Leonard Cohen has slipped from the earth. 2016 has taken away many of our best and most beautiful, but there’s no point in being sad for Leonard. When he wrote his farewell letter to Marianne, his lover of years ago, he said he was close behind her, and so he was.
For me his death feels like saying farewell to a lover. He was an intimate friend.
I found him in the way that people of my generation often did, when there was no online to find things on – in my mum’s dusty record collection and yellowed books of poetry. I found him in the middle of my teenage angst – something which started thirty years ago and I often wonder when it’s supposed to go away. I found a book of his poetry, and then the albums, and then more poetry, and a bizarre, rich book.
I was low when I read his stuff. I felt not just angsty, but black, frustrated, full of pain. I found this man who blessed me with music – felt like a blessing.
That is what Leonard felt like, and actually, what he craved for himself I think. In spiriuality, in sexuality, in life, he rejoiced in blessings, and gave them because he couldn’t do anything else.
My job as a priest is all about blessings. – it is to find out where God is in the world and to bless it, just to say “yes, this is where God is, and it’s beautiful”. And we do that with new life, with a baby, at a wedding, and even at a funeral, and when people are in despair. “God is here” we say, “and that means that even this is beautiful, and it will be transformed until there is nothing left but beauty”.
And Leonard Cohen came to me when I felt terrible, and in his music and his poetry expressed how I felt in words that I didn’t have, and said “you are beautiful. This is beautiful.”
I remember this one:
This is the only poem I can write
The only poem I can read.
I didn’t kill myself when things went wrong.
I didn’t turn to drugs or teaching.
I tried to sleep,, but when I couldn’t sleep I learnt to write.
I learnt to write what might be read on nights like this by one like me.
That summed up his life for me – an introspective broadcaster. He wrote his words and his music out of compassion for people who felt like him. It was always communication, you never got the impression like you do with so many writers that he was writing to himself, he was always talking to you.
Went on tour out of necessity in 2008, time of the economic meltdown, all his original fans about to retire to very little, younger people afraid of the future.
His balm was not explanation, making sense of it, but telling stories. His spirituality was like that too – never doctrinal, always mysterious and could only be communicated by something beyond his words.
Like Jesus, who never responded to a theological or doctrinal question with an actual answer, but a story.
Someone on radio 4 asked him once about one of his songs “tell us what it’s about” and he replied. “If I could do that, I wouldn’t have needed to write the song”
So I can’t really write what he means to me. But I had to write something. There will be many somethings written by people like me, who are not writers like him, but need to write something. They are the ash of his fire, to paraphrase him.
But anyhow, Thank you Leonard.