Leonard Cohen has been a part of my life as long as my memories stretch. My first conscious memory is of Suzanne playing as a background track to war scenes on the Rock and Roll Years. I remember a woman in rags (in memory or in video) and a war-torn landscape. When I couldn’t sleep as a child (which was every night, life-long insomnia) my mum used to sing I Love You in the Morning. When I was 8, I’m Your Man was released. Both mum and dad, now separated, had it on cassette players constantly. I remember sitting on top of the washing machine at home in the 1940’s kitchen in Highfield Avenue with with a gas freezer, constantly having to be re-lit, listening to I Can’t Forget. I also remember going to see dad in Jericho in Oxford and trying to breathe, through panic attacks, to First We Take Manhattan.
Everything I’ve written has been influenced by his poetry. It’s not only his words and music, but his graciousness that sets him far, far apart. He’s one of the most creative and moral human beings to have graced this planet.
Some time in the 1970’s my dad had an embarrassing incident when he went to see Cohen with a ‘friend’ who was off his head on something or other and focussed only on eating the pizza Cohen had ordered. Cohen was gracious and spoke in depth about the (family) reasons he felt he couldn’t write another novel. I believe he sent my dad a letter after this on the subject. I’ll have to search amongst his (many, many boxfiles) papers.
I went to see Cohen three times, the last time on September 20th 2013 in Amsterdam. When he said goodbye, he made it very clear that it was final. I didn’t want to believe it. You know a final goodbye when you see it, but sometimes the sheer flame of personality seems too bright to extinguish. It wasn’t just the music that I loved but the man, the poet and the humanity in him. It felt better sharing the earth with his breath mixing in the atmosphere.