Cohen’s Last Dance

When Leonard Cohen passed away three years ago, I felt a bitter sweet sense of relief. My wife Ann and I briefly met him the morning after his last concert in Perth (November 2013) and were shocked at his physical condition. The ultra-cool ageing rock god from the previous night had morphed into a small, frail, unfailingly courteous, but exhausted old guy. There was a telling exchange of eye contact between his personal assistant (Kezban Ozcan) and me. I wanted desperately to entreat him to stop and go home, but I didn’t and she eventually said “We have to go, the bus is waiting.” He smiled wanly and was gone.

Then in 2016, the wonderful Leonard Cohen Forum biennial meet-up was held in gorgeous Amsterdam and attendees were treated to something very special – Leonard had given permission for us to hear his new album YOU WANT IT DARKER before its release and producer / singer / song writer Patrick Leonard was there to take our questions.

The album was a startling revelation, an obvious good bye, with one song a salute to his lovers, his family and friends and his legion of long term fans – YOU GOT ME SINGING. I think all of us in the audience were stunned at the bleak beauty of the album and its clear message of farewell. At that point, most of us were not aware of just how close to death Leonard was, or the toll his battle with leukaemia had taken on him, he was indeed ready to leave the game.

Three months later, we awoke to hear that Leonard had moved on some two days earlier and following his strong Jewish faith, had been buried the day before in his beloved home city of Montreal. There was a hole in our world, but we had the music and the memories. Patrick Leonard had hinted at other works in the pipeline – orchestral variations and poetry readings, but with Leonard gone, there seemed little chance of anything seeing the light of day. In a way, the feeling for me these last three years, has been that it was final, but strangely unfinished.

Then some months back, came news of a new album that his son Adam was producing. I must admit I winced a little at the prospect, ungraciously worried that it might be a piece meal mish mash of discarded material put out for profit rather than posterity.

How wrong I was. Adam has done his father proud. THANKS FOR THE DANCE is simply beautiful. Stunning perhaps best describes it. Others will write of that messianic baritone filled with age and a wavering timbre of finality, but for me, this is the perfect finish. The tome I first opened in early 1968, as a 17yr old boy and have studied ever since, has now been read to the very end. The feeling is rather like that beautiful ending in the last of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy, where they set sail forever.

To Adam, Javier, Jennifer and all involved, you have done the master proud, thank you all for this final dance.

Greg Ross

All Photos, apart from the album cover, by Greg Ross (c)

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