the leonard cohen factor

I have this Brazilian classic guitar, a Di Giorgio dated 1974 – with the crafter’s signature and telephone number still perfectly clear on the sticker in the cavity. It is 40-odd years old and looks it. But when I stick my nose into the sound hole (yes, that’s actually what it is called), shut my eyes and slowly pull in my breath, the memories roll in.

I am 19 going on 20 again and relive the indescribable thrill of becoming the owner of this magnificent instrument, purchased with my own earnings in my home town. My boyfriend from teen days is impressed and shares in my excitement. He presents me with the sheet music of ‘Marianne’ and says I should practise it so we can sing it together.

The chords progress from A major to B minor… to D major, to A major. To G major… Soon I have mastered it and it sweeps me along. “I used to think I was some kind of gypsy boy, before I let you take me home..” “We met when we were almost young – deep in the green lilac park. You held onto me like I was a crucifix, as we went kneeling through the dark..”

Leonard Cohen’s name became irrevocably engraved on my timeline. His lyrics arrested me; and the tunes tugged at my fragile heart.

Whenever I picked up my guitar in years that followed, “Marianne” was invariably the first song that would come to mind.

Sunday 27 November, 2016:

The early evening, less than a month away from Christmas, is hushed in the small coastal village of Pringle Bay and daylight is reluctant to depart. Inside the crowded little theatre with its low lighting and a few red-glowing solar lanterns dotted around, the chatter is cheerful and the anticipation is tangible. We are waiting for ‘Leonard Cohen Live in London ‘ (2008) to begin. Not exactly a live show! But for all who are gathered to share in the experience, time and space become irrelevant. It is almost three weeks since his passing.

When he appears on the screen – large as life, wearing his fedora low over his eyes and addresses us in a low, sonorous but barely audible voice, the magic begins. He clutches the mic in his right hand and shields it with his left as he lives in the sounds we have learned to love; he drops down onto one knee as his own words and music demand; then again rises and shyly removes his fedora to reveal the close-cropped grey hair and generously pours out his inimitable style…


The inimitable, the one and only…

“The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.”

(Anthem, released in 1992).

He sways us through the passionate plea of Dance me to the End of Love; touches our souls with Hallelujah; stirs our imaginations with Suzanne; draws us into his honesty with Bird on a Wire…

We cheer. We are swept away. We see and feel what he does. An enigma who is no more; but who lives on in his legacy of hauntingly human agonies and ecstasies.

I quote Norman Lebrecht from “The Moral Strength of Leonard Cohen” as posted on The official forum of and , in September 2014:

“Cohen manifests a moral strength rare among the butterflies of ephemeral fame. No musician has maintained a more assured equilibrium through good times and bad, riding the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune and misfortune without falling prey to the temptation of an easy fix.

“Cohen’s lyrics hint forever at alternate meanings. His bird sits on a wire, perhaps the peaceful fence of a domestic property but also a front line, a prison camp, a place of extermination. In conditions of extreme privation and existential threat, Cohen sings of an inner liberation: ‘I have tried, in my way, to be free.’ He described the song with customary duality as ‘a prayer, and an anthem’.

 “…the consistency of purpose is astonishing and the fundamental faith is unchanged. He wears the hat and the suit of a regular shul-goer. He is a Jew, first and last, a traveller, a seeker, eternally homeless. ‘I just move from hotel to hotel and by the grace of the One above sometimes a song comes,’ he said.

“…Leonard Cohen stands above his generation as a seer of lasting things, of values received and passed on. Other musicians have emerged richer, more famous. Some still twist and shout on stage, escorting their mob of semi-retired fans into a seventh age of twilight care.” And especially this part: “Cohen stands up there unchanged, addressing his audience with unfailing courtesy and curiosity, with a sense of continued discovery. At that desperate end-of-tour concert in 1972, having wept into the shoulder of every member of his entourage, he blew his nose, wiped his eyes and walked guitarless out onto the dark stage. “I just want to tell you, thank you and good night,” he said. Along with all that he had said and sung, it sounded like a blessing.” (Norman Lebrecht, 2014)


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