With Leonard Cohen passing away, I find myself in the same struggle as every other time someone I idolise gets a lot of media coverage. I just don’t want to know.
I don’t mean I don’t want to acknowledge Cohen passed away. I feel lucky I woke up Friday morning by a text from a friend telling me the news, so I wouldn’t be shocked when I opened Facebook. But now my newsfeed is covered in all kinds of articles about his life and his work and their meaning, and that’s the part I don’t want to know.
I’m a big fan of Cohen. His poetry helped me through some pretty dark phases and every time I read or hear it, it reminds me how beautiful life can be, and at the same time acknowledging how dark it can be sometimes. I’ve listened to his music. I’ve read his poetry. But as with many others, I just don’t want to know that much about his life.
When I read or hear something that impresses me, I make my own interpretations. And especially when something connects with me on such an emotional level, I’m afraid to lose that interpretation because of some banal biography. With Cohen’s passing I’m just scrolling really quickly through my social media, because I’m scared I’ll read something that’ll take the magic of some of his songs away.
I’ve always had this. It’s why I never go to a concert of an artist I admire: I have such a dependence of the song the way it was sung on the album, I can’t handle it being performed slightly different. When Cohen toured to the Netherlands in 2013, a lot of my friends asked me why I didn’t go. I wouldn’t dare, because of the risk of him falling of that pedestal. And I know it might be unfair to the artist, he or she can’t help being a human being with flaws, but to me they’ve become more, they’ve personally become the art and I don’t want to damage that.
I know it’s hard for me to get over such things. Eight years ago I bought a collection of short stories by the Dutch writer Thomas Verbogt. In one of the stories a plumber kept singing a song about a woman named Annemarie. I immediately thought of a song by an artist I like very much, and with whom I have an emotional connection because my father and I bonded a lot over his songs. Last year, I met Verbogt again, and I finally asked him if it was the song by Wim Sonneveld. He told me it wasn’t, it was based on the song by Bloem. With makes much more sense in the book but to me the story just lost a very important layer!
So I don’t want to hear all the journalists saying Cohens last album already sounds like he will die soon. They are giving the album a meaning I can never forget, and it will always influence how I view it from now on. So in honour of Leonard Cohen, I’m not gonna tell you what to read or what to listen or how you should interpret certain themes or motive. Just read or listen, and let the words do their job.