I am not a music geek. I do not know who sang what the year before it became cool, nor do I know much about what I’m supposed to be liking now, what the early-30s supposed-hipster soundtrack actually is.
I do like Leonard Cohen. A whole lot.
The songs that everybody loves didn’t arrive until Cohen was in his early thirties. At McGill, he had played guitar in a country-western trio called the Buckskin Boys and gravitated to Montreal’s bohemian literary scene. Music first underscored poetry when Cohen gave readings backed by a jazz band, but it was books of poetry (“The Spice Box of Earth” and “Flowers for Hitler”) and a pair of acclaimed, and controversial, novels (“The Favorite Game” and “Beautiful Losers”) that established his reputation.
Still, Cohen admits, his move to music, “far more than this current flurry of activity, was economically motivated. I’d written a couple of novels and they’d been very well received, but I couldn’t make a living and I didn’t know what to do.”
So in 1966, Cohen decided to pursue a career as a songwriter in Nashville, only to be redirected to New York and its post-Beat/folk community after the first of his female champions, Judy Collins, recorded “Suzanne.”
There was also the matter of Cohen’s voice, a deadpan, steadily deepening baritone with the rumble of a gravel pit and the gravitas of a graveyard.
I have this bunch of CDs Mr. A brought home from a record store in Canada as a present, where you listen from beginning to end and can hear Cohen growing old from The Partisan all the way to Democracy, which has always killed me with this:
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.