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November 11, 2016

Who Died? Leonard Cohen, that's who.

I thought things couldn't get worse. How foolish.

Leonard Cohen was my songwriting idol. A mentor, dark but right, funny but sad. He was the most respected, the best, the elder. Most songwriters reject the idea that they are poets. John Prine said recently, "If I wanted to be a poet, I'd write poems." But Leonard Cohen was a poet. Besides his poems, his songs are worth reading, not just hearing. In fact, he liked them naked, all that dressing up that other musicians use to hide their weaknesses, not necessary, distracting. I liked his songs naked too.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Cohen worked really hard on his songs. Not a slam-bam improvised look-at-me artist type. A careful craftsman and a Zen master. I read about one that he wouldn't record because one verse wasn't exactly right. He'd lived with this masterpiece for 18 years. I read the text, and the verse was fine, and the song was great. But, yes, something wasn't perfect about that one verse.

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song

Leonard Cohen died at the wrong time. We're distracted right now. But a hundred years on people will still be singing his profound, intelligent, beautiful lyrics, while the Donald's name will be a mere synonym for the mortification of the soul.

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah ...

Thank you, Leonard.