I once crossed the world alone to see and hear Leonard Cohen perform in Lyon, France. After that experience I felt that if I never saw another concert again, then I’d die (hopefully in a long time) a happy woman. I’ve seen other concerts since, including Leonard Cohen four more times, and while I’ve enjoyed them, nothing really quite equals that experience.
I used to joke that he was, and always will be, my most enduring love. I wasn’t actually joking. His music and poetry have been with me throughout the many and varied experiences and trajectories of my life.
I wanted to write about that first time. But the articles, the short stories and poetry I thought would come bursting forth are still locked inside me. I’ve come to accept that maybe that particular life experience was unsayable or unspeakable, and I am not meant to write about it. I didn’t know then, and clearly still don’t know how to articulate such a profound and uplifting experience.
On November 7th 2016, I was driving my car on a freeway when the news came on the radio. Leonard Cohen was dead. I was gutted and almost managed to crash the car into a bollard. Later, I laughed through my tears as I told someone how apt it would have been for me to have died that day with Leonard Cohen (I didn’t actually mean it, that is just how my sense of humour works).
I hid from social media for weeks so I wouldn’t have to read the public outpourings of grief.
But before that, one day several years and several concerts after that first one in Lyon, I had a conversation with a woman working in a chocolate shop in the Blue Mountains. I don’t remember how it came about, but we got to talking about Leonard Cohen. I was on a writing retreat at the time, so I may have been less self-censoring than I normally would be when chatting with a stranger. Then again, some of my most memorable conversations have been with strangers I’ll never see again. It turned out we both considered ourselves atheists, but each of us told our loved ones, only half in jest, that we worship only at the Altar of Leonard Cohen. In hindsight, it was probably rather a strange conversation.
The first time I heard So Long, Marianne, and Suzanne too, I was under school age. I felt the songs and music resonate throughout my body. Reflecting now, close enough to five decades later, that early recognition blows me away. I know now that it was the combination of storytelling, the poetry, the sadness, honesty and love, that drew me so deeply into his music. To this day the real and raw narrative song is the only music with lyrics that makes any real sense to me.
And while I accept maybe I am not meant to, I still really wish I could articulate that stuff.
This is mind-blowing and worth an hour of your time. First Aid Kit (with friends) honouring Him.