If you are a regular reader here then you know by now musings on Leonard Cohen have always been strewn as means of constant inspiration on this space. From the homes he lived in, to the women he loved and the songs he wrote, I've always reached for ways to include him simply because of my great fascination with him. A fascination (teetering on obsession) that came recently exposed in meeting Darcy Hemley, who took the brilliant photo of him eating a Popsicle in his backyard under a blunt summer sun for Spin magazine where I demanded - upon learning of this association to him - every detail of their afternoon together, and was easily delighted by tidbits of his modest Hollywood home, peppered with good art and antique furniture, his love of Ritz crackers and his kind and charming nature apparent in him handing out popsicles to the handful of photographers gathered in his house to shoot him for his latest album.
Basically, the kind of stories I live for.
If memory serves me right then I was 14 the first time I heard Leonard Cohen. The women my uncle was marrying put on a cassette tape for me and forced me sit and listen in my mother's den. She told me she she could orgasm simply by listening to his music - which - as a greatly inexperienced 8th grader, I didn't pay much mind to but clung wholeheartedly to the weight of that strange music from that day on. So by the time high school rolled around - in spite of my fierce affinity touting me as a hard core folkie with an unwavering devotion to the ever illusive Dylan - I kept the few Leonard records I had stacked in the corner of my room, like a dark brooding side fling to be indulged on slow and rainy days. Or long car rides. Alone. Where his music always seemed best suited to the psyche seeking some relief.
At one point in my sophomore year, with my interest in poetry mounting I found the address of the Buddhist compound in the San Bernadino Mountains Cohen was living then as a monk in the late 90s, and took the earnest initiative to send him an envelope full of my writings. Bad, over reaching teenage poetry mind you, where I suppose somewhere in the grand scheme of my naive optimism I hoped he might read them and reach out. To talk poetry or enlighten one on the early ways of a writer's road path. Really, though I think I just found the idea of being connected to him, in any way shape or form, utterly enthralling. Certainly though, there are worse goals to chase at 16. My dedication so strong I suffered through the bulk of his boring novels and watched him religiously on VHS tapes after school instead of the gritty punk bands the kids around me clung to with the same intensity. When I think back to that girl I can't help by feel pride in remembering what that kin d of young love felt like before all of life's practicalities sunk in.
In college my love for him was the single deciding factor in how I deciphered the "cool" kids from the dull. Sure the Dylan fans were there, but if you were hip to Leonard Cohen you were certainly someone I needed to invest in. Though thinking back, I can only really recall two I could count as genuiene fans. Brian, the sweet and sensitive leather clad poet forever bumming that last cigarette on the afternoons after Modern Theory, whom I sat with between classes, and Todd, the sweet and sprightly guy with glasses and a fondness for Tim Robbins who married us in Mike's parent's back yard and referred to himself as Arlo's "soul father" after he was born, in a friendship that owed a lot to do with a shared love of Leonard Cohen.
Through my life his voice and music fed my being. Pushed me to feel deeper and search longer. His songs like medicine for the soul, serving as reigning leader to my life long love goals. One of the perks of finding him young was growing up desperate to become one of the smart and alluring at times tragic women in his love songs. Because he loved them all the way women want to be love. Marianne in the morning, Suzzane by the river, Janis stumbling along the shadows of the ghostly halls of the Chelsea Hotel, and all of the other nameless lovely ladies claiming such sentiments as their own, sitting growing old and brown skinned around quaint cafes on the outskirts of the villas scattered in Hydra.
I didn't listen to his songs the way I did other records, I ingested them. Wholly and entirely. Like some kind of love spiked protein to a young and blossoming womanhood. Like a religion I couldn't ever quite secure but kept at it all these years because it made me "feel" good. Because the sisters of Mercy kept strong echos in my head. And I searched for the bird on a wire everywhere I looked, whenever I felt blue.
Eight years ago I saw him in concert for the first time with my old college friend beside me. We sat in mid grade seats for over two hours in a breathless silent bliss because he was even better in person. So much so that it was almost too much to handle. Handsome and kind, witty and painfully as romantic as I had always imagined. A natural gentlemen with more sex appeal that seems fair for a 75 year old man to carry dressed in a full suit with his hat tipped just enough so the shadow lines of his face peaked with drama as he read aloud his poetry aloud in the pitch dark. The audience frozen in captivation where I decided then, in those dark and blissful moments, that Leonard Cohen's voice delivering us these poems in between the love songs that burned like warm candles in our hearts on dark and stormy nights was as good as it was ever going to get. I also thought of the women my uncle married (and later divorced) in slow close of his final song. Wanting more. Desperate to stretch the night a little longer.
Hearing last week of his death shook me harder than I was ready for. Especially considering of all things, the timing. Coming on the heels of the big election let down, where losing another of our "best" and biggest sliced straight through an already stumbling heart and mind frame. A grief that erupted over dinner on my birthday while trying my best to enjoy a shrimp salad and port beer, where suddenly it all felt like too much. Erasing any notion I kept as means of comfort in trying times, that told me as long as we have these great pillars of light upheld by the poets and dreamers, visionaries and artists on this earth to lean on, we're never that far from the right side of the road. Losing him felt heavier because of the timing. In that everything I joked about - my tendency to play him over and over, obsessively while on a kick, my boy's growing up and writing a book titled "everything I learned about love I learned from Leonard Cohen" felt suddenly darker. The grand charm of an old romantic who's grace, voice and humor, in light of such gross extremities currently taking office, promised that he'd always be our man. Gone in flesh as if the idea of him simply breathing in these same times offered it's own small strange means of relief to those who loved him.
I still don't have all the best words to rightfully immortalize a man I loved so long. It's why this post has taken me this long to share. All I know is that I will always think of him in dim winter evenings. His music will always be best enjoyed alone but I still hope my children grow with his songs attached to some kind of sweeping emotion because they came played in those manic cycles in our house. His albums hopefully carving themselves in the skin of their hearts like mine before them. Handing over life lessons from a man who knows a hell of a lot about how to love a lady. Smart and bravely. And not without apologies and mistake. A guy who could take you for long walks in the rain, make love to you in a run down hotel room in Vienna, and then write the greatest love songs about it all to sing in a sharp black blazer, pairing your gifts to the likes of Jesus as a humble sailor.
And who else might ever be able to pull that off?
For it, we miss you eternally, Leonard.