RIP Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

by James Fleming

“Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began 

to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.”

It was 2014, November. Having just gone 18, I entered the psychiatric ward of Roscommon Hospital.

Petrified and neurosis addled, I whiled away the days scribbling, smoking and strumming on a guitar owned by one of the nurses. Trying my utmost to keep my brain occupied, lest my stay be extended.

Until, one day, dad brought me a walkman.

I was allowed to venture out as far as Roscommon town centre, provided I was accompanied by family. Xtravision was still open for business then. And despite their meagre collection of CDs for sale, I acquired a couple of gems. Diamonds that lit up the days and gently eased the nights.

Songs of Leonard Cohen was one such diamond.

The scribbling, smoking and strumming continued. But now I had a voice, a companion with me in that starkly furnished recreation room where I spent many hours of my twelve day stay.

Many of us have fond memories of the man; digging through parents’ record collections, only to come across The Best of Leonard Cohen and discovering such treasures as ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Diamonds In The Mine’.

Or maybe you were lucky enough to catch one of his stellar live performances. Lucky enough to hear that iconic baritone, deep as the Marianas Trench, ease its way through the venue as cool as the man himself. 

I remember those cold November nights. Not bitterly cold, but fresh. Standing out in the smoking area, barefoot, smoking endless scabbed cigarettes with Songs of Leonard Cohen on that walkman. I remember ‘So Long Marianne’ as the favourite, and ‘Suzanne’ as the one I worked out on that nurse’s guitar. So I could entertain my fellow patients.

And I will never forget, one such patient, a schizophrenic middle-aged lady commenting; “that’s a beautiful song,” and the little smile that edged its way across her lined face.

While Leonard Cohen’s music can very rarely be described as happy. I would call it uplifting.

For there’s tremendous beauty in his work. A sad beauty. But never cold, and never without hope.

Which is why I played that album on repeat. And that’s why, when on holiday in France, I jumped for joy when I saw Songs of Love and Hate for sale outside a little record shop. Needless to say, the €2 was paid and that record came home with me at the bottom of my travelling bag. And it was the first on the stereo when I got today’s news. A steal really.

That was the first album, Songs of Love and Hate. The first one I heard. I borrowed it from a friend’s mother. I know it was also Nick Cave’s first experience of the man’s work. And after countless listens, I reluctantly returned it. Very reluctantly.

That’s where it all began. I have crossed borders, both physical and psychological, with Mr Cohen’s work. And so, from the bottom of my heart and soul, thank you Leonard. Thanks for keeping me company. 

“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

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