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Lions Roar : May 2013
36 SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 because to her it sounds too much like the Buddhist chanting she grew up hearing through the hills of Kyoto at dusk. But Cohen’s gatherings-together are unambiguously about the soul—its terrors, its betrayals, its hesitations, its longing to give itself over. A casual listener notices how often the singer uses the word “naked.” A fledgling Cohenite hears him saying, “I need to see you naked in your body and your thought.” But the per- son who lives with the songs realizes that what makes the writer special is that he’s not rendering others naked, but himself. After he met the Zen master Joshu Sasaki Roshi—in 1969, just as he began his recording career—and started sitting with him, Cohen’s commitment to silence and obedience grew so strong that, by 1984, he was giving us his plangent, classic psalm, “If It Be Your Will,” in which (like Ramakrishna’s disciple) he seemed ready to give up even the speech and song by which he offered himself to the world if his master so wished it. “Soul” is not a word to use in Buddhist discourse, of course, but there’s no doubting that Cohen would echo many of the sen- timents of that other unsparing Zen student, Cage: “People say sometimes, timidly: I know nothing about music but I know what I like. But the important questions are answered by not liking only but disliking and accepting equally what one likes and dislikes. Otherwise there is no access to the dark night of the soul.” Or, as Cage also put it: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.” I T’S ONE OF the unexpected beauties of the age that Leonard Cohen, rather suddenly, has begun to enjoy his fourth—or fifth—Indian summer, to the point where everyone I run into, from Singapore to Melbourne and Kyoto to New York, seems to be talking about him or attending to his messages in the dark. For those who have begun to despair of our celebrity culture, this is a typically Cohenesque instruction in the dismantling of celebrity and the deeper meaning of culture. After he found out, in 2005, that his longtime much-trusted manager seemed to have made off with nearly all his savings, rendering him a poor man, he went on the road again, at the age of seventy-three, and performed 250 three-hour concerts from Istanbul to Hanging Rock, deep into his seventy-seventh year. The more he deferred to his accompa- nying musicians onstage, the more audiences were moved and impressed with him (a rock star who was offering humility and attentiveness?); the more he sang, unflaggingly, about sickness, old age, and death, the more listeners started taking him as a guide to life, the rare spiritual being who didn’t seem to be peddling any creed or presenting himself as anything other than mortal. In his mid-seventies, Cohen’s old song “Hallelujah” took over the number one and number two spots in the British charts, and a host of American Idol-style cover versions made it the fastest- selling Internet download in European history. The record he made last year, with the deliberately ungrabby title of Old Ideas, was number one in seventeen countries and reached the top five in nine others. The result has been incongruities as rich in irony and surprise as any of Cohen’s songs about the future: amid the glittery singles bars and temples to conspicuous consumption of