What a gift to the world is Leonard Cohen. He has become the universal artist, par excellence. He speaks to all ages and, seemingly, to all places.
At 77, he has produced an album that is beautiful, magnificent, moving. It is as if his entire career were a preparation for the 10 songs on Old Ideas.
Old, as in timeless. Love, sex, death, God.
And how much the world owes to an unscrupulous manager who stole millions from Mr. Cohen, after which he undertook, in his seventies, a two-year, 247-show tour, three hours a night in 30 countries (he collapsed on stage in Spain, was turned away from Gaza, wowed them in Croatia and New Zealand). As a result, he reconnected with his audience, and with the sources of his art, and continued to grow as an artist.
For a decade he was a kind of hermit, until forced to repair his fortunes, he says. “And this was a most fortunate happenstance. Suddenly I was dealing with living musicians and then with living audiences and, yes, it did have a great effect. And I think it warmed some part of my heart that had taken on a chill.” Who says an artist, or anyone, should ever stop growing?
The essence of his art, or his obsessions, has never changed much, but reaches full expression in his first three songs, Going Home, Amen and Show Me the Place, all deeply spiritual and steeped in thoughts of death, though marked by humour. “I love to speak with Leonard,” God says in one song, “a lazy bastard living in a suit.” He tangles with God and finally, makes his peace – almost. “Show me the place/where you want your slave to go. . . . Help me roll away the stone. . . . I can’t move this thing alone.” And thank goodness for that heavy stone.
Mr. Cohen is Canada’s gift. He grew up in a semi-detached brick home in Montreal, a Jewish, fatherless boy, became a bestselling poet, a wonderful novelist, a singer known in the 1960s for Suzanne, and in the 1980s for Hallelujah – many years later, in 2008, three versions of it held positions at the same time on Britain’s Top 40. He belongs to the world.