Unlike most octogenarians enjoying a carefree retired life, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was actively churning out lyrical masterpieces till the wee hours. Amidst the American election disaster and demontization woes, the news of Cohen’s demise came as a stab out of nowhere. The genius of his illustrious six-decade-long career cannot be put down in mere words.
Here, we take a look at the ultimate Leonard Cohen playlist – a song for every season and every reason.
So Long, Marianne
“Come over to the window, my little darling
I’d like to try to read your palm”
The Norwegian damsel – Marianne Jensen – Cohen met in his early days is perhaps the most remembered muse in musical history. They spent considerable years together, and Cohen went onto write some of the most heartfelt lyrics of his discography dedicated to her.
“Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.”
The realism in Cohen’s lyrics is palpable across the world, beyond political and geographical borders. One of the best loved protest ballads, the song throws a light on the grim world we live in. Although he may have written the lines decades back, the lines resonate even today.
“You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception.”
Cohen’s short-lived affair with Janis Joplin culminated in the lachrymose verses of Chelsea Hotel. Never has a heartbreak been so well expressed. Most recently, Lana Del Rey went on to cover the song, and revived the hit from yesteryear.
“And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind, and you know that you can trust her, for she’s touched your perfect body with her mind”
A love affair not consummated resulted in one of the greatest music careers ever. Cohen’s debut album featured the track about his rendezvous with Suzanne Vaillancourt in Montreal, Canada. She was married at that point in time. Cohen intended to keep the song as poetry, but clearly the lines had a different fate in store.
“And I’ve seen your flag on the Marble Arch
But listen love love is not some kind of victory march no
It’s a cold and very lonely Hallelujah”
Cohen wrote 80 drafts of the song before it was picked up by Velvet Underground’s John Cale. In fact, no producers were ready to sign Cohen for the song. Nevertheless, the musical legend knew that it was destined to be a chartbuster, and so it was. The song has been covered innumerable times, including by artists such as Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Leona Lewis, and if there’s only one Cohen song you know, it’s probably this one.
“I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do.”
From his latest album, You Want It Darker, that released earlier this year, one can tell that Cohen had not aged at all. His sense of yearning and expression was still as deep, and his love ballads remain just as relatable, whether you’re 20 or an octogenarian.
You got me singing
“The bulletin is: You got me singing even though the world is gone. You got me thinking I’d like to carry on.”
Another of Cohen’s more recent numbers from his 2014 album, Popular Problems, begins on a rather pessimistic note about the world cruising towards dystopia. However, he ends it with a stroke of optimism. The singer has, in occasions more than one, confessed to being a “closet optimist”, and this song stands as a testimony to the same.
“There comes a point, I think, as you get a little older, you feel that nothing represents you.”
The conflict in the Middle East served as an inspiration for Cohen to pen the politically charged lyrics of this song. Arabian backing vocals reaffirm the themes and his powerful rendition emphasizes the mood. The verse can also be found in his volume of poetry, titled Book of Longing.
“C’mon baby give me a kiss, stop writing everything down.”
A lover’s quarrel, the everyday He Said-She Said, the sweet nothings were Cohen’s USP. And no other song expresses these sentiments as lucidly as Different Sides from his 2012 album, Old Ideas. The lyrics examine the effervescent nature of a couple going strong, yet having their tiffs every now and then.
Dance me to the end of love
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in.
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.”
What comes across as a love ballad is actually inspired by the Holocaust. Cohen would go on to say that he heard and read stories about classical music being performed live in the death camps, and it affected him deeply. The song has been widely covered by other artistes including Jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux.