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Lions Roar : May 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 43 a street person who’d been suddenly admitted to hospital. When the doctors asked him how he’d pay for his treatment, he kept on saying, blithely, “My friend Leonard will take care of it.” The physi- cians took this as further proof of derangement—until the checks started regularly arriving, signed, “Leonard Cohen.” In the realm of song, it’s his unflinchingness, mingled with his polished depth and craft, that will make him endure. Bob Dylan gives us riddles, often to throw us off his trail. Leonard Cohen gives us riddles that take us deeper and deeper into the heart of things, and the paradoxes he chooses to embody on our behalf: the fact that we cannot always resolve our longing for love and the sensual world with the need to find our own truth; the fact that we know the truth of impermanence but hide from it at every other moment; the way we break every rule we’ve made for ourselves and then pretend it’s somebody else’s fault. “Let me cry Help beside you, Teacher,” he was writing way back in 1961. What he’s done, as man and artist, is to express his most anguished feelings in a formal frame that gives them both preci- sion and suggestiveness. And seem to take everything seriously except himself (which means he can’t take seriously his taking of everything seriously, either—another reason, perhaps, why he’s always been highly popular in Europe, and fairly popular in Canada, but often failed to find an audience in the U.S.). The deeper you go into the self—and its erasure—the more, I suspect, you will get from Cohen. The name Sasaki gave him, “Jikan,” often mistranslated (not least by me), is rendered by Sim- mons as “the silence between two thoughts.” When the singer Ronee Blakley referred to the little black-robed Japanese man who sat in on some Cohen recording sessions in 1977, she called him “the kind of man you wanted to be around, funny, kind, and disciplined.” That sounds like an unusually good description of Cohen, too. If you really want to know who the man is, though, and who he isn’t, the only place to turn is the songs. Everything is provi- sional, they tell us, and in our suffering lies our truth. “Earth has no escape from Heaven,” as Eckhart put it, and we can’t expect to find holiness anywhere or expect not to find it either. Death is round the corner, the jig is up, and that’s what enables us to see, to briefly cherish the light. “You have to sit in the very bonfire of [your] distress,” Cohen told a visitor to Mount Baldy, “and you sit there till you’re burned away and it’s ashes and it’s gone.” Few artists have given us the burning and the ashes and the going with such clarity. In his burning, Cohen lights the darkness up. o