When the news broke of his death, on November 10 last year, we had just begun working on an Ultimate Music Guide to Leonard Cohen (on sale this Thursday, but available now from our online shop), emboldened by the brilliance of “You Want It Darker”.
Cohen’s passing should not have been a surprise, in the great scheme of things. Here, after all, was a man of 82 who had recently suggested to the New Yorker’s editor that he was operating in the proximity of death. There was work to complete, Cohen told David Remnick, but, he said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish those songs… Maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
Cohen’s epical endurance, his talent for standing at a remove from the march of time, nevertheless meant that the announcement of his actual death still came as a kind of shock. For nearly 50 years, this uncommonly gracious man had confounded expectations of what a singer-songwriter might look and sound like, of what he might sing about. There is a clichéd expectation that certain feted musicians will choose a path of self-destruction, and Cohen undoubtedly had moments when he found himself on that trajectory. Writing about Songs Of Love And Hate in a new piece for this Ultimate Music Guide, David Cavanagh portrays, “A brilliant madman on the precipice of disaster… Maybe, if you told him he had 45 more years of life and work ahead of him, it would be no surprise if he buckled and shook until his laughter turned into a scream.”
There would be further traumatic episodes, among them a legendary – if not notably successful – spell in the company of Phil Spector. Mostly, though, the story of Leonard Cohen is one of a great artist ruefully trying to make some sense of the mysteries of life and love; trying to persevere on a quest towards transcendence, with caveats.
It’s this quest that our latest Ultimate Music Guide seeks to understand and illuminate. Within its pages, you’ll find many interviews from the archives of NME, Melody Maker and Uncut, notable for their unusual levels of perception and wit, plus in-depth new reviews of every Leonard Cohen album, book and volume of poetry. What emerges is a complete portrait of a man who started and finished his career as too old for this sort of thing, by most measures, but whose maturity and poetic insight enabled him to loom, benignly, over nearly every single one of his peers. He is, indefinitely, your man.