The Leonard Cohen Songbook

In my parents’ house there’s a battered songbook, every chord I strained to play, but it wasn’t their simplicity that tore at me, it was the not so simple words. From that book, and a vinyl copy of the first album I learned poetry was complicated but okay, it might even make you more attractive it seemed, the first things I wanted to be were a poet or a teacher. Suzanne. When I studying for my Leaving Cert, the second time, my girlfriend was gone, my friends were almost all in college and I sat at home for a year studying, but mainly listening. I remember proudly staying up until four in the morning at the end of December, just to prove I could. In university I bought cassettes to devour on the lonely bus home. A Singer Must Die. A student must learn.

And the I took the the novels on trains through the great cities of Budapest, Prague and Vienna, with its hundreds of windows and concert halls. After that I read Lorca, I wrote my own novel and settled into my life teaching poetry and singing the songs with my brother. Who by Fire.

Out of nowhere I recall putting on headphones on the streets of Sydney and hearing his song. Take This Longing.

When we first lived in this house I used to lie in the bath singing. Lady Midnight. Lover Lover Lover. When the time came here I began to sing the songs to my daughter. And another. And another. Hallelujah. 

In the meantime my brother stopped singing and playing and it was from Anthem came the words my Dad chose to remember him from the altar on his anniversary. 

There was the night I spent with my Dad when in Kilmainham listening like pilgrims to words that had only before come from speakers. And remembered growing up with this music, these songs leading us through our highs and lows. Through the rain this fabulous band raised us up, as religious as music gets. A Thousand Kisses Deep.

So now at every traffic cone my kids pass we salute and say ‘hiya Lenny’.

Two years ago I bought a blue raincoat on West 23rd Street New York, the street of the Chelsea Hotel, it hangs in the hall now as I write here in the kitchen and the headphones have the sublime Webb Sisters unfolding If It Be Your Will: If it be your will/That a voice be true/From this broken hill/I will sing to you/From this broken hill/All your praises they shall ring/If it be your will/To let me sing. 

And I’m weeping because you let me sing.

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