Leonard Cohen and Me

November 20, 2016 at 8:05 pm (Uncategorized)

A week has passed, and I’m still sad.

I first heard of Leonard Cohen in an English class in Grade 13. For some or other reason, I wasn’t able to make the regular English class fit into my schedule, but my guidance counselor suggested a class called Canadian English. OK, I’m game. We read Mordecai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, David French and more, and in the poetry section Irving Layton (we went to see him read) and Leonard Cohen.  Our teacher, Mrs. Hayes I think, showed us a grainy black and white film about Cohen from the CBC, and we read a few of his poems in the class. Maybe it was being a moody teenager just getting into folk music, but something about Cohen’s work struck a note.

A few days later, I was in a used bookstore in St. Catharines and found a copy of Let Us Compare Mythologies , which is still a favourite. After hearing “Susanne” in the classroom, I bought Songs of Leonard Cohen and listened to it over and over again.  I read his first novel The Favourite Game, and loved it. I found Beautiful Losers difficult. A few years later, for our first Christmas together, I gave my wife Cohen’s new work,  The Book of Mercy.

I saw Cohen perform live only once; at the O’Keefe Centre around 1993. I was a great show although in all honesty, I prefer the stripped down Cohen accompanied only by an acoustic guitar rather than the later period full arrangements.  The first Leonard Cohen tribute has a great selection of songs, but who can deny that Nick Cave’s version of “Tower of Song” and John Cale’s “Hallelujah” are better than Cohen’s? (OK, some will)

For me, Cohen was always about words. It’s where his “true”voice was. And now that voice is quiet, it’s likely we’ll only come to appreciate it more.

I haven’t listened to his new record, but the reviews suggested it’s one of his best. I’ll get around to it. For now, I think I’ll have another crack at Beautiful Losers.


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