Sunday May 31, 2020

Leonard Cohen, poet and songwriter, 1934-2016

'Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free'

11th November, 2016

Poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen, who has died aged 82, was profoundly loved by his fans worldwide - and nowhere more so than in Ireland where he played a series of legendary gigs.

The irony is that Cohen lost all his money after he was swindled by his agent. It meant he had to go back on the road to make ends meet.

Cohen sacked Kelley Lynch in 2004 after she had been his manager for 17 years. Lynch had stolen millions from him and was ordered by a court in 2006 to pay him back $9.5 million.

After her conviction for theft, Lynch began a campaign of harassment which resulted in her being jailed for 18 months in April 2012.

But throughout Cohen maintained his dignity, once remarking: "It gives me no pleasure to see my one-time friend shackled to a chair in a court of law, her considerable gifts bent to the service of darkness, deceit and revenge."

After the theft was discovered he emerged from a Buddhist monastery in California and began touring again. The upside of his betrayal was that whole new audience fell in love with his work.

His old fans turned out in droves to his Irish gigs at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in 2008 and 2012 and at Lisadell in Co Sligo in 2010.

TV producer and musician Jim Lockhart, formerly of the Horslips, told that Cohen was an extraordinary man, musician and songwriter. Lockhart attended the Dublin gigs.

Cohen at Kilmainham, 2012.

"His concerts were a religious experience. There was such a show of love between the artist and the audience and when people sang along it felt like an expression of something deeper within them," Lockhart said.

In his weekday email, cultural commentator Bob Lefsetz wrote this morning that on hearing Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows from 1988's I'm Your Man, he was "slayed by its truth".

Everybody knows the fight was fixed,

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich,

That's how it goes,

Everybody knows.

Lefsetz continued: "After the thrill is gone, after you’re no longer the critics’ darling, will you continue to compose? The greats do, Leonard Cohen did."

He described Cohen's work as "the antithesis of today’s hit-and-run music. This is a time bomb, a land mine, waiting to go off when you stumble upon it".

He added: "A great song is forever, never forget that."

Barry Devlin, writer of new BBC drama series My Mother And Other Strangers, muses: "Cohen remained brave in the face of the inevitable, the difficult and the unpalatable.

"He kept singing, he bore the weight of his mortality and he didn't crumble. I admired him as a hugely brave man. Humans are the only species that know they are going to die.

"He was likeable, listenable and admirable. And I love that he remained a ladies man right to the end. He raised his hat and the ladies all swooned.

I loved his Eeyore personality

"He sat in his own little patch of weeds. He was a terrific grump yet he never moaned.

"He was not misty-eyed about what we all have to do, which is to try to make the best of things.

"He was a big, complicated, twentieth-century man yet he stuck with the simple idea of redemption through bravery. He sang against the dark and he kept the faith, with a small 'f'.

"He had a fine sense of humour. He sang knowing that it must all come to an end but he kept singing as though life is eternal.

"His sensibility was very much that of the North American landmass, he was not a European. His outlook was different to ours and refreshing for that reason."

Writer and long-term fan Declan Lynch agrees that Cohen was distinctively Canadian, along with many other distinguished artists such as Joni Mitchell, The Band, Neil Young, and the McGarrigle sisters.

And this afternoon Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, mourned Cohen who was her own personal favourite singer songwriter.

"He had an ability to reach into your soul and speak to your inner thoughts, your hopes and your fears. His music brought solace and joy to so many," she said.

Bob Lefsetz this morning described seeing Cohen at a party in California in 2003:

"He radiated a charisma, but he seemed self-contained, in his own bubble, you could lean in, but he was not leaning out.

"It was very different from the famous people who are looking for attention and adoration.

"It was like he knew something we did not, that the joke was on us, that money and fame were secondary to personal fulfilment, and that life was hard, and you did your best to soldier on.

"But when I think of Leonard Cohen today, I think of someone who was sui generis, who was birthed in an era where who you were was more important than what you did.

"A man who realised that telling his own personal story was more important than playing the game, that ultimately it’s not statistics we’re drawn to, but truth.

"We all know the truth, we’re just afraid to speak it.

"That’s what we depend upon artists for, that’s why we’re drawn to them."

Cohen once told a music biz colleague: "You know, I have the worst luck with women.

"But, it makes for great songs!"

And he winked.

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