Baruch dayan haemet – blessed is the true judge.
I have been blessed to grow up in a home where music formed a core part of the experience of life. Everything from classical music to rock and jazz came out of the speakers at home, and among the artists played and replayed was Leonard Cohen.
I had the pleasure of seeing the great man live on stage at Bislet Stadion in 2008. It remains to this day one of the best concerts I have ever attended. Coming on stage to a crowd that shouts and cheers and claps, he simply walked up to the microphone and said “Please, friends. Sit down, and we’ll play some songs.”
It was a hitshow from start to finish, because of course it was. Over the course of a very long career, he built an extensive portfolio of lyrics and melodies, and he pulled out all the stops on that night, playing many of the crowd pleasers.
He played “Dance me to the end of love”, “Bird on the wire”, and “Everybody knows”. He played “Hallelujah”, “I’m your man”, and “Take this waltz”, and he played “So long Marianne”, “If it be your will”, and “First we take Manhattan”.
From start to end, it felt very personal and intimate, as if he was singing to me, and only me.
Earlier this year, he released a new album; “You want it darker”. The title track is haunting and beautiful, and I can’t tell you that it wasn’t at least a little prescient, with its lyrics of “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my lord”.
Hineni – a hebrew word meaning “here I am” – is the first word of the cantors prayer before the special holiday service of Mussaf, and this prayer is only recited on Yom Kipur, the day of atonement, and I for one am unable of listening to “You want it darker” without being reminded of that prayer, too.
It is laden with symbolism and references to other parts of Jewish liturgy and teachings, and a forceful reminder of another aspect of his life and background.
And so, as we all must go on living in a world that has lost yet another of its great poets, I remember his life, and his life’s work. I remember how he has influenced me, inspired me, and given me an experience that years later brings a smile to my lips.