Last week we listened to an American Alleluia. This week, the echo of Canadian Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah is still reverberating, many days after the announcement of his death. I attended one of Cohen’s performances in 2013. At 79, Cohen was full of joy, dancing onto the stage, delighting in the interaction with his musical partners, and engaging us with his stories and remarkable musicianship. The one thing that sticks out from that night is the level of respect, honor and, yes, even love, that was shared between musicians. There was no hurry, no tension, no counting the clock. Cohen was there for, and with, his musical partners until all of the songs had been sung, until the evening had been played to its conclusion, until the final notes were carried out of Copps Colliseum in our hearts.
The release of Cohen’s 14th studio album only a few weeks ago (at Canada House in LA), was an opportunity to for Cohen and his son to talk about the making of the album, and its deeply personal themes.
Cohen’s son Adam had these words to say about his dad, “They say that life is a beautiful play with a terrible third act. If that’s the case, it must not apply to Leonard Cohen. Right now, at the end of his career, perhaps at the end of his life, he’s at the summit of his powers.”
A Billboard article probes the title song. “In You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen sings “Hineni, hineni; I’m ready, my lord,” which was Abraham’s response when God called on him to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is also the name of a prayer of preparation and humility, addressed to God, sung by the cantor on behalf of the congregation on Rosh Hashanah. At the Oct 13, 2016 press event, Leonard talked about using hineni in the lyrics of his new album’s title song: “I don’t really know the genesis, the origin, of hineni… (It’s) a declaration of readiness no matter what the outcome, that is a part of everyone’s soul. We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are willing to serve. So this is just a part of my nature and, I think, a part of everybody else’s nature…to offer oneself at the moment, at the critical moment, when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate when we can locate that willingness to serve.””
Cohen, and his music, will continue to call us to our own readiness, for generations to come.
ST#85 playlist includes one of my favourite covers of Hallelujah, along with the new album, You Like it Darker.