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Nov 14, 2016

Rundle: without arrogance, or even temper, Leonard Cohen summoned transcendence

His voice was not suited to the times, at first; soon, the times remade themselves for his voice.

Leonard Cohen

Like smoke caught in a beam of light, that voice. Joked about when he first used it, stepping out from behind Judy Collins at a concert in 1967 to perform the song he’d written for her, Suzanne. Nerves got him, he couldn’t finish it, fled the stage, had to be talked back on. Was a sensation. He sounded nothing like the singer-songwriters of the era, those now impossibly distant years of hope in a radical liberation. Collins, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor — James Taylor sounded sunny even when he was singing of a friend’s suicide in a mental institution.

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11 comments

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11 thoughts on “Rundle: without arrogance, or even temper, Leonard Cohen summoned transcendence

  1. Peter Hannigan

    Thank you. Best obituary of Leonard Cohen I have read. For me the core insight is ‘Cohen became the poet laureate of the children of the dust’.

  2. klewso

    A choreographer of words.

    1. klewso

      I saw ‘Jaques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ years ago on TV – I still get the odd flash-back.

  3. Hunt Ian

    Yes, thanks Guy for a tribute, necessarily personal, to the only singer of our age who could rival Bob Dylan for the Nobel prize in literature and, in my view, while both were deserving, had a stronger claim, if only he had earlier caught the imagination of a wider public, as he did in his 2008-2013 tours.
    Tributes are funny things. KD Laing gave what I thought the most pitch rendition of “Hallelujah”, but Cohen’s later version had such wonderful musical complexity and voice backing to it, that his older voice with a gravelly timbre, having lost the bell like quality he had when younger, was always good to listen to, even for an atheist, for whom religion was nothing but a part to be respected of the way others saw the meaning of the world.

    “Democracy is Coming to the USA” is still something very much to be awaited, in light of the US election result. We are told to expect a bit of a fascist bully, if Trump was sincere, but are assured that the “führer” appeal was more likely part of the deception of voters, which saw a person, whose election claims were more than 70% false, prevail over another much flawed candidate, whose claims were only 30% false.

    Still, perhaps more light will get in through the cracks in everything.

  4. Grumpy Old Sod

    Beautiful obituary. Thank you.
    My favourite? “The Story of Isaac” – the best anti war song I have ever heard. He adorned our times, educated us and lived in peace. An exemplar.

  5. Emilio Frangipani

    It’s impossible to pick one best song but in “Everybody Knows” Leonard really showed how clearly he saw through all the bullshit of his contemporaries and society in general. Everybody wants a box of chocolates / and a long-stem rose.

  6. Ian Dickson

    A moving obituary but let’s also add to it Nina Simone’s wonderful version of Suzanne.

  7. paddy

    Thank you for this Guy.

  8. Graham R

    For some reason Cohen was never entirely happy with Famous Blue Raincoat. I have no idea why, as I think it the most perfect poem and recording. In a certain mood I can listen to it over and over.
    I always wanted to put to him that perhaps, contrary to the song, it was he who was the “thin gypsy thief?”
    Madeleine Peyroux is a wonderful interpreter of Cohen.
    Thanks Guy.

  9. Peter Gledhill

    Fresh from the best personal election coverage since Hunter S, Rundle gives us a fitting and moving obituary to a great man. Thanks mate.