Over the last week or so, I’ve been diving deep into I’m Your Man, the recently released biography of Leonard Cohen. Like many artists of singular genius, Cohen was nowhere near a saint, and the book doesn’t flinch away from his compulsive womanising, heavy drug use, and long litany of broken personal and professional relationships. But it also works hard to distill and analyse the brilliance of Cohen’s lyrics, and musical style, and the stories and methods behind them.
Naturally, the reading has inspired some serious musical bingeing, as I listen to the songs discussed over, and over. Frankly, I’ve been in heaven. So, by way of sharing the love, here are five of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs.
Turn the lights off, pour yourself a glass of whatever floats your spirit, silence the house, and drink in the words, the beautiful, glorious, words.
Five for Friday: Leonard Cohen
1. So Long, Marianne
Perhaps my favourite Cohen song. Cohen was a notoriously slow songwriter: when he started writing this, it was titled Come On, Marianne— a plea to his lover Marianne Ihlen to save a stuttering affair. By the time he was finished, the affair was in its death throes, and the song was transformed into a long, slow goodbye to love.
2. Everybody Knows
The first Cohen song I was exposed to, thanks to a teenage friend’s obsession with the black comedy Pump Up The Volume. The film itself is memorable, but it was Cohen’s sombre, doom-laden intonation that I returned to, again and again. Even now, it has the capacity to make me stop mid-act, and just listen.
Another Cohen track that leaped out of a screen at me and punched me between the eyes, this time as the opening credit sequence to the 2015 second season of True Detective. The voice is as deep as midnight, the lyrics as apocalyptic and fatalistic as anything he ever recorded. Not to mention that he was eighty fucking years old when he released it. If I can even chew my own food when I’m eighty……
4. Dance Me To The End of Love
A genuine love song! Or, more precisely, like any truly great troubadour of the apocalypse, a romance song: Cohen, like all great artists, understands that love can be fleeting, but romance– that deeper, wider, more lasting sense of togetherness– can last forever. This is a song that drives past the frivolous accessories of love, and celebrates the simple act of mutual belonging, possession, and submission. It is, quite simply, beautiful.
5. You Want It Darker
If you thought releasing a work of brilliance like Nevermind at the age of eighty is astonishing, then what do you think of an artist who releases something like this at the age of eighty-two? Three weeks after telling the world and his God he was ready, he was dead. Very few of us get to truly record our last thoughts. Almost nobody does it with such eloquence and outright brilliance. This is a stunning achievement, built around that subterranean voice. It’s utterly, sublimely, terminally haunting.
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