The widespread mourning of strangers is always questionable. We may be sympathetically indifferent to the loss of an acquaintance but passionately devastated by the loss of a stranger. Those who criticise this forget the significance that, the great talents of the world, can change a life they remain oblivious to. Leonard Cohen was one of these talents. As the man himself wrote in his masterfully intricate breakthrough Suzanne, ‘there are heroes in the seaweed.’ Whether he knew it or not, Leonard Cohen could easily be referring to himself; by never shunning depictions of life at its most murky, he become heroic in the minds of the disaffected and the downtrodden.
But is the consistent canonification of late celebrities not questionable also? Nobody is without fault and Cohen himself recognised this. Through his lyrics we have met the likes of a suicidal charlatan (Dress Rehearsal Rag), a masochistic mistress (Master Song) and, at the centre of it all, a puppet-master – Cohen sneering with cathartic pessimism that ‘there are no diamonds in the mine.’ Cohen himself, a gentle, religious man, seemed to have no unique qualification to delve so readily into deprivation. Yet, he dug deep into the dirt and uncovered the very musical diamonds he would have denied existed.
Similarly, even Cohen’s career was littered with difficulties. Infamously, he began making music only when his literary works never met commercial success. However, if it were not for these setbacks, we would have never got the chance to appreciate a vocal that could be a soothing whisper at its most tender or a pained baritone at its most bitter. On both sides of this spectrum, and between, the results were mesmerisingly beautiful. This beauty is present in the seminal Hallelujah, despite the fact Cohen composed eighty drafts of it before settling on a final, immortal arrangement. It can be found again in accounts of his late-noughties tour of arenas worldwide, the result of (again) financial difficulties. Clearly, Cohen had a knack for moulding misfortune into magnificence.
Yet, as there is so much of this magnificence present in Cohen’s lyrics and voice, it would be easy to forget the man’s musical innovations. While his early albums let raw emotion revel in minimalistic arrangements, by 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man, he had joined forces with Phil Spector to exchange introspection for extravagance. Ten years later, I’m Your Man was a surprisingly skilful shift into synth-pop. Even his final masterpiece You Want It Darker, released a mere month ago, was a progressive combination of synthesised strings and sparse styling’s, which created an evocative consideration of morality. This week, fans are not only mourning an exceptional poet, but also the restlessness of one of music’s most inspiring innovators.
Most importantly of all, however, we are mourning what Leonard Cohen meant to individuals. He once sang a request to ‘dance me through the panic, till I’m gathered safely in.’ To all of those who Leonard danced through panic with, he will be missed. To all of those moved to motion by his masterful melodies, he will be missed. To all those who have ever felt their despair could be defined as ‘a cold’ and ‘broken Hallelujah’, he will be missed. This list could continue; only a talent comparable to Cohen’s would be capable of envisioning all those his music has affected. He will, simply, be missed.