Leonard Cohen and the Anthem of my Life

Everybody knows the dice are loaded. […] Everybody knows the good guys lost.”

I didn’t know. Not in those days. Unlike Leonard Cohen, I’d not spent years finding enlightenment in Buddhist temples, my instrument snatched away from me because it was all I was attached to in this world. It wasn’t long before I learned the dangers of attachment, though. At 21, my seven-year relationship fell to infidelity.

”Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful, ah, give or take a night or two.”

Leonard Cohen was a poet long before anyone saw him pick up a guitar and long before I’d picked up a pen.

“You should go
From place to place
Recovering the poems
That have been written for you
To which you can affix your signature.”

(Continued below)


At 22, I opened my mouth, and poems fell into it from the sky. That’s how writing felt to me, and Cohen’s lines said I was not the only one who experienced it as something given, not produced. I had found the religion of words, and it was the most magical thing I’d ever dug out of this world. It still is.

“Like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”

In my mid-twenties, I lost my health and left the most exquisite man I’ve ever loved because, while I couldn’t free myself from my illness, I could free him. Then epilepsy took my cognitive powers, too. I could write words, but not recite them. Magically, I’m typing these Leonard Cohen lyrics from memory anyway because he was different to other writers. His words sunk all the way through my pores.

He was called the unofficial poet laureate of Canada and the official poet laureate of loneliness. On the days when I felt most alone, he was there, still singing the anthem of my life. After my rape, he taught me that love and brokenness could coexist perfectly:

“Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

That song taught me more about romance than anything else ever has.

Leonard Cohen knew more about lust than everyone else, too, or maybe he just expressed it better. Either way, he was the backing track to sex with H, with E, with S… everyone I was ever involved with probably fucked me to Leonard Cohen at least once.

“Oh I want you, I want you, I want you
On a chair with a dead magazine
In the cave at the tip of the lily
In some hallway where love’s never been
On a bed where the moon has been sweating
In a cry filled with footsteps and sand.”

Leonard Cohen knew how to express reality as it really was, not as it seemed to be. I imagine that, during those years he spent in a monastery being forced not to write, he wrote more songs and poems than in any other years in his life because his words seems to be rooted in silence and stasis. As for me, I like to think of him as my monastery. I like to think one day I will write just one line that’s as raw and distilled as all of his.


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