In July 1985, Jacqui, a friend from university, left me with a slightly scuffed anthology of Leonard Cohen poems. Jacqui had on a billowing, flowery dress and a canary yellow, wide brimmed hat. She was grinning joyously as she pressed the book into my hands with a huge sloppy kiss. It was an insanely sunny day.
Whenever I’ve returned to the book since, its gloomy contents – like gazing down into the darkest well – serve only to bring back the fleeting brilliance of that moment. Jacqui and I never saw each other again. Of course I still have the book, like so many – somewhere.
Leonard Cohen died earlier this week at the age of 82. Few have expressed jaded romanticism and pared down ennui more eloquently. If I’m in the mood, his confessional seriousness is oddly reassuring, his lack of self pity exemplary. Cohen’s comfort was always uncompromising and felt unintended which is why it works.
With a few exceptions (Hallelujah) Cohen’s melodies were underdeveloped to say the least, often relying on a curious flatness or limited circularity for effect. The bland synth backings of I’m Your Man (1988) make that album, if anything, harder to like now than then; the programmed drums and motonous bass of Ten New Songs (2001) are crudely repetitive. But perhaps these shortcomings are to draw our attention back to the lyrics.
I can still see Jacqui’s inscription inside the book but I just can’t remember the words.
Leonard Cohen: 21st September 1934 – 7th November 2016.