When I came to Toronto for university, our roommate, Janine, had the best taste in music. Along with living in a big city, she introduced my sister and I to all kinds of different music we had never been exposed to. We would go through cycles of obsession. Music from Violent Femmes to Kate Bush, to the soundtrack from the movie, The Mission, to Leonard Cohen. Just a mere few that come to mind. Music became a large part of our lives. Still is. Compound that with growing up in Barbados with an uncle in a band and your grandparents taking you out to live shows and parties with your sister at nightclubs such as The Pepper Pot and Banana Boat. It’s pretty safe to conclude that music has been entrenched into my being. So much so that I would find out when I had my fourth that I have permanent hearing loss. When asked by the ENT doctor if I did anything unusual in my childhood to create an apparent decline in my hearing, the only thing I could think of was dancing in front of massive speakers as a six year old. I loved not only the sound of music but the feeling of the music pulsing through my curly hair and every ounce of my little body. I wouldn’t trade that memory for all the hearing in the world.
We loved a variety of music magnets at the time. Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Madonna, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Tori Amos, R.E.M, Midnight Oil, U2, The Tragically Hip and even Bryan Adams. This was 1991. But there was no one that sounded even remotely close to Leonard Cohen. At 19, fresh from Barbados, I did not know anything about Leonard Cohen, his poetry, or his genre of music. Just his sound. We would put him on to go to sleep at night. I had never listened to anything that could be so melancholic and sad and beautiful and true all at the same time.
Since moving to Toronto and thanks to Leonard Cohen, I have a tendency to gravitate to music that is melancholic. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good uplifting song like Pharrel William’s Happy along with the rest of the 900 million people of YouTube. But sad music makes me think and feel in a way that happier music doesn’t. Ask the scientists. They are finding more and more about the effect of sadness on the brain. For this patient, sadness sharpens my memory. Makes me remember far greater details that when it is a sunny day. Again, don’t get me wrong, sunny days make me stop and enjoy the present. Sun = Zen. Great for living in the now.
So I guess it should not come as a surprise that when the news of his death was announced, I have dug back into all things Leonard Cohen. This has been a rough week emotionally for many people with the outcome of the US election and Remembrance Day. I spent the whole day listening to him on Spotify. Listening to him now. I also listened to a fascinating interview with Mr. Cohen that took place just last month. The full 21:50 minute audio is shared on NPR and definitely worth the listen. It is his last public interview. The conversation took place at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles on Oct. 13 as part of a special listening session for You Want It Darker, Cohen’s 14th and last album released.
In the interview he is asked about the significance of the hummingbird which appears on the back of the newest album and on a few of his other works:
“I always loved those little creatures. Always feel blessed when they appear nearby. A magical quality to them. I finally put one in a song.”
[Photo credit: Tony Bursey. Lover of all birds, especially hummingbirds]
He then went on to share with his audience that “God willing”, he had written a song about the hummingbird and hopes that it will make its way to his future album. This is what Cohen said:
And that is why I will tell my children:
Listen to the music of Leonard Cohen whose words are the most beautiful you will hear.
Listen to the music of Leonard Cohen. Don’t listen to me.
[Photo credit: Tony Bursey. Taken May 17, 2014 at Mountain Lake in Minden, Ontario. Canada]