Leonard Cohen Never Left Earth
Thanks for the Dance, the singer’s posthumously released album, honors his legacy as a mystic and as a man.
The work unearthed after Leonard Cohen’s death at age 82 in 2016 contemplated the soul, the Holocaust, and hip-hop. “Kanye West Is Not Picasso” went the title of one poem in Cohen’s posthumously released 2018 collection, The Flame. A portion:
Jay-Z is not the Dylan of Anything
I am the Dylan of anything
I am the Kanye West of Kanye West
The Kanye West
Of the great bogus shift of bullshit culture
From one boutique to another
Don’t act so surprised. The Canadian singer and writer retains an aura of hallowed spirituality in the public imagination, but he was, first, a man of this world. Yes, Cohen’s work quoted scripture and contemplated apocalypse; yes, he lived for years in a Zen monastery. And yes, he wrote a song called “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On.”
The fleeting, contemporary, and crass were all part of the great story that he wanted to tell about permanence and impermanence. In the final lines of the Kanye poem, after his sassy-ironic appropriation of rap swagger, he delivered one of his trademark dark prophecies. “I only come alive after a war,” he wrote. “And we have not had it yet.”
Did Leonard Cohen watch The View? That’s one of the questions I’m left with from Thanks for the Dance, the strong posthumous album assembled by his son, Adam Cohen. On “Moving On,” Leonard bids a tender farewell to a beloved woman (probably his legendary ex Marianne Ihlen).
His voice is a moss-encrusted slither, just like it always was late in his life. His melody unfolds with the simple oomph of a folklore. Tender chords twitch and hover from the Spanish guitarist Javier Mas. “I loved your moods,” Cohen sings. “I loved the way they threaten every single day.” Then: “Your beauty ruled me, though I knew / ’Twas more hormonal than the view.”
The view? Or The View? The lyrics sheet doesn’t capitalize the words. But I’m suspicious after encountering so many men of Cohen’s age cohort who use the word hormonal when confronted with women who share opinions for a living. Even if Joy Behar was not on Cohen’s mind, the invoked cliché of an estrogenic vixen jolts as crass, specific, and worldly. Listening to the song generally feels like curling into a plush comforter; hearing the sexist couplet feels like finding a burr.