Friday 11 November 2016

So Long, Lenny.

You'll forgive me, I hope, if I take a side-turning today. This tumultuous week has been capped off with the sad news of the passing of Leonard Cohen. A poet, author and song-writer of extraordinary ability, his work inspired romantics, dreamers and beautiful losers for decades. I include myself amongst that throng.

His work was, rich, layered and moving, of course. But there was a wry sense of humour there as well. When, in Tower Of Song, he growled "I was born with the gift of a golden voice", you knew this was a man who could never take himself too seriously.

Ah, that voice. It's strange listening to early recordings, when he sang in a pleasing contralto. We're more used to later Lenny, when his delivery deepened and sweetly roughened into an instrument of rare, dark gravity. It's almost tactile, the deep bass frequencies washing over you in warm, insistent waves. You can't help but be hypnotised.

His songwriting abilities will be forever lauded, but he had a way of using the most unassuming of instruments–cheap keyboards with tinny presets left untouched–to deliver music of true and lasting power. In other hands this would have been laughable. But Lenny always knew what he was doing. The instrumentation is not the song.

I was lucky enough to see him in concert once, on one of the tours he undertook after his retirement in a Buddhist enclave in California was ended with the news that his manager had embezzled away his songwriting fortune. What could have been a dreadful chore for all involved was, instead, a truly joyful evening. Lenny was energised, powered by an adoring crowd into a three-hour set that became increasingly the norm. He was in his late seventies at the time, performing with the stamina of a man half his age.

I've always said when I grow up that I want to be Leonard Cohen. Now he's gone, I realise what a foolish notion that is. No-one else could be who he was, or do what he did. He was tenacious enough to hold on and deliver one last album, a meditation on mortality called You Want It Darker. One last gift for us. But then, he was always a gentleman that way.

So long, Lenny.

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