Rest in Peace, Leonard Cohen

November 14, 2016

A staggering giant of a life came to an end last week when Montreal poet, musician, and novelist Leonard Cohen passed away in Los Angeles on Monday, November 7. He was 82 years old. Cohen was buried last Thursday in Montreal at Shaar Hashomayim cemetery. The Congregation Shaar Hashoyim—the synagogue in Westmount where Cohen was a member—released a short statement on his life and burial:

“’Magnified, sanctified be Thy holy name.’ These are the words of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of memory, that were recited at Eliezer/Leonard Cohen’s graveside on Thursday, November 10. Leonard’s wish was to be laid to rest in a traditional Jewish rite beside his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Leonard was a beloved and revered member of Shaar Hashomayim and he maintained a lifelong spiritual, musical, and familial connection to the synagogue of his youth. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his memory be a blessing to all.”

Cohen’s artistic contributions are impossible to overstate. Born on September 21, 1934 in Westmount, he created an astonishing legacy, the musical part of which began in the late ‘60s, reaching all the way until recently this year when he released his final album, You Want It Darker. His written output included novels The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers—the latter of which is considered by some to have introduced postmodernism into Canadian literature—and numerous collections of poetry such as Let Us Compare Mythologies and Flowers for Hitler. His accolades include being a Companion of the Order of Canada, multiple Juno Awards, a Grammy lifetime achievement award, and being a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec.

Cohen’s best known song “Hallelujah”—a tune that’s been covered so many times that it would come as a shock if you hadn’t heard some version of it—has become such a pervasive staple in pop culture that the power of it is sometimes glossed over, but a close listen always reveals its devastating depths. The best known interpretation may be the late Jeff Buckley’s beautiful, sparkling 1994 cut from Grace, featured in more movies and TV shows than one would think possible. But the sparse piano accompaniment and weariness of John Cale’s 1992 version, which Buckley built his own from, conjures the spirit of the original like none have since.

Notably, Cohen’s long-time muse Marianne Ihlen (subject of “So Long, Marianne”) died in July earlier this year in Norway. While she was still conscious, he penned her a final goodbye letter. It read:

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t have to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

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About the Author

Matt Williams

Matt Williams is a writer and photographer. Born and raised on the Prairies in Winnipeg, he’s slowly made his way farther and farther east, spending a few years covering music in Toronto before running clear out of country and ending up on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. In between, he’s made numerous detours, interviewing and photographing countless artists across North America and beyond. He heads up Amplify’s Instrumental series, where he talks with musicians about the relationships they’ve formed with their most important tools.

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