Leonard Cohen 1934-2016. Moe mai rā e te raukura

Leonard Norman Cohen 21 September 1934 – 10 November 2016

I was introduced to the music of Leonard Cohen by Simon Doherty in 1994. Initially I bought Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits because I wanted Simon to admire me, but within a couple of years I had formed my own relationship with Cohen. His is not a polished voice, no dulcet tones here. He is perhaps more poet than singer, like Dylan, one of those 1960s renaissance men who wrote prose, poetry, and songs. But by this century he had transcended such definitions, a genuine Holy Fool who measured each word carefully and as such seemed replete with wisdom and love.

He was old by the time of my introduction, so I never expected to see him in concert. Then in 2008, in a funny way thanks to a manager who defrauded him of much of his wealth, he announced a world tour at the age of 73. In summer of 2009, he came to Aotearoa New Zealand, to the Aotea Centre in Auckland. My wife was heavily pregnant with our our third child, so going a few hours away from Tauranga seemed somewhat risky at the time, but go I did with her blessing.

There is a lovely concept of Thin Places, which describes places and experiences where the spaces between us and divinity are stretched thin and we sense that if we just reached a bit further we would be beyond this physical matter we are confined to. Marae are thin places, cathedrals are often thin places. I am drawn to the idea, the search for something greater. Aotea Centre on 22 January 2009 was just such a place, a thin place, less concert and more worship. Contact with what we can be, not what we are. We all reached, encouraged by this dapper, small, humble, self-deprecating man.

Many you will have been to concerts where you eke out 90 minutes with the band you have come to see. Leonard Cohen was on stage for over three hours that evening, his energy, interest and love for us seeming unbound from his 74 year old frame. His poetry, his reflections, his kind jokes were a profound window into his soul, and into a person we all wanted to emulate. Often people will comment that Cohen’s music is grim and dark. Yet that is not my experience; his music has been the brightest star of joy and love in my playlists. Love, love, love.

I was sad to hear of David Bowie and Prince’s passing. They held some significance to me as remarkable artists. But it is only today that my heart has been torn out of me. I’m not much for tears, but I’m writing this through a veil of grief. Leonard Cohen has been with me through depression and anxiety, through new love, through love I had to work for, through the birth of my children, through the failures of my parenting, through the fear of not being enough, through the quiet times, through the noise. I will miss you Mr Cohen. I hope you prepare a way for all of us, waiting with God in that Tower of Song.

“I don’t mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin.
I remember you well…
that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”

Moe mai rā. Moe mai rā. Haere atu rā.


[And yes, my blog is named for his song]