R.I.P. Mr. Cohen
Craig Grossman, November 12th 2016
A younger, freer version of myself had the good fortune of making many visits to an old high school friend who happened to have the good fortune to live in one of the most beautiful parts of North America – Sonoma, CA in wine country. Our collective good fortunes found us learning the art of true adult sophistication, and not just via the obvious surrounding vineyards, four star restaurants and numerous wine tastings.
It was my dear friend’s uncle Wally that helped us young-ans along, including us in lavish dinner parties, pouring recommended vintages and providing an inspirational soundtrack from his vast and diverse cd collection. At one particular dinner gathering I remember my shock when after just completing a pour of a fine red, circa 1991 Wally quickly stood up and shouted a panicked “Stop! Do not drink the wine.” My first gulp turned into a swish just before I was about to swallow. Was there hemlock in these glass goblets? Was I finding myself in a land of great mischief? As it turned out, there is such thing as a bad vintage – but this was the first I’d heard of such a phenomenon.
Not long after our feast’s sudden drama, things calmed down. A new pouring this time proved adequate and the meal was as fresh and delicious as even a young man could imagine would be in this environment he wasn’t yet quite used to. And then it happened. I noticed the music suddenly change and a new aural pleasure, one of which I never felt before and don’t believe I’ve every quite felt since came over me. Perhaps the better wine helped things along but I immediately felt safe, happy and even elated. The music was haunting and the voice booming out of the expensive sound system was certainly not of this world. As I let it all settle in, I wondered if it was new or very old, locally based or of international fame. The song was ‘Suzanne’ and the composer was Leonard Cohen, a name I barely recognized somewhere in the back of my twenty five years on this planet. Had I had at my disposal all the technological goodies of today, I’d have spent the next few hours filling up my Spotify cache and quite possibly downloading everything I could on iTunes. I may have even hit the Amazon store, ordering up everything possible from this artist, even though I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford it – I’d have found a way.
As I perused the vast catalog of greatest hits, original recordings and bootlegs, not to mention the extensive list of documentaries, some bad, others adequate and a few very good, I recognized a tune here and there. ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ must have made its way to my parent’s record collection – or at least their tireless radio station back in the early days of my exposure to music. But now all these songs, the old and the new could mean so much more to me. And they still all sound unique, timeless and like nothing else I’ve ever heard.
Upon hearing of the passing of Mr. Cohen, I flashed back to all of the above. I listened to this genius’ latest album, ‘You Want It Darker’ the day it came out, just a few weeks ago and immediately thought to myself that it would be his last…that we’d have to suffer yet another loss of one of our world’s most highly achieved songwriter and performers. It was most comforting to come to an understanding that Leonard Cohen was one of many artists that was there for me in my coming-of-age when I learned to drink real wine, dine well and interact with the intelligent, and the more sophisticated. Thank you Leonard Cohen. Thank you for everything. R.I.P. I hope you’re among the many greats we’ve lost this year and in years past.