Leonard Cohen It’s Closing Time
Submitted by Don Graham
“I’m ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable”. Leonard Cohen said these words not long ago. The iconic singer/songwriter whose work spanned nearly 50 years, died last week at the age of 82. Leonard Cohen's record label, Sony Music Canada, confirmed his death on the singer's Facebook page with the following statement.
"It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music's most revered and prolific visionaries. A memorial will be held at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief."
From some perspectives it could argued that death has been a part of Cohen’s writing since he began creating poetry but perhaps more present lately as he aged. It was probably brought more to the forefront when Cohen’s living musical contemporaries, the ones who planted the seeds for modern rock and folk music, started passing on in numbers. Elvis Presley, who was born a year after Cohen, died young in 1977 and earlier this year, so too did Presley’s longtime guitarist Scotty Moore. David Bowie, who released his debut the same year Cohen did, also died this year.
In July, Marianne Ihlen, who was Cohen’s lover and muse when they lived in Greece in the 60s died at the age of 81. She of course was the Marianne in “So Long, Marianne,”
Before she passed away, Cohen sent her a letter that was read to her on her deathbed.
In part it read ‘Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” (Source CBC)
Born Leonard Norman Cohen on September 21st, 1934, in Westmount, Quebec, he started playing guitar as a teenager and formed a folk group called the Buckskin Boys.
(Because we all had buckskin jackets) playing halls and square dances in Montreal. The works of Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca got him interested in poetry and a flamenco guitar teacher got him to trade steel strings for nylon. After graduating from McGill University, Cohen moved to the Greek island of Hydra, buying a house for $1,500 with a small trust fund set up by his father, who passed when Leonard was only nine. While living on Hydra, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler in 1964 and the novels The Favourite Game in 1963 and Beautiful Losers in 1966.
Leonard Cohen started writing songs and putting his poetry to music when he saw the money generated by the songs was greater than poetry sales and also his work would reach a broader audience through airplay ad live music performances. He paid a visit to New York in 1966 to check out the Greenwich Village folk scene. There he met folk singer Judy Collins, who would include two of his songs, including the early hit "Suzanne," on her album In My Life.
During the folk boom of the 60’s in Montreal I would frequent the numerous coffee house , soaking up the songs and singers of the time for a couple of bucks and 25 cent cup of coffee. There were a few songs that were the staple of all the young local folk singers of the day. There was Fred Neil’s Dolphins, Eric Andersen’s Thirsty Boots and Suzanne a song written by a local no less. And that was my introduction the Leonard Cohen and the iconic Suzanne.
Eric Andersen had this to say “Our beautiful bird fell off the wire. We will miss him, to be there, and lift his song aloft every day. Til we meet again at the starry crossroads up above.”
Toronto’s Hugh’s Room publicist and longtime employee of the mother church of folk music in Toronto in the late 60’s early 70’s Jane Harbury recalls “ the first time I met Leonard my dear friend Eric Andersen was playing a week at the Riverboat and he told me that this poet was coming to his concert and I was not to charge him It was probably 1969 .and I had not seen him before or heard of him. So this guy comes in wearing a beautifully tailored camelhair coat. I told him it was a $4 cover charge. He pulls out his last dollar bills. Eric comes and says “You didn’t charge Leonard did you?” I said yes I did. And went to apologize to which he responded not to worry.”
And now for Leonard Cohen it’s Closing Time and although in the opening quote of this piece he said he was “ready to die” he later clarified that he was "exaggerating." "I’ve always been into self-dramatization, intend to live forever.” His loss will be felt for a long time but his legacy of work will last forever.
Before his death, the songwriter requested that he be laid to rest "in a traditional Jewish rite beside his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents," his Rabbi Adam Scheier wrote in a statement. His body was laid to rest in the family plot in Montreal. Rest in peace sweet soul.
Editor’s Note: Leonard Cohen’s son, Adam, a prolific songwriter and talent in his own right, posted on Facebook (11/13/2016):
My sister and I just buried my father in Montreal. With only immediate family and a few lifelong friends present, he was lowered into the ground in an unadorned pine box, next to his mother and father. Exactly as he’d asked. As I write this I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work. There’s so much I wish I could thank him for, just one last time. I’d thank him for the comfort he always provided, for the wisdom he dispensed, for the marathon conversations, for his dazzling wit and humor. I’d thank him for giving me, and teaching me to love Montreal and Greece. And I’d thank him for music; first for his music which seduced me as a boy, then for his encouragement of my own music, and finally for the privilege of being able to make music with him. Thank you for your kind messages, for the outpouring of sympathy and for your love of my father.