All I want for Christmas is the new Leonard Cohen album. With its meditations on mortality, spirituality and depression, Thanks for the Dance will make, I’m sure, the ideal stocking-filler.
I’m not convinced I will get it. This is because quite a few of my friends, and several members of my family, for some reason think it would be an inappropriate gift. They think my infatuation with the dead Canadian singer-songwriter should be put on hold during the festive season.
Surely, they reason, I’d prefer to listen to Jingle Bells, Santa’s Got A Bag Of Soul or Frosty The Snowman? No, I reply, it’s Laughing Len all the way for me.
There are three reasons why the Godfather of Gloom is a much better choice at this time of year than Cliff, Bing or even Noddy. Firstly, he really does make me laugh.
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Despite his reputation for writing music to slash your wrists to, his wry self-mockery often has me in stitches. His songs were always laced with laconic humour even when his professional life had taken a terrible turn – he was famously embezzled by his business manager – or his personal life had been in shatters.
By turns sly, dark and droll, his lyrics were full of self-deprecating one-liners. “You told me again you preferred handsome men,” he sings to Janis Joplin’s ghost in Chelsea Hotel, “but for me you would make an exception.”
To another ex-lover he acknowledges “there were so many people you just had to meet – without your clothes”. And to all future lovers, the increasingly frail and
elderly Cohen memorably issued the following warning: “My friends are gone, my hair is grey – I ache in the places where I used to play.”
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Secondly, in a career that spanned nearly fifty years, no singer-songwriter came close to exerting as profound an influence on the baby-boomer generation as His Lenness.
Well, perhaps Bob Dylan – and, on occasion, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. But even these three icons failed to exude a similar aura of hallowed spirituality.
From his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, through his astonishing re-invention as a world-weary, middle-aged crooner in the seminal I’m Your Man, to the final disc, 2016’s You Want It Darker, he crafted a body of work that penetrated the soul, a series of haunted hallelujahs that straddled the elusive boundaries of song, poetry and fiction.
No other artist was as respected by their peers. On two tribute albums in the 1990s, legends like Bono, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, REM, Nick Cave and Ian McCulloch covered his songs.
Actually, when I say final album I meant the last one before, at the age of 82, he shuffled off his mortal coil. Which brings me to the final objection to my coveted Christmas present.
Thanks for the Dance is a record from beyond the grave and, protest my Cohen-sceptic friends and family, a somewhat macabre purchase. Overseen by Leonard’s son Adam, this posthumous collection of songs is, they insist, merely a cynical, exploitative way of his label keeping him alive, so to speak, and in so doing enhancing his bankability.
This ignores the great man’s request that all half-finished recordings from the You Want It Darker sessions be brought to fruition.
And it ignores the large number of posthumous albums that have been released over the past few decades by the likes of David Bowie, Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.
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This month alone, Harry Nilsson has made a “comeback” 25 years after his death. And there have been offerings from Prince, emo rapper Lil Pep and several other great artists. And no-one seemed to object when The Beatles put out Free As A Bird, an uncompleted John Lennon demo from 1977.
I admit it seems unusual to crave an album of dirge-like ditties for Christmas. But I miss the haunting, husky voice, the beautiful, nylon-stringed guitar riffs and the wry musings which kept me going through the dark years.
I’m sure he would have agreed that death is an opportunity not a full stop. Laughing Len might have departed this earth three years ago, but his music will always be with us.