So long Leonard Cohen – Poet, Balladeer, part of our lives and a great and honest witness to the human condition.
Who knows, if he had played the harmonica more he might have received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Baruch dayan emet.
The Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen has died aged 82. The news was announced on his official Facebook page, but no details about the cause of death were given. “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away,” the statement said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led tributes to the singer, who was known for hits including Hallelujah and Dance Me to the End of Love. “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of the legendary Leonard Cohen,” Mr Trudeau said in a statement. “He will be fondly remembered for his gruff vocals, his self-deprecating humour and the haunting lyrics that made his songs the perennial favourite of so many generations.”
And finally, in tribute to Leonard Cohen, here is his 1993 interview with Jools Holland pic.twitter.com/NZOUAUQDua
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) November 11, 2016
Fans have gathered outside Cohen’s Montreal home to light candles and lay flowers. Tributes are also being paid on the Greek island of Hydra, where Cohen had a house in the 1960s. Cohen’s son Adam told Rolling Stone: “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records. “He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humour.” A memorial for Cohen will take place in Los Angeles at a later date, the Facebook announcement added. The Montreal-born singer’s hits included Suzanne, Bird on the Wire and I’m Your Man. He released his 14th album, You Want It Darker, just last month.
Astute fans will have got a shiver on first listening to You Want It Darker. “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game/If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame,” he boomed on the sublime opening title track. This was Cohen in reflective form, considering the paths untraveled and the damage done, shot through with religious themes. “Hineni,” he sang, a Hebrew word meaning Here I am. “I’m ready, my lord.” Cohen it seemed was departing, but on his own terms. On Traveling Light, Cohen sang: “It’s au revoir / My once so bright, my fallen star / I’m running late, they’ll close the bar / I used to play one mean guitar”.
His song Hallelujah which did not chart when Cohen first released has since become a standard and a major hit for other artists.
“There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah”
The singer spoke last month about the prospect of death in what is thought to be one of his final interviews. “I am ready to die,” he told The New Yorker. “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.” Speaking about making arrangements for his death, he added: “At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels.”
His death makes even more poignant a final letter Leonard Cohen penned a to his dying muse Marianne Ihlen. Indeed you have to ask did Cohen know he was dying when he wrote it?
Ihlen, whom Cohen wrote about in So Long, Marianne and Bird on a Wire, died in Norway on 28 July, aged 81. Cohen met her as a 23 year old on the Greek island Hydra in the 1960s and they became lovers. So Long, Marianne appeared on his 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen. The song was inspired by Marianne Jensen, born Marianne Ihlen, whom Cohen met on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. Cohen said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. She had recently been left by her husband, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, leaving her and their six-month-old son alone on the island. The two hit it off, and Cohen ultimately took her from Hydra back to her home in Oslo, Norway. He later invited her and her son to live with him in Montreal, an offer which she accepted. The two lived together throughout the 1960s, commuting between New York, Montreal, and Hydra.
Her close friend Jan Christian Mollestad got in touch with Cohen to tell him Ihlen was dying. “It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne. We brought it to her the next day and she was fully conscious and she was so happy that he had already written something for her,” Mollestad said. Mollestad, a documentary maker, read Cohen’s letter to her before she died. “It said well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and 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 you can reach mine.
“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.” Mollestad told CBC that when he read the line “stretch out your hand,” Ihlen stretched out her hand. “Only two days later she lost consciousness and slipped into death. I wrote a letter back to Leonard saying in her final moments I hummed Bird on a Wire because that was the song she felt closest to. And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said “so long, Marianne.”
Leonard Cohen’s Facebook page also marked Ihlen’s death. “The death last week of Marianne Ihlen, the woman immortalized in So Long, Marianne, has evoked an overwhelming response from those who knew Marianne well, those who knew her only as Leonard Cohen’s muse, and even those who previously didn’t know there was a real Marianne,” a post said.
I first saw the island of Hydra in 1976 on a day cruise of the Saronic Islands of Aegina, Poros and Hydra from Athens. From the sea there is nothing and then you turn a headland and are stunned to amazement by the most amphitheatrically perfect hidden Greek Harbour with Captain’s mansions and white houses tumbling down to the water’s edge. Named by the ancient Greeks after its natural springs the island is virtually dry these days and the great merchant fleet of over 150 ships which made it prosperous went after Greek Independence leaving many mansions in ruins. Like Symi and Kalymnos it earned its living from sponge fishing until 1932 when Egypt banned Greek sponge boats from its waters and its population declined again as Hydriots emigrated. Over 8% of its population starved to death in World War II under Nazi occupation.
When Leonard Cohen came here in the 1960’s when many of the buildings in Hydra Town were empty and he bought a house for $16,000 with a legacy from his grandmother. When he lived there electricity arrived on the island and this inspired “Bird on a Wire.” The influx of foreign artists and writers inspired by the island led to gentrification and today on the car free island property is at a premium, a far cry from the island where Leonard and Marianne lived and loved.
“Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.”
Leonard Norman Cohen, CC GOQ (21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016) Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist.