Singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen died today at age 82. Cohen was an influential poet and musician. His songs were covered from the likes of Roberta Flack, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, and the Pixies. Cohen inspired many musicians and poets. In his songs, he had a way with words like that of a poem, often surprised with the meaning. There is “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,”which is about his affair with Janis Joplin. With lyrics such as, “You were famous, your heart was a legend/ You told me again you preferred handsome men/ But for me you would make an exception.” He has left this earth, but his music remains in the hearts and brains of many of us. He didn’t say goodbye, he left us his songs and lyrics. A legacy that he felt, he thought, he lived. There is also “Hey That’s no Way to Say Goodbye,” with those wonderful verses,“I’m not looking for another/ As I wander in my time/Walk me to the corner/ Our steps will always rhyme.” Cohen was one of the most covered songwriters. He began as a poet and was convinced by Judy Collins to perform his own songs. I first heard his songs and read his poems at the university and it was sort of an awakening because I didn’t know poetry could be written in this way. Then hearing his poems as songs was a second awakening. With his passing, the music world has lost a legend, and the world of poetry has lost a great poet. He recorded over 12 albums. Kurt Cobain wanted a “Leonard Cohen afterworld” in his song “Pennyroyal Tea,”“so he can sigh eternally.”
Cohen grew up in an affluent Canadian suburb. His parents came from Poland. In 2008, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was praised for raising the songwriting bar with the lyrics of his songs. In order to understand the beauty, anguish and despair behind his songs, one only need to listen and pay attention to the words and let one’s imagination be captured. The literary and music worlds have lost an artist, but like with true artists, he has left much behind. And in this we are the lucky ones, we have his music, his poems, his novels.
Leticia Cortez is a teacher, writer, and activist. She was born in Mexico and grew up in Chicago. She travels the art world, both in her imagination and in her music, book, art and film reviews. She writes political essays, short stories and poetry. Presently she teaches Latin American Literature and English at St. Augustine College.