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Five for Friday: Lines from Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker

On November 10, the disheartening news that Leonard Cohen died added to a somber year that has witnessed the loss of many musical greats. The prolific performer, poet, and songwriter inspired millions with his affecting lyrics and distinguishable voice that dipped into the deepest of lows. Only a few weeks ago, Cohen released his 14th and now-final studio album, the eerily foreshadowing You Want It Darker. For this week's Five for Friday, Music Direct explores five of the most meaningful lyrics off the album.

"I'm ready, my lord."
The album's title track includes this fairly self-explanatory line in its chorus. Days prior to the album's release, The New Yorker ran a detailed profile on the ever-intriguing Cohen in which he stated he was in fact "ready to die." Days after the piece ran, Cohen later retracted his claim and instead simply said, "I intend to live forever." However, on "You Want It Darker," his hauntingly low vocals echo the words, "Hineni, hineni," which in Hebrew means, "Here I am."

"I don't need a reason for what I became...I'm leaving the table, I'm out of the game."
The tune "Leaving the Table" is debatably about love but seems more accurately about withdrawing oneself from surrounding noise and nonsense. "You don't need a lawyer, I'm not making a claim/You don't need to surrender, I'm not taking aim," Cohen calmly sings. The lyrics reflect a man at peace – a man who has come to terms with what and who he has become, and shows no signs of regret or desire to change. Nor should he.

"But if the road leads back to you, must I forget the things I knew."
In the same aforementioned New Yorker profile, Cohen spent a portion of time speaking of his love and muse, Marianne. Over the summer, he received a letter from a close friend of hers saying she had cancer and was not well. Cohen replied: "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." She died soon after, and on the new track "Travelling Light," Cohen reflects on love lost.

"I wonder what it was, I wonder what it meant/First he touched on love, then he touched on death."
Taken from "It Seemed the Better Way," these lyrics encapsulate You Want It Darker. The nine-track album seamlessly shuffles between the heavy topics of love and death as Cohen treats them essentially as one in the same. Both require reflection. While it doesn't directly address love nor death, the song reveals Cohen's ruminations on the importance of being vocal and speaking your mind. "Now it's much too late, to turn the other cheek," he sings.

"And please don't make me go there, tho' there be a god or not."
Where exactly "there" may be is left unanswered, but it seems clear that it isn't earth. On "Steer Your Way," it's as if Cohen is already thinking ahead and planning his path towards whatever lies ahead. The song also includes an inverted timeline: "Year by year/Month by month/Day by day/Thought by thought." Never reaching a minute-by-minute or second-by-second countdown, Cohen consciously chooses to focus and collect his thoughts rather than place attention on the diminutive details that comprise his everyday. The composition illustrates the album's mission to deliver a diary of Cohen's final wisdom and poetic proclamations, which arrived just in time.

November 11, 2016

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