Vale Leonard Cohen

“Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then, until the sea shall free them,”
But he himself was broken, long before the sky could open,
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”


Leonard Cohen wrote often about Jesus Christ, so often that he invented subtle ways of referring to him, such as “Was our prayer so damn unworthy, the Son rejected it?” (from Born In Chains, on Popular Problems) and more obscurely; “A cross on every hill, a star, a minaret” from The Faith, on Old Ideas.

Although Cohen was born in a Jewish family and grew towards Buddhism, the Abrahamic religions of the Middle East seemed closest to his heart. The song By The Rivers Dark, on Ten New Songs, describes the war torn lands of the Muslims and the paranoid, destructive involvement of Western powers in that oil-rich region.

Cohen’s biggest hits were Suzanne and Hallelujah, and it is remarkable that the extremely un-hip theme of Christian myth would provide such a popular inspiration, especially now when the true believers of the Church are at a loss as to how to promote their archaic and outmoded religion.

There is a theory that the Jews still unconsciously carry the guilt of Jesus’ execution, but it is not this that transfixes Cohen, it is the actual story of Jesus, who sacrificed his life for his Truth and was dismissed so easily and irrevocably by the court of the day.

Jesus is the man of action which Cohen is not, and he has a certainty about his spiritual path that Cohen never felt could he could emulate. His loneliness, the betrayals, the suffering for principle, and the courage to defy the whole world.

The mystery of Jesus also attracts Cohen, allowing for various interpretations of his life, and for the matter to be unresolved eternally, a conundrum for the ages.

Finally a quote from Avalanche, from Songs of Love and Hate, an example of the grand and obscure allusions Cohen found so easily in his favourite mythology:


“Do not dress in those rags for me
I know you are not poor
Don’t love me quite so fiercely now
When you know that you are not sure
It is your turn, beloved
It is your flesh that I wear”


Vale Leonard Cohen 11/11/2016

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