LOS ANGELES: Canadian rock music icon Leonard Cohen predicted his own death in a letter to his muse Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman he met while living on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s. A New Yorker profile of the singer recounted how, after being told in July 2016 that Marianne had only a few days left to live, Cohen emailed her saying, “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.” Two days later, he learned in an email she had died after reading his note.
Keeping his promise, Cohen passed away on November 7 at the age of 82, leaving his fans in a sadness only his songs could perfectly convey. The singer was known for the soulful funereal tone in his songs and was a man of letters whose songs fused religious imagery with themes of redemption and sexual desire. He searched for what he once called “a kind of balance in the chaos of existence”.
Cohen’s most ardent admirers compared his works to spiritual prophecy. His lyrics were deeply personal and at times took on an element of prayer. Cohen’s well-known songs include Hallelujah, Suzanne, Famous Blue Raincoat and So Long Marianne, the last of which he wrote for his longtime romantic partner and muse.
Even with his old age creeping up, the icon extensively toured from 2008 to 2013. He released an album, You Want It Darker, just last month. But the New Yorker described him as ailing, quoting him as saying he was more or less confined to barracks in his Los Angeles residence.
Cohen’s nasal voice, deep-bass and conversational vocals were criticised by some as being monotone. However, his contributions in music as well as poetry and literature earned him the status of a legend. British musician Paul Weller once called his melancholy style “music to slit your wrists to”.
But his work was also suffused with irony and self-deprecating humour, often touching on his relationship with fame and his reputation for romantic entanglements. “I got this rap as a kind of ladies’ man,” Cohen told Canada’s Globe and Mail in 2007. “And as I say in one of the poems, it has caused me to laugh, when I think of all the lonely nights.”
Cohen toured widely but also sought solace in meditation, far from the public eye. For part of the 1990s, Cohen lived in a Zen Buddhist monastery in the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Los Angeles, where he handled tasks as menial as cleaning toilets.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Cohen as “a most remarkable Montrealer” who had “managed to reach the highest of artistic achievement, both as an acclaimed poet and a world-renowned singer-songwriter”.
Conveying what all his fans feel today, singer Roseanne Cash echoed the lyrics from Cohen’s song Anthem when she tweeted, “Leonard Cohen is dead. There’s a crack in everything. No light yet.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2016.
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