Poetry, Love, Music and Sex - The Artistry of Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen was one of the greatest poets, songwriters, and musicians of the twentieth century. His impact on Canadian artistry cannot be undersold. He was an inspiring and uniquely Canadian artist. He is also a deep personal influence, and his work has helped direct a great deal of my creative endeavors, and served to deepen my love of music. Among the themes tackled in Cohen's work (both poetic and musical because they were often one and the same for him), the most frequently recurring were those of love and sex. Cohen wrote about these things in an exceptionally unique way, and in a way that I don't believe can ever be replicated. Cohen looked at these themes from countless angles. Most famously in his 1984 entry into the musical canon, Hallelujah, which effortlessly marries the themes of sex and religion. As outlined in the Rolling Stone, it was an unlikely hit that didn't really catch the eye of the musical world until a decade later when Jeff Buckley covered it for his album Grace. The song takes religion and sex and turns them into one series of viseral, intimate acts.
You saw her bathing on the roof Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya She tied you to the kitchen chair She broke your throne and she cut your hair And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Passages such as these, amongst the more than ten verses Cohen wrote for the song, allegedly writing as many as eighty during the writing process, paint a clear picture. An erotic vision of a prayer being drawn from one's lips by force. A woman bathing who ties you down in her kitchen. Cohen masterfully created a balance between sex and religion. In another take on intimacy, Cohen's song Famous Blue Raincoat, a personal favourite, is written like a letter. Throughout the song he is speaking to a lover of his partner Jane, with whom she cheated on him with in the past. He deals with these complex relationships artfully, and tackles the feelings of love, betrayal, and giving into our basest desires.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer What can I possibly say? I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you I'm glad you stood in my way If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me Well, your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free
Cohen forgives his partner despite her betrayal, and in fact extends an implied invitation for her lover to return. With these lyrics, Cohen explores the vastly complex relationships we can undertake with love, and sex, and desire that are quite unlike anything else in the world. To me, Leonard Cohen was at his best when he was exploring the recesses of human emotion that many of us would rather leave unexplored. These relationships between sex and religion, or welcomed betrayal are things that are a part of the human experience, but are seldom discussed, much less so eloquently. Finally, for his final exploration of human sexuality, I leave you with a poem from 2006's Book of Longing which takes a different look at desire.
Early Morning at Mt. Baldy Alarm awakened me at 2:30 a.m.: got into my robes kimono and hakama modelled after the 12th-century archer's costume: on top of this the koroma a heavy outer garment with impossibly large sleeves: on top of this the ruksu a kind of patchwork bib which incorporates an ivory disc: and finally the four-foot serpentine belt that twists into a huge handsome knot resembling a braided challah and covers the bottom of the ruksu: all in all about 20 pounds of clothing which I put on quickly at 2:30 a.m. over my enormous hard-on (Book of Longing, Leonard Cohen, 2006)