Moving down the track


"Now I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back

They're moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track

But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone

I'll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song."

From 'Tower of Song' by Leonard Cohen

Last month I thought to write a blog about why I believe that Leonard Cohen was more deserving of the Noble Prize than Bob Dylan and from there into what poetry was and should be. News-induced poetics, so to speak. It started when someone said that Dylan's songs had changed lives and I realized that for me 'life changing' was not a requirement for good poetry. Cohen's songs, I replied, are so significant, you can listen to them again and again and find new meaning. I have done so myself for many, many years.

I didn't write that blog. I was to busy with being busy. And now the great bard has done gone on. Did Cohen's music change my life, I wonder, now his loss has become a presence in my life?

I don't know if he changed it, but he sure made it richer. He has been a steady companion along the way. One I don't turn to often, for he has a tendency towards the sombre, but also one who has offered a stark comfort when it was needed, in a way only few can.

I found my way to Cohen often through others. First as kid, through a Dutch cover of his famous Suzanne. Then Jeff Buckley (whose rendition of 'Hallelujah' remains for me the ultimate one) and Antony. Zita Swoon's 'By the rivers dark' or the Handsome Family's 'Famous Blue Raincoat', every time I discovered another road to that same Tower of Song.

More and more, I started to love Leonard Cohen himself. That warm, dark voice, that grew more lovable as he grew older. That charm and humility. But above all, that unrivaled lyrical power, that makes his songs relevant whenever I listen to them.

Politics and the persona intermingle in his lyrics. And despite his melancholy, often with a good dose of humor. Just look at my favorite part of 'Everybody Knows' (which, as a lot of other Cohen songs, seems suitable for current times):

"Everybody knows that you love me baby

Everybody knows that you really do

Everybody knows that you've been faithful

Ah, give or take a night or two

Everybody knows you've been discreet

But there were so many people you just had to meet

Without your clothes

And everybody knows"

More than anything else, as a poet, I appreciate his versatile handling of spiritual and biblical images, imbuing them with new, highly personal meaning. 'Hallelujah' stands out for me as his greatest poetic achievement. But also 'So Long, Marianne' - I forgot to pray to the angels and then the angels forgot to pray for us. I could go on and on.

Leonard Cohen was ready to die, he said in an interview. And then took it back. He wanted to live forever. You know what, I'm sure he will. Leonard Cohen has done gone on. To the great beyond, I imagine, to sing with his 27 angels. But he is still speaking sweetly from that tower of song.

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