The Grocer of Despair evolved into a dry, witty raconteur with a voice
from the depths of the earth.
He still believes this is the Flood – literally. The best we can do is
cling to our orange boxes and wave to each other. But somehow he’s more
comfortable with it now, and tells the same grim tale with a twinkle in
When I was 16 my girlfriend Susie introduced me to Cohen: "You wouldn’t
believe it – he’s nearly 30!". I soon discovered the archetypal Cohen
territory – the fag-end aftermath of a party, Songs from a Room
pinning the comatose and the melancholy to the floor, the sweet herald
of the coming hangover. For most of my friends, that’s as far as it went.
File under the Cohen Cliche.
But somehow Songs of Love and Hate hooked me, pulled me into Cohen’s
true challenge. Even the title was a challenge to the Scottish late-adoption
of hippiedom in the early 70s, as it died out across the world. I saw
him play in Glasgow in 73 or 74 and knew there was something special here.
The sound of thousands of people being silent. The sound of an artist
who could wield this sort of power, but still observe old-world politeness
and gratitude to his audience.
In 1979, deeply entangled in love, loss, travel and spiritual shopping,
I saw him again at the Hammersmith Odeon, one of the gigs released as Field Commander Cohen. I was listening to Recent Songs
on a daily basis, and discovering that he had, like me, adopted Zen practice,
subscribed to Zero, the magazine he co-edited from Mt Baldy Zen Centre.
Sadly, I’d also taken to slicking my hair back and wearing double-breasted
suits, an affectation that saw me through to the late 90s.
I was delighted by the revival of his fortunes in the 90s, although my
favourite recording of this period is the instrumental Tacoma Trailer
at the end of The Future, and my favourite album the tribute
album I’m Your Fan.
His most recent albums Ten New Songs and Dear Heather show him continuing to develop, to find new ways of expressing himself.
I admire Cohen because he is in the music world but not of it. He was
always bigger, more mature, more intelligent than the scrabbling for fame
rock world. His respect for his fans continues even though he no longer
tours. He contributes poems and the occasional note to the Leonard Cohen
He is a Master of the Discipline and I salute him.
Free to download. Five surreal story-songs. Just let me send you an occasional email!