Thanks for the dance, Leonard

photo of Bruce Mason

by Bruce Mason

In response to a Leonard Cohen tribute/obituary (“A triumphant soundtrack for our times,” December, 2016) an anonymous Common Ground reader, wrote:

the Donald arrives
nothing there
Leonard leaves
he’s still here.

There is even more truth in that thought today, as the world plunges headlong into a dark pit of too much information and too little wisdom. Cohen’s global appeal endures, even flourishes; not only does his rich legacy live on, but his remarkable body of work continues to grow three years after his passing: the ongoing, record-breaking international tour of the multimedia exhibition Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything; the popularity of the documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love; the acclaimed posthumous collection of poems The Flame; and the last-gasp beauty of what had been hailed as his finest and final album, You Want It Darker. To say nothing of the four million commemorative stamps just issued by Canada Post.

Canada Post’s limited edition framed pane of six stamps honoring Leonard Cohen. It was released on September 21, 2019, the 85th anniversary of his birth.

Now add a new album of previously unheard songs. The unanticipated Thanks for the Dance (to be released in November) is being described as “an unexpected harvest” and “a continuation of the master’s work.”

Shortly before his death in November, 2016, at age 82, Cohen had expressed doubt that he would be able to finish unreleased song sketches, “find a second wind” as he put it. Instead, he asked his son Adam to complete the work.

After burying his father in an unadorned pine box in a family plot in home-town Montreal, his son had said: “I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work.”

Seven months later, Cohen Jr. began working on the material alone in a garage near his father’s old house, later inviting other contributors to be part of the process. These include: former Cohen collaborators Jennifer Warnes; Michael Chaves, and Javier Mas, from his tour band; indie music stars, including Beck, Bryce Dessner of the National, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, Damien Rice and Leslie Feist; composer Dustin O’Halloran; producers Daniel Lanois and Patrick Watson; the Stargaze orchestra; and two choirs, Cantus Domus and the Shaar Hashomayim.

“In composing and arranging the music for his words we chose his most characteristic musical signatures, in this way keeping him with us,” said Adam Cohen. “What moves me most about the album is the startled response of those who have heard it. ‘Leonard lives!’ they say, one after the other.”

In his beloved canon of musical meditations, Leonard Cohen asked the “big questions”, the real ones worth asking about love and faith and purpose, sharing wisdom and some answers, patiently engaging us in conversation as we struggled to follow the pace of his evocations.

Twenty-five years ago, his song, The Future, prophesied, “And now the wheels of heaven stop. You feel the devil’s riding crop. Get ready for the future: it is murder.” There is a trailer for Thanks for the Dance, a one-minute track, “The Goal”.  “I can’t leave my house, Or answer the phone/ I’m going down again/ But I’m not alone,” Cohen intones our commonplace predicament before confronting his mortality: “Settling at last, Accounts of the soul, This for the trash, That paid in full.”

Adam Cohen reports: “It’s a bizarre and delicious entanglement. To make a long story short, I believe that there are some really beautiful new songs of Leonard Cohen that no one’s heard…these songs that exist that he wanted finished, these incredible powerful readings that were set to music. It’s going to surprise and delight.”

Like me, you may want to pre-order Thanks for the Dance. No matter the outcome of elections, impeachments, entrances and Brexits, marches that escalate, elites and their minions that erase life on the planet, you will have something to look forward to and help make it all more bearable.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

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