What can I say about the legacy Cohen left me? How can I attempt to describe what his songs meant then and then and now; the feelings they engendered, the images they brought before me? It is impossible but still I have to try.
I guess part of it was the religious imagery. Here was a man who knew the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New; who wrestled with God like Jacob; who followed that path like a pilgrim, who like me found solace in an Eastern way (for him it was Zen, for me, yoga) and who, above all, wasn’t afraid to open in song the very darkest corners of the heart. Cohen confronted himself daily, opening the maps of his depression and the charts of his love:
please understand I never had a secret chart
to get me to the heart of this
or any other matter.
Cohen was a stranger in this world; a pilgrim, a mystic; a lover. He was a priest without a temple, a soldier without a war, a guru without a religion:
and I sing this for the captain
whose ship has not been built
for the mother in confusion
her cradle still unfilled…
for the prima ballerina
who cannot dance to anything.
(‘The Heart with No Companion’)
Cohen is full of paradox and contradiction; he is baffled and bewildered, confused and crossed as Jesus on a bad day, yet still he sings:
and even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
What I love the most about Cohen is that he defies logic. I know people who say, ‘I can’t understand what ‘Suzanne’ means. What is it all about?’ I could tell them that it was about a woman he once knew; how the Jesus motif is about a statue of Christ in Montreal who looks down on sailors or how there’s a statue of Mary called ‘our Lady of the Harbour – but all this is irrelevant. What those images brought to me when I first heard them transcends the geography of Montreal. They spoke of drowning men able to see Jesus; they spoke of an eccentric woman dressed in Salvation Army flowers; they spoke of love and longing and being most lost when you are most found. To ask what the songs are about is to ask the wrong question, as it might be to ask someone who meditates what they are thinking about. Meditation is not thought; and song is not logic. The song is about your experience of the song, and it’s about the connection Leonard makes with your heart. The songs are transfusions.