Leonard Cohen: “I Am Ready To Die”

There is something so intrinsically honest about Leonard Cohen. His music. His lyrics. His writing. His poetry. All are an act of love. All are an act of worship. Most of all, the man himself comes across as a masterwork of simplicity and humility, wrapped up in a complex web of intellect and talent. Here’s an excerpt from a recent New Yorker interview:

“The big change is the proximity to death,” he said. “I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun.”

Cohen said he had a “sweet little song” that he’d been working through, one of many, and, suddenly, he closed his eyes and began reciting the lyrics:

Listen to the hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the hummingbird

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the butterfly

Whose days but number three

Listen to the butterfly

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the mind of God

Which doesn’t need to be

Listen to the mind of God

Don’t listen to me.

He opened his eyes, paused awhile. Then he said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish those songs. Maybe, who knows? And maybe I’ll get a second wind, I don’t know. But I don’t dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don’t dare do that. I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

Cohen’s hand has been bothering him, so he plays the guitar less than he did—“I’ve lost my ‘chop’ ”—but he was eager to show me his synthesizer. He sets a chord progression going with his left hand, flips some switches to one mode or another, and plays a melody with his right. At one point, he flipped on the “Greek” mode, and suddenly he was singing a Greek fisherman’s song, as if we had suddenly transported ourselves back in time, to Dousko’s Taverna, “in the deep night of fixed and falling stars” on the island of Hydra.

In his chair, Cohen waved away any sense of what might follow death. That was beyond understanding and language: “I don’t ask for information that I probably wouldn’t be able to process even if it were granted to me.” Persistence, living to the last, loose ends, work—that was the thing. A song from four years ago, “Going Home,” made clear his sense of limits: “He will speak these words of wisdom / Like a sage, a man of vision / Though he knows he’s really nothing / But the brief elaboration of a tube.”

There are not enough words to define this man’s life. It isn’t over yet so we can only hope to see more from him while he tries to finish all that he started.

Read the full New Yorker interview.

Larry Lootsteen

Music is life and I love to write about all things music. Independent music blogger. Writer in general. I am a big fan of alternative and indie music but there's no genre I haven't found something to like.

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