A little over three weeks ago, Leonard Cohen released You Want It Darker. 10 minutes after the press release regarding his death, I finished listening to the album, before immediately being alerted to his passing upon moving from Spotify to an increasingly unsavory Facebook news feed, which, amongst the rancor of a distraught electorate, the news of his death emerged.
When I think of Leonard Cohen, I immediately think of my father. But that story starts with Bob Dylan, makes a pit stop in Tom Waits land, and ends with Cohen.
My first concert, ever, was a Bob Dylan show. It was at the Sears Center in Schaumburg, Illinois. This would end up setting the tone for my relationship with music. My father brought me to the show, my namesake is in fact derivative of the most recent Nobel prize-winner for literature, and as a result, the way that music moves me is inexorably tied to my old man. He once bought me a Rage Against the Machine album when I was 13. When he would drive me to my soccer games, he would play Chicago records, and explain to me why they were so important. I promise, this will all come full circle soon.
From Bob Dylan I would end up moving towards bands like Modest Mouse. I became infatuated with the idea of music being a vehicle to tell rich, complex stories. I began to fall in love with artists who used poetry and instruments as a way to communicate something visceral.
Music, when it is well done, is wonderful.
Fast forward to my senior year of college, and I discovered Tom Waits. I had been doing a lot of travel writing, so the travelogues of Mr. Waits, juxtaposed with the texts of Hunter S. Thompson, were key formulants in determining the kind of man I would become. These men are my idols, and last week, one of them passed away. Upon discovering the depth of my infatuation with Waits, I reached out to my sister, who is a fan, who informed me that dad had seen Tom Waits perform at a small show in London many years ago. I gave him a call.
“Sure, yeah I saw him. Yeah, he came out, was smoking a cigarette. If you like him, you should listen to Leonard Cohen.”
Sure thing, boss.
The reason Leonard Cohen was so important to me, even if I did discover him later than I would have liked, is because he mated two things I love more than anything else. Literature (which I have a capacity for) and music (of which I have no recognizable talent). The reconciliation of pure, literary poetry and accessible, but complex, storytelling is something I think these three do/have done better than anyone else. Of these three, Leonard Cohen is probably the least recognized. His experience as a novelist is palpable in each and every one of his songs, and his grasp of English prose is, even in comparison to Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, unparalleled. Below is an excerpt from “Suzanne,” the first song from his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen.
And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.
A time like this is when we might have needed you most, Leonard. Like I said, just a few weeks ago, Cohen released You Want It Darker. Given the circumstances, “Traveling Light” is particularly poignant.
Written By Freddy Dubs – Dylan Weinert