Leonard Cohen died yesterday. He was 82. This is not a sad post though, because when a an artist leaves a lifetime of beautiful work and parts the world at an old age without drugs, suicide or tragedy it’s something to be celebrated.
I’m not sure how many Millennials are familiar with Cohen. I certainly wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for an odd string of events that led me to my favorite songwriter of all time. During high school in a group project, my friends and I made a film showcasing Tess of the D’Ubervilles. That project could be a blog post in its entirety, but when we were discussing which song to play for the final credits one of my friends suggested “this cool song from Shrek.”
I wrinkled my face up because I am a control freak, and said I wanted some random slow country song I was currently obsessed with at the time.
“Go home tonight, listen to it and then tell me what you think,” she replied, ignoring my stubborn streak.
That night I went home, opened up Napster (because hello 2003) and downloaded Rufus Wainwright’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
It’s, at least in my opinion, close to the perfect song. There are several versions of the lyrics (all worth a listen to) and countless covers. That one suggestion from the group project started what became a lifelong love for Rufus Wainwright’s music and subsequently Leonard Cohen’s lyrics.
Searching for more of Rufus’ music, I picked up a soundtrack to the documentary “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man“. Originally I added the music to my collection because of Rufus, like his cover of Chelsea Hotel No.2 which is about Cohen’s relationship with Janis Joplin.
I quickly realized though, that beautiful lyrics and honest storytelling were what made the covers on this soundtrack special. Antony covering If It Be Your Will is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I have ever heard. Who hasn’t felt simultaneously completely wrecked and devoted to a person they love so completely?
Finally by this time I began to wonder (and I’m sure you’re already thinking… uh Lauren you know this guy was more than just a songwriter right?) who this Cohen person was anyway. Forgive my ignorance, but it’s the crooked path I often take in discovering new things.
When I did hear his voice, it wasn’t the melodic expression I usually turn to but in someways was better. I heard the breadth of his life represented in the words of his lyrics. Cohen’s voice was deep, dark and memorizing – at least to me.
Today I celebrate him, and thank you for indulging me while I share that celebration with you. It’s a good reminder to me in light of what I’m going through and the state of the world right now, that often the best we can hope for is to leave a thumbprint on the world. Whether through music or writing or art or compassion, we should strive to leave something left worth celebrating. If I can create a fraction of the beauty that Leonard Cohen left behind yesterday, I’d consider that a life well spent.