Friday, November 11, 2016

death of a ladies' man

so i had a whole other blog post to publish, but then last night happened, and i had to pour myself another tumbler of vodka and sit down and write the majority of this, then finish it off the next morning, which is today.

leonard cohen died, and i was crushed by it.

i'd always semi-joked that i'd hold a vigil when he eventually passed away - our venerable master of poetry and songwriting already speaking of death - but i actually wasn't aware of how hard it would hit me. (though i did joke in this post from january: "when leonard cohen eventually goes, tune in to the livestream of me having a breakdown.")

i don't really cry over the deaths of people i don't know personally; it just feels awkward and unearned to me. but after this entire week - and the realization that there will be no more songs from him, no more poetry - i just cried for almost an hour, i think. (that includes a message i left on my mom's answering machine that was almost completely incoherent sobbing.) this is my david bowie moment and my prince moment, and i'm not even ashamed.

a lot of my friends checked in on me, too, because they know how much cohen's works meant to me. it's funny, i was never a poetry person -- i took some courses in university, but nothing spoke to me until i moved out west to live with jenna in vancouver. she was a huge leonard cohen fan, and on her recommendation i spent some of the last of my meagre savings on a copy of stranger music: selected songs and poems. (i was also inspired to do so because the band i was obsessed with at the time, the sisters of mercy, took their name and also one of their album titles from leonard cohen songs.)

this was a huge thing for me, at the time; i was absolutely running out of money, unemployed and living on jenna's couch and barely scraping by, on the other side of the country from all my family and friends. but something told me i had to have this book of leonard cohen's best poems, and so i found the money to get it. and those poems got me through much of the loneliness i felt out there alone, and in many years to come.

there's even a ton of randomly highlighted sections that i did in various coffee shops across toronto, especially during the really rough years. teachers is probably my favourite poem of all time, along with i had it for a moment and many others. i got his biography i'm your man for christmas a few years ago, and it inspired me like nothing else. what a life. what a life.

also, i took my mother to see leonard cohen live in concert for mother's day back in 2009. she's an old folkie, and he's long been one of her favourites - i virtually grew up listening to jennifer warnes' famous blue raincoat covers album - and we had a blast. my mom was amazed at how long the set was - almost three hours, and leonard wasn't a young man then either - and even now, she still raves about how good a show he put on. it was one of the best times i've had with my mom in my adult life.

then there was this song, an absolutely heartbreaking cover by tori amos:

the first time i ever heard it, i was going through one of the worst, desolate months of that same adult life. as soon as tori started singing those familiar lyrics, i instantly burst into tears, and i ended up hunched over in my desk chair, sobbing it all out. that song got me through a very long winter. finally, a poem spoke to me, and just when i needed it the absolute most.

it was that same time period that i got these two tattoos, the one on the left a line from "teachers", and the one on the right a line from the immortal "hallelujah":

i've carried them with me ever since.

after i got the news last night, it was like a gut punch. i opened up twitter and saw that his name was trending, and honest to god my first thought was "oh shit, please don't let leonard be dead." but he was, and that's the sad truth of it: even your heroes are mortal, at the end. david bowie fans and prince fans understood that, sadly.

i ended up spending most of last night on social media, reading about other peoples' sadness and tributes, seeing everyone else post lines from his poems or youtube videos of his performances. there's comfort in grieving together, and i didn't really go through that with bowie or prince earlier this year, though i knew friends who did. it's a gaping sadness, a hole in the world. it feels like something good has been lost forever. what really broke me is the knowledge that there won't be any more songs or poems from him, ever again. that's it. it's over.

...but then i had to remember why i love artists: because they give us things that will live on forever. they have a legacy -- a body of work that will outlast them. and their art makes us feel lucky that we were alive at the same time as them. ("we're so lucky to be alive at the same time leonard cohen is," said lou reed in 2008.)

so i'm going to try to focus now on the beauty leonard left for us, and to feel so grateful that we got to experience it when we did.

rest easy, old man. you were the best of us.

[ music | none ]