Songs are always getting stuck in my head, but this morning all the songs in my head were written by Leonard Cohen, who died this week at the age of 82.
No other songwriter so often prompts, “I wish I had written that,” while at the same time daunts, “I could never have written that.” All one can do is cover his work, if one is so bold, or play his songs in the mind over and over.
“Suzanne” has been stuck in my head since the 1960s, “Bird on a Wire” since the ’70s, “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” “First We Take Manhattan” and “Hallelujah” since the ’80s. From his later career, songs like “In My Secret Life,” “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “Dance Me to the End of Love” return to mind again and again.
Cohen’s songs are deep and dark and rich and complicated. Transcendence and despair do duets, celebration and regret. Beauty sheds its merely pretty clothes, pain uplifts. He opens boxes of the heart most keep closed. With a single devastating line, he gives it all away.
Nearly every singer has covered a Cohen song at some point, but to hear such songs delivered with Cohen’s own sparse arrangement and half-destroyed voice has been a special gift. Look, it demands; look for beauty in the broken.