So Long, Leonard Cohen
You want it darker… we kill the flame.
The Clutching Hand is ravenous, and its hunger is never sated, but in 2016 it seems to have taken so much more than its normal remit. All year long I saw friends and peers mourn the losses of artists like David Bowie and Prince, to name just a few of many, and I joined them in their mourning, but I knew that there was a death coming that would touch me as deeply as I saw those touch my friends and fellow creators. It seems that the hour has come round at last. From his official Facebook page comes the news that Leonard Cohen has left us at the age of 82.
It can’t really be called a tragedy, for Cohen led a long and tremendous life, and his art touched the lives of millions of people. He finished and released what he had intended to be his last album just a few weeks ago. I don’t know how much more most of us can ask than that. Yet it is news that has shaken me to my core. In a week filled with such momentous events, a week of so much upheaval and uncertainty, so much fear and so much passion–for good or ill–the death of one old man seems a small thing, but Leonard Cohen had an enormous impact on my life and on my work, and I know that I’ll be hearing from him long after he’s gone.
He’s not a name that comes up often when I’m asked to list influences, and the proof may not be as obvious as some names within the genre where I work, but it is certainly there, again and again down through the years, ever since I first discovered him–by his lyrics first, then later by his music–in high school and early college. Leonard Cohen had as profound an influence on my work as any horror or weird fiction writer ever did, to be sure.
Many of the writers who influenced me were already dead before I came to them, and I’m in the unique position that the majority of the living writers whose works have affected me most profoundly are people I have met, or at least exchanged pleasantries with on Facebook or Twitter. But I never spoke to Leonard Cohen, never wrote him a letter, even missed my chance to see him perform live when he was in Kansas City a few years ago. So I never got to tell him what an impact he had on me; that he was my favorite songwriter, my favorite living poet. (I guess this means that I need to find a way to write a letter to Tom Stoppard, to thank him for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead…)
So many of Leonard Cohen’s songs deal with loss and love and mourning, with art and inspiration and passion, that there’s an overabundance to choose from to mark the occasion. And so many of his songs seem so perfect right now, given the state in which the country and the world finds itself this week. “The Future” leaps to mind, of course, and “Anthem,” and maybe most especially for me, “Democracy,” with its odd juxtaposition of hope and threat. There are songs that mean a lot to me, personally, and there are songs that are just so utterly Leonard Cohen-y, like “Humbled in Love” or “Boogie Street.” It’s tough to know what to choose, so just choose your favorite, I guess, and listen to that tonight.
The Tower of Song doesn’t seem like the kind of place where they let you rest in peace, but I’ll hope that his room there is at least comfortable, now, and that he’s got a decent view. We are left with his enormous body of work, by which he will continue speaking to us sweetly. I suppose that will have to be enough.
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye…