I came to Leonard Cohen admittedly late. It seems we took a long break from each other ...
But I first heard heard his Songs of Leonard Cohen LP in 1969. It was a youth group from my church and the leader put on "Suzanne" twice as we wrote on a legal pad how we felt after hearing this song twice.
The sense of words unpacking a suitcase of what love does to you if your not careful, I'm pretty sure I was much more generic and if I wrote two sentences then I was pleased.
That song hovered here and there in my teens, flitting from flower to flower like a butterfly, aware of his 20-some year career until one day when a friend accosted me, made me sit down and listen to Cohen's "Hallelujah." The time was '85 or '86 and word went he'd recorded tons of versions, and finally came to settle on this one. It had power with a subtle grain of wood that led all direction one way, a spiritual one with as few words could speak such texture. (At that particular moment I was fairly far away from that procession of the divine.)
In the mid-'90s he continued to make his records stark, full of space, "Everybody Knows," "The Future," and more, all made their way to the screen bringing this poet's music to a younger audience while his peers followed the changes in his brand.
The Cohen documentary, I'm Your Man, played to good reviews. The track "Tower of Song" got extensive airplay at public radio. There was an acceptance of his artistry that broke through genres.
He was so full of words, written against the grain, in slow, seductive lines, modernism, rarely pretentious and one of the world's true poets. His live shows sold out. His time was heavily sought. And I might guess, he tried to stay just outside the star machinations that ruined so many from his generation and those to come.
With Cohen no longer among us and faced with which song of his to choose from a catalog so vast, so well known and so widely loved, for me, it is "Going Home," an intimate piece of a moment between Leonard and his god, off his 2012 album, Old Ideas, that is the most appropriate selection for this purpose.
That song is in my eyes a reconciliation with god, a slow shuffle brings it on, created by a snare drum brushed in two strokes. In it you find the mighty and in it you find the weak, a bloodletting true to his work on recording, or on page, or maybe in how he looked at a fan in the seventh row. We are in a dark place, but a right place, a Rhodes keyboard and still the damn shuffle, "going home," and the listener, a conversation he believes god would have him. The first words sparkle, drops of a morning's refuge, this is a still-life of what he is to hear. Alone, the intimacy, first words, a conversation, the belief that god is speaking straight to you (I'd love to speak with Leonard/He is a sportsman and a shepherd/He is a lazy bastard living in a suit/Going home without my sorrow/Going home sometime tomorrow/Going home to where it's better than before).