If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker
You’ve probably heard that Leonard Cohen passed away at age 82 on the evening of November 10, cause undisclosed. [Update 11/14: the world has since learned that Cohen died from cancer on November 9 and was buried on Thursday 10.] The legendary artist’s music label, Sony, announced his death on his Facebook page:
Commenters from around the world have been responding with quotes, prayers, and pointed references to Cohen’s famous lyric “There is a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in.”
In a statement, Cohen’s son Adam Cohen said, “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records.”
That album was “You Want it Darker,” which Cohen recorded sitting at home in his medical chair, and that was released on October 21, just weeks before his death.
To the end, Cohen’s work grew with his ability to integrate suffering with hope, darkness with light, the political and the spiritual, and an almost ecclesiastic sense of physical and emotional passion with life’s inevitable ebbing.
His song “Dance Me to the End of Love,” which would become his opening to virtually every concert he played, was informed by the fate of Holocaust victims who were killed while a string quartet played classical strains outside the crematorium — it’s an ode to the power of love as an armor against despair and a weapon for peace.
Cohen’s longtime former lover, Marianne Ihlen, died in July 2016 after a battle with leukemia. At the time, Cohen asked those who knew Ihlen — and those who simply knew her from his song “So Long Marianne” — to post their thoughts and poems about her to his Facebook page. You can read them here.
Cohen’s letter to Ihlen, which he had sent to her in the hospital via a close friend of hers, spoke of age, death and seeing her “down the road.” In an interview, the friend, documentary filmmakerJan Christian Mollestad, recalled the spirit of the letter:
“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
In an interview conducted on the launch of “You Want it Darker,” Cohen said of the title song’s refrain, “Hineni,” meaning I’m ready, my Lord:
“We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are willing to serve. So, this is just a part of my nature, and I think everybody else’s nature, to offer oneself at the moment, at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve.”
Sparse and sumptuous, Cohen’s final album is personal, mystical and political. It’s a stinging critique of religious certitude, an acceptance of age, an honest wrestling with life and its end.
We’ll leave you with two videos: This dance remix of “You Want it Darker” — because like love, dancing may be one of our best armors — and Cohen’s most famous song, “Hallelujah.”
- Click here to watch a stream of all the tracks from “You Want it Darker”
- Listen to David Remnick’s final interview with Leonard Cohen on WNYC
- Read David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Cohen, published October 2016
Featured photo: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP