“Only in Canada could somebody with a voice like mine win Vocalist of the Year.”
~Leonard Cohen, acceptance speech for best male vocalist, 1993 Juno Awards, Canada
I doubt that Leonard Cohen celebrates Canada Day. But when I think of my favourite Canadian poet, I can only think of one man. And that’s Cohen.
Save for his growly voice (which I like, but some don’t), what’s not to love about this man?
He is a poet, novelist, musician, bohemian, buddhist monk, and self-described “grocer of despair.”
His writing and his persona are sexy, smooth, dark and funny.
Like these lines from “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” (from the album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967):
I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but now it’s come to distances and both of us must try,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.
It’s easy to get lost in his hypnotic words and his music, to find comfort in the shared experience of love and loss. His beautiful words a reminder that despite the darkness: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
It’s perhaps a well-kept secret that generations of young people have been initiated into the ways of world by reading Cohen (smuggled into their bedroom or the stacks of their local library).
Salman Rushdie was influenced by Cohen, and he talked about it during his presentation of the 2012 PEN New England Award for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence:
“It’s really a thrilling opportunity to have a chance to tell him how much that music has meant to me for over four decades. I said to him before we came on that when we were kids he taught us something about how it might be to be grown up. How to have relationships that were in the real world, that were not kid stuff, but had the pain, the difficulty, the complexity, and the exaltation of real relationships to the real world of adult life.”
I was introduced to Cohen at university (where we madly dissected his poetry line by line), and from there I discovered his music (the perfect music for the angst-ridden English student). Everyone has a favourite Cohen song, and mine is “Bird on the Wire”, which starts:
“Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”
I imagine it says a lot about this great man–the lover and the poet.
- Leonard Cohen, Feist & Drake Up For Canada’s Polaris Music Prize – Contactmusic.com (contactmusic.com)
- Leonard Cohen accepts Glenn Gould Prize, gives away the $50,000 (theglobeandmail.com)