We Mourn the Loss of Leonard Cohen
Today all of us at The Glenn Gould Foundation are grieving at the news of
Leonard Cohen’s death at the age of 82.
Leonard enriched the world with the music of his words, the depth of his insight into the human soul, and the combination of passion, romanticism, irony and lyricism that infused his song and verse.
Around the world, young people facing the confusion, pain, longing and desire of entering adult life found in Leonard a sounding board, a muse who somehow managed to give voice to their feelings and assure them that somehow everything would be alright. It was his ability to express the feelings for us that we could not articulate ourselves that won him such a devoted following. After it was announced that Leonard had been chosen as the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate, many people would tell me, “nobody gets me the way Leonard Cohen does.” The great British director Anthony Minghella told me, “as a teenager, nobody had much hope for me, and I hadn’t much hope for myself until I discovered Leonard Cohen. He knew exactly what I was feeling, and his music reassured me that I wasn’t alone. He got me through it.”
Musically, Leonard had a special gift of finding a simple, direct and perfectly matched melodic counterpart to his most memorable verses. Drawing on influences from flamenco to country and western to cabaret, Leonard’s tunes were always clear, memorable and deftly judged, which accounts for their enduring power.
When we met Leonard in Los Angeles to discuss plans for presenting him with The Glenn Gould Prize the impressions of the man that resonated most strongly with us were his graciousness, charm and wit. As if feeling the need to bestow something on me and my colleague Victoria Buchy as a quid pro quo for the Prize, he presented us each with a special pin of his own design, proclaiming us members of the “Order of the Unified Heart,” possibly a light-hearted allusion to his own Order of Canada, but also his dedication to striving for a common bond of sympathy and compassion among people. When I clumsily tried to pin the Order on my lapel, he looked horrified, and said, “my father was a skilled tailor, and he would never have stood for the mistreatment of such a fine piece of cloth!” He promptly took the Order from me and pinned it in my buttonhole with a practiced eye. I will never forget being pinned by Leonard Cohen!
In his acceptance speech for the Prize at Massey Hall in Toronto in 2012, Leonard spoke of his own encounter in the early 1960’s with Glenn Gould in a disastrous magazine interview he conducted as a freelance writer. His admiration for Gould made him accept the Prize where he had declined numerous other honours. Leonard’s sweetness of spirit, humility and his wry wit were absolutely irresistible; he had the audience of almost 3,000 in stitches.
Yet this was also an artist who could give vent to outrage against injustice, convey a tragic vision and sardonically skewer the absurdities of this all-too-brief human existence. His words were wisdom, laced with compassion and a dash of acerbic bite. He was celebrated for the eroticism of his songs and verses, but his ardour was always tinged with a hint of sadness at the parting and loneliness to follow passion.
Leonard Cohen spoke and sang for us all. We knew that the song couldn’t go on forever, and he acknowledged as much in his valedictory album, You Want it Darker. But he meant so much to us that his death today still comes as a shock. The void left by his absence is palpable, but there’s consolation in the richness of the words and music he gave us.
The Glenn Gould Foundation
Photo credits: John Reeves, Eric Overton