Cohen, Leonard - Master Song
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The New Yorker – extracted from the article in the October 17, 2016 Issue Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker By David Remnick
Suzanne Vega, a singer-songwriter who is in her late fifties, sometimes tells a funny story onstage about Cohen’s secret-handshake appeal. When she was eighteen, she was teaching dance and folksinging at a summer camp in the Adirondacks. One night, she met a handsome young man, a counsellor from another camp up the road. He was from Liverpool. And his opening line was “Do you like Leonard Cohen?”
This was nearly four decades ago, and, in Vega’s memory, admirers of Leonard Cohen in those days were a kind of “secret society.” What’s more, there was a particular way to answer the young man’s semi-innocent question: “Yes, I love Leonard Cohen—but only in certain moods.” Otherwise, your new friend might think you were a depressive.
But because the young man was English, and not given to the “fake cheer” of Americans, he replied, “I love Leonard Cohen all the time.” The result, she says, was an affair that lasted for the rest of the summer.
In the years to come, Cohen’s songs were fundamental to Vega’s own sense of lyrical precision and possibility. “It was the way he wrote about complicated things,” Vega told me recently. “It was very intimate and personal. Dylan took you to the far ends of the expanding universe, eight minutes of ‘one hand waving free,’ and I loved that, but it didn’t sound like anything I did or was likely to do—it wasn’t very earthly. Leonard’s songs were a combination of very real details and a sense of mystery, like prayers or spells.”
And there was the other thing, too. Once, after Cohen and Vega became friendly, he called and asked her to visit him at his hotel. They met out by the pool. He asked if she wanted to hear his latest song.
“And as I listened to him recite this song—it was a long one—I watched as one woman after another, all in bikinis, arranged themselves on beach chairs behind Leonard,” Vega recalled. “After he finished reciting, I said to Leonard, ‘Have you noticed these women in bikinis arranging themselves here?’
And completely deadpan, without glancing around, Leonard said, ‘It works every time.’ ”