I was nine years old, the first time I heard the voice of Leonard Cohen. My father had a cassette copy of 1988’s “I’m Your Man” in his car which he had bought at a bar in Spain from a cassette stand near the entrance.
I instantly liked Leonard’s voice; it was filled with such profound, conviction; his deep voice sounded like it echoed from the deepest darkest mountain caves. Even at 9 years of age, I felt that the message in his lyrics was aimed specifically at me, as it stirred up emotions in my young mind. This particular album has always conjured up images in my head of Europe during the Second World War, especially such places as Berlin, Germany and France. As a matter of fact there are lyrical references to Berlin and Eastern Europe in the album during those times. There is also a melancholy longing for the opposite sex, which I imagine to be from first hand experience and for what I imagine, although with some artistic license, a heavy heart for those couples and individuals who struggled in futility, only to die young on the streets of Europe during the 1940’s along with their hopes and dreams.
During the late 80’s we travelled a lot by car with my father and sister throughout Europe, with music blasting from the car’s stereo. We drove all the way across Europe to such countries as Denmark, Norway, Germany, France and Spain. In those days we would have to carry lots of loose change under the dashboard or glovebox, in different currencies so as to pay the various motorway road tolls, along the way. I always enjoyed looking at all the different images on the coins of each country; German Deutschmarks, French Francs, Spanish Pesetas, Norwegian and Danish Krones and wondering how many toys or sweets I would be able to buy with them.
But I digress a little, as it was on these long car journeys in which I would familiarize myself with the poetic lyrics of L.Cohen. Even though his music already brought about images in my head of Europe in the 1940’s with foreign lovers evading the Gestapo down side streets and tight alleys along German and French cities; it was not until much later that I found out more about his background, such as his Jewishness or even that he was from Montreal, although as a young man in the 60’s had spent most of the 60’s living at the Greek island of Hydra.
Even the cover of his “I’m Your Man” album drew my curiosity as a child, as he stood in a warehouse in a black pinstripe suit, yet didn’t look like a business man as he looks so casual and informal with a white vest underneath, while chomping on a banana. The image made me feel that this person had a serious message to give yet with a touch of intelectual wit.
As an adult I came to discover much more of his discography, literature and poetry although this particular album will always remain a firm favourite.
So it is with some pity that I say ……rest in peace Leonard Cohen, it will be a long time before another artist of your intellect and gravitas mounts a stage.