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THIS JUST IN: Leonard Cohen Is Ready To Die

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Illustration by LIEZLS

NEW YORKER:
There is probably no more touring ahead. What is on Cohen’s mind now is family, friends, and the work at hand. “I’ve had a family to support, so there’s no sense of virtue attached to it,” he said. “I’ve never sold widely enough to be able to relax about money. I had two kids and their mother to support and my own life. So there was never an option of cutting out. Now it’s a habit. And there’s the element of time, which is powerful, with its incentive to finish up. Now I haven’t gotten near finishing up. I’ve finished up a few things. I don’t know how many other things I’ll be able to get to, because at this particular stage I experience deep fatigue. . . . There are times when I just have to lie down. I can’t play anymore, and my back goes fast also. Spiritual things, baruch Hashem”—thank God—“have fallen into place, for which I am deeply grateful.”

Cohen has unpublished poems to arrange, unfinished lyrics to finish and record or publish. He’s considering doing a book in which poems, like pages of the Talmud, are surrounded by passages of interpretation. “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.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: For the next three hours, he dispenses what amount to be prayers and we will need them where we are going. For he has seen the future, baby, and it is murder. Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor. And, he says, there is a mighty judgment coming, though he might be wrong. But this much is true: we may be ugly, he insists, but we have the music. Because everybody knows the rich write history, but the poor write the songs. His mind is still sharp as a razor blade and he remembers them all: the one who gave him head in an unmade bed, the sisters of mercy with dew on their hem, the one in the famous blue raincoat who was gonna go ‘clear,’ the bird on a wire, the drunk in the midnight choir. All of them, the Great Man included, have tried in their own way, to be free.

We have paid dearly for this audience with the Great Man and he is eternally grateful for our sacrifice, humbled in fact. He delivers many a song on his knees, and doffs his cap with humility after every standing ovation, every exclamation of adoration from the back row of the highest balcony. “So much of the world is plunged in chaos and suffering, it’s remarkable that we have the opportunity to gather in places like this,” the Great Man says, his eyes scanning the Academy of Music’s gilded splendor. “I haven’t been here in a long time, it was 15 years ago and I was 60, just a kid with a crazy dream,” he continues, and we all laugh even though we know he is only half-kidding. “Since then, I’ve taken a lot of Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Ritalin and double strength Tylenol. I also plunged into a rigorous study of religion and philosophy, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.” Which is another way of saying ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.’ Hallelujah. Amen. Over and out. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: “Leonard Cohen Is NOT A Great Man”

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