By Christa McIntyre
2016 gives another sucker punch to the gut with the death of Leonard Cohen. The troubadour of existential crisis, the dark romantic died at age 82 in his home in Los Angeles this week.
Born into a prominent Jewish family, he abandoned the Montreal literary scene and settled on the tiny Greek island of Hydra in the early 60's. There he wrote a collection of poems, two novels and met his muse, the striking Norwegian beauty Marianne. He wrote to his publisher that he wanted to reach out to "inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists."
Cohen's relationship fell apart and at age 32 he moved to New York where he turned to songwriting, because he wasn't making a living as a writer. He quickly fell in with the bohemian crowds in the Village and Andy Warhol's factory scene. The Velvet Underground's accented chanteuse Nico, the heroin anthems of Lou Reed and the biting libertine verses of poet Allen Ginsberg played well with Cohen's folk rock storytelling.
Cohen's comparisons to Bob Dylan, both carrying literary torches and Jewish are real, but Cohen's music rejoiced in the mysteries of the sacred and profane. Dylan defended Cohen against his critics who claimed he wrote music to slit writs by. He became an ordained Zen Buddhist monk to curb his episodes with depression, often living for years in secluded monasteries. He once said of his spiritual quest: "Anything, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, LSD, I'm for anything that works."
In the 80's he replaced his Flamenco inspired guitar playing for the razor like grit of synthesizers. Cohen's intimate baritone voice aged well into a passionate growl with countless cigarettes and $300 bottles of Château Latour wine. Like Dylan, he never embraced his celebrity and while his records sold well, they never hit megastar bank. When he discovered in 2004 that his manager had embezzled millions from his retirement fund, he put on his well tailored suit and went on a celebrated world tour.
In these dark times, Cohen's music will be a light which slips through the cracks.