Leonard Cohen: It’s Darker Now

A few weeks ago, in an interview for the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker, he said , “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

But I don’t want it darker, it is dark enough, and that’s no way to say goodbye . . .

Most of us first heard about this songwriter-poet from Canada, Leonard Cohen, from Judy Collins.  She had hit with his song Suzanne, originally a poem, Suzanne Takes You Down, from his collection Parasites of Heaven.  

cohen-sel-poemsMy parents gave me his Selected Poems 1956-1968 for my 17th birthday.  That was cool.  They could have given me a book by someone lame, like Rod McKuen.  I’ve had that book 47 years.  It’s been to New Orleans a couple of times, Nebraska, California, and it’s still in good condition.

Born Jewish, you know in the late 70s he began an involvement with Buddhism.  He became an ordained Zen priest in 1998 and lived at the Mount Baldy Zen Monastery for some years.

I loved that voice.  Deep, dark, haunting.  Instantly recognizable.  Beautiful and disturbing.

I’m glad he passed through this way and touched our perfect bodies with his mind.

Here is a poem from Selected Poems, and after that, a video of Tower of Song.  The poem was published in 1966 and the song written in the 80s.

I’ve Seen Some Lonely History

I’ve seen some lonely history
The heart cannot ignore
I’ve scratched some empty blackboards
They have no teachers for

I trailed my meager demons
From Jerusalem to Rome
I had an invitation
But the host was not at home

There were contagious armies
That spread their uniform
To all parts of my body
Except where I was warm

And so I wore a helmet
With a secret neon sign
That lit up all the boundaries
So I could toe the line

My boots got very tired
Like a sentry’s never should
I was walking on a tightrope
That was buried in the mud

Standing at the drugstore
It was very hard to learn
Though my name was everywhere
I had to wait my turn

I’m standing here before you
I don’t know what I bring
If you can hear the music
why don’t you help me sing?

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Come Healing with Leonard Cohen

LC1bI first became interested in poetry around 3rd or 4th grade after I read e.e. cummings’ poem “in-just spring,” and I used to borrow books of poetry from the school and city libraries, but I didn’t actually own a book of poetry until years later. It was Selected Poems 1956–1968 by Leonard Cohen. I still have that book. If you were to open it, you’d find an inscription: “To David on his 17th birthday, Love Dad.”

That was a long time ago, and the book, its author, my dad, and I are all still around.

Not only that but the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter has a new live album titled Leonard Cohen – Live in Dublin set for release in December. The video from the album premiered on Oct. 16. It’s called “Come Healing” and it’s from his critically acclaimed 2012 studio album Old Ideas.

Now, as you probably know, in addition to being a poet and songwriter, Cohen is also a Buddhist. In fact, he ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk in 1996 at the Mount Baldy Zen Center here in Southern California where he also spent several years on retreat.

Any influence that Buddhism has exerted on Cohen’s songwriting seems to be in between the lines of his lyrics. Like Bob Dylan, Cohen is Jewish, and yet both infuse their songs with Biblical imagery. In “Come Healing,”: ” The splinters that you carry/The cross you left behind” and “And let the heavens hear it/The penitential hymn.” The song is quintessential Cohen, dealing with reparation and devastation, desire and betrayal, faith and loss, and absolute love – reoccurring themes for the man someone once dubbed “the high priest of pathos.”

Yes, Leonard Cohen is still around, these days sporting a fedora that makes him look a bit like a latter-day Philip Marlowe, Private Rabbi, prowling the mean streets of the City of Lost Angels. According to Rolling Stone, he told the crowd toward the beginning of his one of his Dublin sets, “I’m not quite ready to hang up my boxing gloves just yet. I don’t know when we’ll meet again, but tonight we’ll give you everything we’ve got.”

Come watch Leonard Cohen drop to his knees to “Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind.” Full lyrics after the video.

Come Healing

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it…

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