with three unusual items from his catalogue, in which his voice is only the presiding spirit. Its absence only shows his depth.

Here is Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs with my favorite interpretation of “Paper Thin Hotel.”

Here is Jennifer Warnes performing “Song of Bernadette,” which she co-wrote with Cohen.

And here is “Tacoma Trailer,” the instrumental that closed out Cohen’s greatest album. For someone best known for his lyrics it is amazing how well this conveys so many of the emotions we find in so many of his songs.

Leonard Cohen was 82.