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Sunday, December 18, 2016

You Want It Darker

True, weird story: I bought Leonard Cohen's latest and last album, You Want It Darker, on the day he died. Nothing strange about that, as I'm always picking up music by the recently departed, but the twist here is that I had not known he was dead until later. Talk about timing.

And the album clearly demonstrates that Cohen knew he was dying (the cause of his death is still fuzzy--Wikipedia lists cancer and a fall leading as contributors). The songs are full of getting ready for the big sleep. The opening and title track, for example, is a conversation with God about the transition:

"If you are the dealer,
I'm out of the game.
If you are the healer,
I'm broken and lame.
If thine is the glory,
Then mine is the shame.
You want it darker,
We kill the flame."

Later, he will sing "Heneni, heneni, I'm ready my Lord" heneni the Hebrew word for "Here I am."

Cohen was 82, which is not an age to start planning long-term projects, but this album is full of signals that he knew he would not make another one. Another song uses the leaving a game metaphor, aptly called "Leaving the Table."

"I'm leaving the table
I'm out of the game.
I don't know the people
In your picture frame."

Musically (Cohen wrote all the lyrics, about half of the songs are composed by him) the album is also elegiac, with Schindler's List-style violin. That title track opens with a choir, and then a sinister bass line. My second-favorite song on the record, "Steer Your Way," has a very catchy violin riff, and Cohen's voice, so deep and gravelly it seems to come from the bottom of the deepest well, intones (he doesn't really sing, it's more a spoken word album):

"They whisper still, the injured stones,
The blunted mountains weep
As he died to make men holy
Let us die to make things cheap
And say the Mea Culpa which
You probably forgot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought"

Cohen's loss is devastating for his fans, but of course I have learned to realize that the death of an old man is not a tragedy. But man I will miss hearing new songs by him. He was a poet first, as these lyrics attest, and while this album is certainly not a peppy one, it is full of wisdom. In fact, I think I'd like the song "You Want It Darker" played at my funeral. It beats "Dust in the Wind."

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