Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen
Those who know Leonard Cohen’s poetry, music, novels, and songs, know he is irreplaceable. Those who don’t know his work actually do, for unless you were raised by wolves, you’ve enjoyed some version of “Hallelujah,” which I understand has passed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the most widely covered song of all time. Both awaken something within us to hope in a dark time.
“Hallelujah,” written in 1984, was initially rejected by a recording company as not commercial enough. A Jeff Buckley cover ten years later brought it public attention, and since then, at least 200 artists have recorded their own versions, though to hear most of the 30 verses, you have to find Leonard’s version on youTube.
I first became aware of Leonard Cohen’s music through Judy Collin’s stunning cover of “Suzanne,” almost 50 years ago. It was covers, rather than his own gravelly voice that won him initial acclaim, though I remember vividly how his renditions of “The Stranger Song,” and “Sisters of Mercy,” were perfect for the moody western, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971. “He was just some Joseph looking for a manger,” Cohen sings in the opening scene, as Warren Beaty, a hapless gambler, rides into a forsaken mining town under a lowering sky. That’s one of those lines that has stayed with me ever since.
I don’t really have a single favorite Leonard Cohen song – so many of them are memorable. What comes to mind this morning, and is best heard Cohen’s own voice, is “Joan of Arc,” another ballad that awakens hope in some deep, visceral way as it paints the portrait of time of darkness and suffering. It still sends chills down my spine.
I send this post out to Leonard in memory of a debt of gratitude that can only be repaid as we seek for something deeper and brighter behind the apparent disasters of our lives.