Whatever my particular learning disability or style was/is, one of the many ways it manifested itself passed away today. I don’t mean to make light of this (or be disrespectful of someone who means a lot to me) but when I think of Leonard Cohen the first thing I think about is how I was always confusing Leonard Cohen with Lou Reed. I know it sounds crazy, and I never confused their music. If I was listening to a song I knew if it was Lenny or Louie, of course I did, but only while listening to the music. Apart from hearing it, I was always confused and I cannot tell you why. Apart from hearing the music I would assign songs each to the other randomly as if I were just making it up as I went. Even as an adult I might be thinking about Sweet Jane and picturing Lou Reed singing it but the whole time I would be giving him the name Leonard Cohen. And I could think of Suzanne, picture Cohen singing it, and give him the name Lou Reed. In fact, when Lou Reed passed away I told several people that “Leonard Cohen died today.
Clearly, I have no idea why I’m telling you this except I think we should tell whatever stories we have about the dead because the dead don’t care. The stories, inane and pointless and irrelevant as they might be, are for the living and very likely only for the one telling the story. Any funeral director worth their salt will tell you this, all the things we say and do for the dead are for us. I will do them one better and say all the things we do and say for the dead are for us alone, as individuals who cannot, despite a world full of mythology, truly imagine being dead and done, so every story we ever tell about a dead person is a story about us we project into the future, asking it to remember us too when we’re gone. Maybe molecules can be harbored inside memories. Who’s to say?
If your name is Craig or Greg I have to apologize because even if we are friends and have known each other for years, I am going to forget which one is your name. This blindness must have the same neurological root as my Lou and Leonard confusion and my inability, no matter how many times I read the rules, to understand the difference between passed and past. (The first time I typed that last sentence, I wrote “passed” two times.) I’m saying my biological confusion or chemistry, whatever, should not be confused with a lack of appreciation or meaning.
The thing about Leonard Cohen is that the song Suzanne is the first song I can remember that I listened to over and over so I could write down all the lyrics and the first song that ever tricked me into having expectations about being in love. Love songs by the Beach Boys or The Beatles were ok, they had a beat and you could dance to them, but I never felt like they were painting a real picture of what it might be like to be in love, or in love in a way that made me day dream about oranges and tea from China. I didn’t know what heroes in the seaweed were, but I hell yes wanted to be one if Suzanne was going to be there wearing her crazy thrift store clothing.
Finally, Cohen was a story teller above all else, in my mind. As a storyteller, he taught me the value of the unexpected. Even if you’ve heard a Leonard Cohen song a hundred times, some of the lyrics… many of the lyrics are as unexpected as is the delivery of the words, which exist in a sort of gloaming between speaking and singing and are full of heavy growling breath.
I don’t know where Cohen is right now or if he is, but should it be that he has a view of all the RIP’s being offered, I kind of guess he might say, “Keep it. You’re going to need it more than me.”