Death of ‘Renaissance man’ Leonard Cohen
The troubadour from Montreal has left a body of work that for many became the soundtrack to their lives
There is perhaps a little irony in the fact that Leonard Cohen has died in the week when one of his great anthems, Democracy, with its reference to America being “the cradle of the best and the worst”, has taken on a far deeper and prophetic resonance than he might have intended.
But Cohen’s work always had meaningful – and often transcendent – expression to it. He had a dual career – in literature and song.
He was, as the American Academy of Poets described him, “a Renaissance man who straddles the elusive artistic borderlines”. Above all his great contemporaries of the 1960s, he achieved a synthesis between his lyrics and music that was unmatched.
Cohen was first and foremost a poet – a status for which he gained a reputation and recognition long before he took up the guitar and wrote the iconic songs for which he will be most remembered.
The craft and design of those songs has always displayed a poet’s sensibility and care for language. And everywhere in imagery that bonds the sacred and sexual, his language is rich, metaphorical and full of succinct and lyrical clarity and beauty.
He has left a body of work that for many became the soundtrack to their lives. He may have started out as the poet of melancholy but the image of the depressive troubadour could be misleading: Cohen’s style was never without self-mocking humour: I had no choice / I was born with the gift of a golden voice.
After a long absence from live performance he triumphantly returned to deliver epic nights of song that are now part of legend and which attracted not only his diehard fans from the early years but a new generation of admirers.
His appeal – especially to women – was phenomenal. Civility and humility were hallmarks of those unforgettable performances here in Ireland.
The onset of years also produced a remarkable late resurgence of creativity not unlike the last years of Yeats’s life. His recent rueful and elegiac swansong, You Want It Darker set the scene for his departure.