and now leonard has gone home...

This has been a harsh week for sensitive souls, poets and visionaries of love in the West: the US Presidential election was awarded to a boorish braggart who boasts of caring for the little guy while ripping him off at every chance, the fear and heart-break that continues to rage throughout America's most vulnerable communities, pastoral anguish shared with broken families has taken its toll - and now the passing of Leonard Cohen.  I couldn't help but think of the lyrics to an old country tune, "The Ballad of Hank Williams" that includes the line:  "...he was makin' money hand over fist and you were getting screwed but you wasn't getting kissed!"

In retrospect, however, it feels right that Leonard should let go this week and enter a deeper rest.  He's already given the world so much beauty, truth and wisdom. Like many white folksinger boys in the 60s, I learned of LC through Judy Collins when she recorded "Suzanne" on her In My Life album.. I loved - and continue to love -  Ms. Collins' voice, but I often tire of what still strikes me as over production.  "Suzanne" was a delightful exception that grabbed both head and heart.

There are hints of melancholia and loss in Ms. Collins' interpretation - and that made me curious about the author. Mr. Cohen's treatment of his own composition was darker with more nuance and tension. In fact, the song felt like a prayer to me as he mixed stories of Jesus and lovers wandering through gardens and garbage, tea and oranges by the river. What's more, his rendering of "Suzanne" sometimes hurts to hear - not because of the musicality - but because on the sorrow.  Some later called Cohen the master or "erotic despair" but that, too is over produced. Leonard Cohen knew how to convey the truth of a broken heart in a complex world with beauty.

As I moved towards college, I started to add other Leonard Cohen songs to my working repertoire:  "Sisters of Mercy," "Bird on a Wire" and "Song of Isaac" came first; then "The Partisan" and "Joan of Arc." I fell in love again with Judy Collin's treatment of "Joan of Arc" as she limited the excess, stripped the song bare and saturated the sound with sorrow and solace.
Now the flames they followed Joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;

No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.
When I arrived at Lakeland College in 1970, and was introduced to the wonder of world literature by my English professor (and later friend) Martha, one book we devoured was Cohen's Beautiful Losers. It, too, was a mystical treatment of love, spirituality, politics and angst.  It isn't an easy read in 2016, but back in the day it was magical and just right for a young man learning to honor both intellect and passion. 

For a season or two, I lost touch with the evolving artist only to be shaken out of my sloth by his 1992 masterpiece: The Future. This was music filled with irony and tenderness albeit mixed with a full-hearted indictment of a world addicted to power, freed and violence. "I've seen the future man... its murder!" This whole album became a new favorite with "Hallelujah" and "Democracy" being stand outs for me.  
I'm sentimental if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene...

And, for my money, Leonard Cohen kept again better and better as time rolled on. Each new song collection was more poignant and sparse than the last. He stayed grounded after returning from five years of training in Zen meditation only to discover his trusted manager and friend has stolen most of the wealth Cohen had created through song-writing royalties. He returned to the road - recouped much of his lost wealth - and took the matter to court where justice finally prevailed. In 2015 he put out Popular Problems with the prophetic "Almost Like the Blues" my stand out favorite.
I saw some people starving

There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning
They were trying to escape
I couldn't meet their glances
I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic
It was almost like the blues
It was almost like the blues
I have to die a little
Between each murderous thought
And when I'm finished thinking
I have to die a lot
There's torture and there's killing
And there's all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing
Lord, it's almost like the blues
It's almost like a blues

And now, November 2016, less than a month after releasing a thoroughly creative masterpiece, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen entered death at his home with his family close by.  On the website dedicated to his music, there was this simple posting:

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 take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.

C’est avec une profonde tristesse que nous vous annonçons que le poète, auteur-compositeur et artiste légendaire, Leonard Cohen est décédé. Le monde de la musique a perdu un de ses visionnaires les plus prolifiques et vénérés.

Une cérémonie aura lieu à Los Angeles dans les prochains jours. La famille souhaite vivre le deuil en toute intimité.

If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
Hineni, hineni
I'm ready, my lord

And so it shall be and so it is, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.. I learned somethings about being a man from Leonard Cohen:  how the integration of head and heart is essential, how being passionate - even in my mistakes - is more holy than living uptight and bound by fear, how others can often take my ideas/music/interests and make them even more beautiful, how sharing and generosity are the core of all life, and how loving my spiritual tradition does not disqualify me from being wildly encouraging of all - and no - other traditions. Today 
I grieve and give thanks at the same time.


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