Death of the Ladies Men

Posted: 21 November 2016 in Cultural, Understanding Others
Tags: , ,

cohen-draperDon Draper and Leonard Cohen, two contemporaries, born in the 1930’s.  Both lovers of cigarettes, women and sharp suits.  Ah, the women.  And so many of them too.  I am drawn to both Don and Leonard.  Both know there is more to life than the nonsense swirling around us.  Both reached out to women, in Don’s case for the mother he never had.  In Leonard’s case, looking for God The Father, as his own died when he was just 9.

Did Leonard really live in Greeneland?
There is a combination of carnality and spirituality, which secular commentators find surprising, but is well travelled by authors.  Leonard took on the religious quest from his Jewish faith, and ended up using his sexual and emotion encounters as sometimes an escape and sometimes a route to spiritual things.  Graham Greene did this too in his novels, where emotional embroilment was given double edge by his Catholic background and faith.  Leonard visited Greeneland too.

And what creatures did he find in Greeneland?  The news of his death prompted me to listen again to “Songs of Love and Hate”, but with trepidation.  The power, darkness, intensity of the music and words arose from the CD, and brought with it a genie from my own sub-consciousness.  From that time when the album first came out.  I recall the tears of others, the accusations, betrayals and deceptions, disillusionment.  My hopeless attempts to assure, the attempted suicide, in the house I lived in at the time.  And more recently, I found the love letters, the (stillborn) plans for futures together.  In all this drama, carnage, there was no enlightenment, no wisdom.  It was a road rich in treason, deceit, depression.  That something is salvageable is an important lesson in life for us all.  He commented “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” is not a million miles from the Christian understanding of how good can come from evil.  He is also quoted as saying “Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal.”  Yes scars.  And in due course that damage gets passed on.

“My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.” I’ve done a ton better than that.  As a young man I found it a useful warning, a warning dear old Leonard never took for himself. But the spiritual search he continued, despite of the scars he inflicted on himself and his partners. His earliest records give the intensity of the search, the intensity of desire.  The last albums – the wisdom and self mockery that comes with age. Which makes sense.

The Godfather of Gloom
Not gloom but a sound sense of loss and limitation in the human condition.  We need shade to appreciate the brightness.  When know a bit about sad sad, we can appreciate glad glad.

The Lessons from Leonard
Lessons for Christian commentator?  Leonard sings not for Tindr or Grindr types.  But there are a lot of people who have thought emotional authenticity involves abandoning poorly functioning intimate relationships, but now live with the scars of serial relationships.  Christian commentators and preachers can rightly say there is a better way.  But we also have to empathise with the many songs of love and hate out there, worn by people who totter into our churches looking for succour.

The lesson for Christian musicians? Leonard will not be an inspiration or any sort of for worship songs. “Hallelujah” is not a model (and not one of his best either, folks).  But can be the basis for meditations, ballads, and straight forward home listening, (e.g. Old Ideas, Dear Heather).  The lyrics really have to hit the sore spot.  And the music really has to grip.

A Lesson from Leonard?  On “Various Positions”, as well as “Hallelujah” there was also “If It Be Your Will”.  So many say they love his words.  Did they love this?  He was looking for The Pearl of Great Price.  Here it is.  I am buying it.  But was the pearl cast before  The Swine, to trample under foot?


  1. ransfordgrey says:

    some of the lyrics of Cohen songs are liken to a true Christian poet and an evangelist. One is mesmerised by the fact that he was not one , the choice of musical chords and progressions fit his lyrics beautifully. he was a genius to create such musical effect. personally , I think if he was a Christian , he could have focussed his skills in writing more Christin songs , he might have done very well linking his personal life ( with all the ups and downs) to his Christian faith. This would have been a testimony for many in their Christian journey. what a shame he didn’t do either!

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