The “So Long Marianne” legend who conquered the music world by defying the laws of poetry and leading them into songwriting had sadly passed away on the 11th of November 2016 just a month after his album release “You Say You Want it Darker” This is the story of a man who changed the face of music.
Today at 8:20 I woke up from a nightmare with many sounds talking altogether at once. Half asleep and half awake isn’t the best when you’re off for the day from University. Anyhow, when waking up, the room was pitch black (oh glory) my sister was fidgeting to find her stuff to leave for college.
As any human being of the 21st century today, First thing I did was to find my phone underneath the pillow and put it back into normal mode after leaving it on flight mode for the night. Apparently, it’s less dangerous according to recent studies, if you leave it on flight mode the amount of vibration is less than when it’s on. I thought hell with it why not try it.
Back to where to where it was at, I started the day with the usual social media errands starting first with Instagram, one eye open and the other half closed I felt like Popeye. Scrolling down through the pictures till one post caught my attention, a photo of Leonard Cohan with a caption saying, R.I.P Leonard. I guess my inner conciseness woke me up to embrace today’s tragic news. ?
After paying tribute to this great giant I found many people just nodding and clicking whether it was a like on Facebook, Heart on Instagram or A view on Snapchat and not in the world knowing who this person was. I mean I would be itching to know who the person was, if one of my friends posted a picture of someone. Don’t you?
So that’s why today, I’m writing this piece, to tell everyone whoever they are anywhere in the world who Leonard Cohen was and how much of an influential figure he was in many people’s lives.
Leonard Cohan was born in Quebec, Canada to a middle class Jewish family. Growing up the poet liked to read poetry and listening to music, during his time in school he was a student council exposing his peers to all kinds of Art including poets like Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who had influenced the poet throughout his musical career.
Cohan enrolled to McGill University in Canada where he studied Law for year. He found out a subject as dense as law was not what life is all about, there is much more to live for than courtrooms and divorce papers. However, Cohen did become a prominent figure at the university that resulted in winning awards such as “The Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition” for his poetry. After dropping from university, Cohen focused on his writing that appeared to be the distraction that led to his departure from academia. In 1955 Cohen published his first book “Let Us Compare Mythologies” the book managed to get good reviews however not too many were sold. 1961 on the other hand, Cohen published his second book “The Spice Box of the Earth” which brought him huge success. Few months later he bought house in a quiet area called Hydra in the Greek Islands.
During his time in Hydra, Cohen knew writing alone wouldn’t make him go far as he had hoped. So the Poet made his way again to his first love that came at second glance, Music. Music made him popular among the ladies, at the age of 13 Cohen started playing guitar, forming a band called “the Buckskin Boys” they performed at dances, singing traditional tunes the band gained a lot of respect and admiration from their town.
In the mid 60’s Cohen settled down in Manhattan in hopes of finding a record deal. Unfortunately recording agencies weren’t encouraging whatsoever many believed there was nothing for him as a singer in the new contemporary world of music.
Pushing 30 on the street of Manhattan Cohen formed a friendship with Judy Collins, a newly developed folksinger making a name for herself at that time in pre-revolution Greenwich Village, New York. Collins saw something in Cohen many weren’t aware of. Inspired by his writing, passion, and devotion She urged Cohen to sing at Newport Folk Festival that year in 1967, the singer agreed to do so. On the day of his performance, Cohen caught the eye of Columbia A&R founder John Hammond who happened to be in the audience that day. Hammond signed Cohen to his record label, the house of Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel and finally Bob Dylan.
His first album released by Columbia was “Songs of Leonard Cohen” where he shared with the world his talent. He embraced his sexuality, his craving for love and joy in writing. The album included one of his biggest best-selling hits “So Long Marine” and “Suzanna”. So Long Marianne is one of the biggest most enduring love stories throughout the history of music. The song was based on a true encounter Cohen once had with young women called Marianne he had met in Hydra where he lived and loved. The two became best friends and never lost touch until quite recently when Marianne passed away. Cohen wrote a tribute in her memory saying, “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine… Goodbye, old friend. Endless love, see you down the road”
Marianne had been a huge influence on Cohen’s life inspiring most of his poems and songs. Including “Flowers for Hitler” his third poetry book was dedicated especially to her.
Cohen carved life as a whole wanting to know what lies ahead in this world we live in today, who exists on the other side and who is running it. His faith in Judaism never left him nor did he want to leave it, he kept on exploring what religion was all about. In 1996 Cohen became a monk after spending 5 years at a Buddhist monastery. When questioned about his belief in life and recent Monk title he simply responded back with “well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief”.
His belief always puzzled journalists, which I believe was something he rather enjoyed. It’s best to set a mystery then put yourself out there for people easy to figure out who you really are.
Back to music, Hallelujah arguably said to be Cohen’s greatest written songs to have been released to the public. the song had been covered by a number of artists including the award-winning version by Jeff Buckley.
However not many did like the song it’s been criticized by a number of journalists calling out how sexual the content was and strong preferences it had had. The song comes from a wide range of inspiration including at that time in the poet’s life, involving his usage of the bible every once in a while and his ongoing endless love towards the opposite sex.
The incorporation of both unleashed and drew tales of love, worship, and hate. With his butt naked on the floor inspired by the tales of the Book of Judas and the story of Samson. 80 drafts were written. The original take of the very fist few drafts can be found on “Various Positions” album released in 1984.
Aside from releasing albums, Cohen also wrote books including one I had never been able to put down “The Book Of Longing” a poetry book that was mostly written in California and India where he spent his time at a Buddhist monastery in 1990. Each poem would have a drawing to connect the reader with the poet’s emotions during that period. The book had more of a dairy concept where it covered his day-to-day longing and the exploration of Cohen’s ventures and his overpowering imagination. Something you don’t get to see in many poetry books. There is so much inside that not too many people can understand. Not new towards criticism or explicitly, this book is exactly what you could imagine.
Only a month ago the world was yet again blessed with his presence when he released “You Say You Want it Darker” produced by his son Adam Cohen. The album according to many news sources such as The Guardian explained that the album held a farewell or rather a departing from life concept. This came after his recent interview he did saying, “I’m ready to die.” People were confused by his words, he later laughed out in another interview explaining, “ I said I was ready to die recently and I think I was exaggerating, I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live forever”
Well, he will certainly live forever in many people’s hearts. It’s either he had inspired them musically or poetically. Leonard Cohen spirit will forever live among us, beside us, everywhere around us.
Do yourself a favor and play Leonard Cohen today wherever you are. Whether your familiar with his work or not, you’ll soon understand why I’ve rambled for the last 3 minutes or so of your time.
In the meantime, I will leave you with a poem he had written for “The Book Of Longing” called “The Goal”
I can’t leave my house
Or answer my phone.
I’m going down again
But I’m not alone.
Settling at last
Accounts of the soul:
This for the trash,
That paid in full.
As for the fall, it
Began long ago:
Can’t stop the rain,
Can’t stop the snow.
I sit in my chair.
I look at the streets.
The neighbor returns
my smile of defeat.
I move with leaves.
I shine with the chrome.
I’m almost alive.
I’m almost at home.
No one follow
And nothing to teach,
Expect that goal
Falls short of the reach.