Eclectic interpretations of songs by Canada’s much-missed poet laureate, including two the man himself never recorded.
“I want to reach out to inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.” LEONARD COHEN, describing his intended audience to an early publisher
”When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius.” BOB DYLAN
Far from the simplistic view of Leonard Cohen as somewhat of a miserablist, his work is full to the brim with warmth, deep sensuality and wry humour. His songs sit with you like companions, so complete are his stories and rounded his subjects. You can smell their cigarettes, react to their pain and laugh at their stories; the sense of having spent time with Suzanne, or Marianne or any of his muses/characters so complete that you half expect to be washing their coffee cup after they leave.
Cohen’s storytelling is as diverse as it is fulsome, taking expansively from life, love, culture and religion, and most successfully when these elements combine. His intoxicating combination of poetry with melody casts spells, creates conversation, paints pictures; and the refrains and the moods he conjures stay with you like the waltz of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ or ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, swirling round and round until you’re giddy. And somewhat more literally, they can stay with you like the 80-plus hymn-like verses he wrote for ‘Hallelujah’, which he crafted over a five-year period – always perfecting, always lingering.
This 18-track tribute to Cohen features versions of his songs from fans, family and friends alike, and it’s telling that many of these artists have not been content to cover Cohen on just one occasion, but frequently return to his work. In fact Nick Cave covered ‘Avalanche’ twice, 30 years apart, the first (our closing track) a prowling, growling punk beast of a version and the second a tender, string-accompanied rendition at the grand piano. Cohen’s fans it seems are also always perfecting, always lingering.
Initial champions of his work such as folk legend and activist Judy Collins sit alongside Cohen’s fellow Canadian and keepers of the flame k.d. lang, Tom Northcott, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Rufus Wainwright (Rufus is also father to Cohen’s granddaughter Viva). Also included are Jeff Buckley’s prettily embroidered take on ‘Hallelujah’ (the full album version), what can only be described as Nina Simone’s total possession of ‘Suzanne’, and Lee Hazlewood’s ownership of ‘Come Spend The Morning’, a song Cohen himself was never to record.
In Cohen’s final weeks, Marianne Ihlen, his one-time inspiration/lover and lifelong friend, was dying of cancer and he wrote back to her, “Our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think that you can reach mine.” His songs are so entirely real to his listeners that this note to the Marianne we know from his lyrics affected millions, who wept with them both. Cohen will never stop reaching others and this is both his talent and his legacy.