Like David Bowie, who passed away in January (2016 busts us in the chops coming and going), Leonard Cohen released an album on his final birthday before his passing. On Friday, 21 October, his eighty-second birthday, Cohen released You Want It Darker? Like Bowie's Blackstar, Cohen's You Want It Darker? is masterful, a fitting going away present that largely captures the essence of his art. The title track off his final album was our traditio just few week ago (see "Leonard Cohen on the ascesis of marriage").
This week's traditio then is Leonard Cohen singing "Treaty" off his final album for this Friday that is all at once the feast of the converted Roman soldier who became a holy bishop, St. Martin of Tours, Armistice day, marking the end of the Great War (World War I), Veteran's Day here in the United States, and my 51st birthday.
Do yourself a favor and read the lyrics for "Treaty," which you can find here. I also urge you to read some of his poems, many of then can be pulled up here.
I had a difficult time deciding which of Cohen's songs to put up as our traditio. I considered his standard and probably best known song "Hallelujah." I also thought about one my personal favorites, "Everybody Knows," which features these lyrics:
And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
In her biography of Cohen, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, published in 2013, Sylvie Simmons noted, "In spite of his deep involvement with Buddhism, Leonard insisted to anyone who asked that he remained a Jew. 'I have a perfectly good religion,' he said, and pointed out that Roshi [his Zen master] had never made any attempt to give him a new one. When Bob Dylan went public with his conversion to Christianity in 1979 'it seriously rocked [Leonard's] world,' said Jennifer Warnes, who was staying at that time at Leonard's house. He would, 'wander around the house, wringing his hands saying, "I don't get it. I just don't get this. Why would he go for Jesus at a late time like this? I don't get the Jesus part.'" (316).
Cohen was raised in an observant Jewish home, had 2 children, Adam and Lorca, with Suzanne Elrod, who was also Jewish, albeit from a secular background, and raised his children as observant Jews. "Kohen," or Cohen, is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for priest. Leonard was well aware that his surname was taken to mean that he was a direct, patrilineal descendant of Moses'brother Aaron, Israel's first high priest.
Leonard Cohen was a gentleman in the very modern sense of the word, meaning the good sense of the word. A man of culture, manners, and grace, not a member of the landed gentry. A man who could not only handle the grit and grimness of reality, but a bit of a prophet who could transform it into beauty, into song, into poetry.
The passing of Leonard Cohen leaves us all poorer. But he left us an am amazing inheritance. May perpetual light shine upon him.